Tuesday, December 14, 2004

An atheist I love

Christopher Hitchens did a brief plug for his new book on the Tavis Smiley Show tonight.

He said a lot of stuff that should have outraged me: that he hates religion; that Mother Theresa was a fraud, a fundamentalist, and an enemy of the poor; that there's more morality in Shakespeare and George Eliot than in any book of the Bible, or all the books of the Bible put together.

Why do I like him so much? I felt waves of affection for him as he talked. Well, for one thing, he's a great talker, and I don't mean that in a trivial sense. He has a beautifully modulated, chocolatey British accent, and cadenced prose just rolls out of him. Every sentence betrays deep intelligence, learning, and passion. I sat in my Subaru in the parking lot of Friendly Center and just let it flow over me.

For another thing, he loves literature; he loves it so much that he thinks it should replace religion (as did Wallace Stevens: I disagree with both on this point). His love is such that he can overlook the politics of the authors he loves, and that is an essential gift for anyone serious about literature, since so many great writers had such bad politics (as do many today -- Jane Smiley comes to mind).

Listening to Hitchens talk about his love of Borges, Shakespeare, and Eliot was an antidote to hearing the miserable Donald Lazere on On Point a few days ago. For Lazere, literature and the humanities are entirely reduced to mere politics, and only leftist politics at that. He sees academia as a sort of armed camp from which professors of literature lob missiles at the wicked capitalists outside, and I think would drive people like me out of it if he could.

I doubt he would give Hitchens a professorship, either.


sam's notes said...

His columns in Vanity Fair are great.

Thanks for the link, by the way.


Anonymous said...

Why is he trying Soooooooo Hard to be cool as the late and GREAT!!!! Albert Camus?

hm said...

Albert Camus is one of the greatest disappointments in classic philosophy/lit. But what does it matter? Even being overrated is a certain melodrama.
But anyway, I haven't heard this particular interview on the Smiley show, and I listen fairly regularly. I'll check it out on the web.