Christopher Hitchens mattered in my life, and the lives of my
colleagues, the way few other living writers have. Growing up with ideas and opinions in our generation (I’m 34) meant that we were reading Hitch, wrestling with what he thought
and said, and forming a very personal relationship with him. He seemed
to speak directly toward us, provoking us, with things that really did
matter in our lives. It was personal. Everyone either hated him
completely, or loved him to pieces, or both in extremis. He was our
guy, then he wasn’t, then he went on Bill Maher and called Mos Def “Mister
Definitely” and we loved him forever. He defended martini drinking and the furious consumption of cigarettes (reasons alone for an aspiring writer to love him) with the passion of a religious conviction. Which of course it was, like everything in his experience.
In a world of pundits and spokespeople he was one of the last real public intellectuals. He stood up to be counted on every major issue of his time—and even changed sides when the beliefs he lived by had changed (except on cigarettes)—and yet he seemed to live like a romantic poet. My favorite anecdote about him comes from a friend we had in common who could keep up with Hitch in the bacchanalia arena. At the end of a particularly debauched night, when my friend was stumbling off to bed, Hitch asked if he could borrow a laptop. He was just gonna knock up a few thousand words on Proust for a deadline he had in the morning. Legendary.
He will likely be remembered as a satirist, and that’s kind of OK
because he was so outrageously funny (even if he thought women weren’t). His story of going to the knocking shop with Martin Amis made me laugh harder than a Louis C.K. special, but his real greatness was a the ribald candor with which he wrote about himself. The sad, anticlimactic moment in a shitty brothel in midtown at the end of that story undoes, just a little bit, his, and thus our universal, loneliness. And what else is the point of writing?