Christopher Hitchens died tonight (CBS News) from the cancer that he knew would kill him.
He was one of the greatest active writers in the English language, and certainly his writing has been consistently provocative, both topically and stylistically. Since most people writing about him now will mention the subject matters he covered, I’ll add a note on his challenging and brilliant style. Simply put, it was one of a kind. I’ve never encountered any other writer who managed to use so many words that I couldn’t legitimately define but whose sentences managed to come off as so clear. If there’s any writer in the world whose “voice” I’ve most desired to copy and subsume into my own, it is his.
Hitchens’ debate style will also long be admired. His normal method in speaking against some other person was to begin a sentence, let it taper off, allow his interlocutor to begin a rebuttal, and then to continue speaking directly through the poor other guy, raising his voice as necessary and going on, refusing to stop until all opposition had relented. He was a phenomenally talented debater with excellent natural skill, exceptional training and constant practice.
He was a prolific smoker of tobacco (until recently) and drinker of alcohol – quite a serious drinker, in fact – whose indulgence in these pleasures was infamous. A favorite slander of his detractors was that Hitchens was a drunk. But despite his drinking a lot, I’m not aware of any negative effects on his work due to the alcohol. And speaking of which, he continued writing actively until shortly before his death – I just read one of his columns a couple of days ago.
Since his views offended everybody, I feel less bad that I disagreed with him on many points. But I also think he was pretty well consistent across most issues, which isn’t easy for a journalist who made it a point to cover every beat. I’m going to miss reading him in Slate, Vanity Fair and The Atlantic.