I was waiting for a piece like this (and yes, too many posts on the web about Hitchens anyway), just because there were way too many references to him pulling off being, well, a bit of a drinker and a prolific writer. I just couldn’t buy the romantic version of this–that image we have from Joyce and other writers that says it somehow improves one’s writing. (I find academics tend to hold this myth pretty close to heart.) Most drunks are angry drunks (I, on the other hand, dear reader, tend to get really mellow and effusive with any drinks in me—I was the “I love you, man” drinker). Here’s Katha Pollitt:
So many people have praised Christopher so effusively, I want to complicate the picture even at the risk of seeming churlish. His drinking was not something to admire, and it was not a charming foible. Maybe sometimes it made him warm and expansive, but I never saw that side of it. What I saw was that drinking made him angry and combative and bullying, often toward people who were way out of his league—elderly guests on the Nation cruise, interns (especially female interns). Drinking didn’t make him a better writer either—that’s another myth. Christopher was such a practiced hand, with a style that was so patented, so integrally an expression of his personality, he was so sure he was right about whatever the subject, he could meet his deadlines even when he was totally sozzled. But those passages of pointless linguistic pirouetting? The arguments that don’t track if you look beneath the bravura phrasing? Forgive the cliché: that was the booze talking. And so, I’m betting, were the cruder manifestations of his famously pugilistic nature: as F Scott Fitzgerald said of his own alcoholism: “When drunk I make them all pay and pay and pay.” It makes me sad to see young writers cherishing their drinking bouts with him, and even his alcohol-fuelled displays of contempt for them (see Dave Zirin’s fond reminiscence of having Christopher spit at him) as if drink is what makes a great writer, and what makes a great writer a real man.
ADDITION: Here’s Cogburn suggesting it’s too soon. I agree with Cogburn that Hitchens was almost always well worth reading, and also agree with his point that philosophers are too little read in recent literature.