Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Arguably the two most prominent public intellectuals to come out in favor of the Iraq War in 2003 were Christopher Hitchens and Michael Ignatieff. I remember my seething outrage at Hitchens, of all people, taking perverse joy in contradicting the common sense of the left of that time, palling around with the terrorists in the Bush White House, etc. His key argument at this time was focused on ousting Saddam Hussein as a service to the Iraqi people; this ethical orientation superceded all discussions of oil, profiteering, and religious fanaticism that were clearly in play with other neocon pundits. I took him for yet another tool of a fascist administration, and little more.

In recent years, we have seen him defend his original stance, waterboard himself and publish lavish screeds against religion and a memoir. And now he appears to be dying.

I find myself strangely obsessed with this development and fearful of what the discursive landscape will look like without him. Perhaps this has something to do with Hitchens' writing since his fateful advocacy on behalf of Bush et al in 2003 and beyond, much of which can be interpreted as a twisted, involuntary apologia. It has been as though Hitchens has been trying to extricate his particular position from those who were by his side during the rush to perpetual war, the lovers of torture, shock and awe, a blockbuster clash of religions, not to mention anti-intellectual fervor on the home front-- to preserve the "good" kernel within his convictions both then and now. Hitchens has always seemed to really believe in the inherent goods of Western demystified modernity-- a vision of what culture might consist of minus religion, fundamentalism, intolerance, etc. It is essential to recognize how romantic and old-fashioned this promised land of cultural freedom is, how tied up in myths of collective literary production-- the idea that all might be resolved if everyone can write, drink, display wit, hash it out together. On this count, Hitchens has turned out to be, great irony notwithstanding, the last true believer.


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