"Hitch 22" is a memoir, not an autobiography, by Christopher Hitchens, who seems to go out of his way to ensure that everyone in the world has at least one compelling reason to disagree with him. Those well familiar with Hitchens will know what I'm talking about, but for those that only know him from one of his guises, a little perspective.
Hitchens works as a book reviewer for "The Atlantic", a political and culture commentator for both "Slate" and "Vanity Fair", a "talking head" on too many news shows to mention, a "semi-professional atheist" ('God is not Great'), an all around activist and speaker for the causes he deems important, and I'm sure a half dozen other roles I'm not aware of.
I defy anyone to agree with every single one of the comments below:
- Margaret Thatcher is kind of sexy
- Communism is good
- Pre-Glasnost Russia was bad
- Gore Vidal is full of it
- God does not exist
- Henry Kissigner is best viewed as a Mass Murderer
- George H.W. Bush knew that Iraq would attack Kuwait well beforehand
- The USA was justified in attacking both Iraq and Afghanistan post 9-11
- Bertie and Wooster are hilarious
- Mother Teresa was a sadist
- The USA is a great country
- British Boarding Schools are twisted
Well, we can probably all agree on the last one, but see what I mean? He does indeed "contain volumes", and his views have shifted over time - to the right in many cases, as he admits.
His memoir does not "explain" who Hitchens is, nor does he intend to. What he succeeds in doing admirably and engagingly is to give his perspectives on the people he's known, and the experiences he's had, not necessarily in chronological order. I don't have enough background in contemporary English Literature to appreciate everything he's written about the authors he's known, but even there, one finds that the people one would think both stuffy and reserved were in their time a "bawdy" and lewd group of jokesters, fond of obscene word games, and experiences both Cerebral and Slummy.
What I found most enlightening about his memoir is his memories of boarding school. Many reviews and articles about Hitch 22 will focus on the Hitchens' statements about the high degree of homosexual activity that he says existed in the boarding schools he attended. His claims (which I have no logical reason to doubt) seem pretty stunning to me, a small town boy from the midwest, but what I find most interesting how his perspective on religion seems to have been shaped by his schools.
Most Americans "get religion" through their families, and in my experience, see God and Church as something personal, rather than public. Hitchens on the other hand experienced religion as something that forbade the sexual experiences that he says were common in his schools (an oppressor of feeling and emotion), the presence of the State (Church of England) and "one more obligation" in his curriculum (compulsory attendance). The "hitch" however, was that while Hitchens HAD to go to Church services, his teachers could not force the students to worship or kneel. It seems intriguing that Hitchens chose to "resist" religion by not kneeling, in emulation of an older boy that he admired.
Now, I could be completely off base about this, but it seems as though Hitchens' antipathy to religion, was first established not on a mature consideration of faith and reason, but as the only available tactic for resisting the ever-present authority of the school and teachers that many of his readers will never face. Resisting religion ~may~ have been either the wellspring of what became a history of resisting authority and defying convention wisdom, or the first indication of that character he already had in him.
I could be way off base, and probably am, but I am glad that I had the opportunity to read and enjoy Mr. Hitchens' memoir. He's the kind of person that I would enjoy listening to as he held court over a table, with Spirits and words aflow. I am sure I could not agree with everything he said, and as an experienced debater, he would skewer anything I could have to say in return, and perhaps not always in the kindest manner. Even so, I'd gladly have, and later relish the experience.
I don't think anyone has to completely "like" Christopher Hitchens, but I do think that he is worthy of everyone's respect, at least for some aspect. Hate his politics? Read his book reviews - they're delicious. Disagree with him on religion? Read his thoughts on human rights and freedom.
And then, read his memoir, to better understand and appreciate him. He's worth it.