terrible angels

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

fight club : irving and hitch throw it down

Who knew the New York Times Book Review could be so waggish?

The New York Times Sunday Book Review 2007/07/08

From 'Peeling the Onion' By G√úNTER GRASS Reviewed by JOHN IRVING

Irving writes:
"Imagine this: Grass still feels guilty for being drafted into the Waffen SS at 17 while some of his older fellow soldiers from the Frundsberg tank division are attending reunions! Yet Grass's most egregious critic — Christopher Hitchens, in Slate — calls him "something of a bigmouth and a fraud, and also something of a hypocrite." It is Grass's craven critics — the fatuous Hitchens among them — who should feel ashamed."

If we need proof that God does not exist then there we have it. There was no bolt of lightening sent down from above and Hitchens, who knows something about being a bigmouth and a fraud, and also something of a hypocrite, is still standing, completely unsinged.

Should we need proof of Irving's charge that Hitchens is fatuous, assistance is close at hand: we only need to turn a few more pages in the Book Review.

The helpful editors have provided supplementary material for Irving's readers in the form of another one of Hitch's slap-dash self-amusements that pass for book reviews:


I thought this was rather amusing.

Hitch uses his usual modus operandi, i.e., he takes the subject of the book under review as a starting point from which to launch into his favorite subject: himself and his opinions. For his fans this is the reason for reading Hitchens. Anyone interested in a topic other than Hitchens, say, for example, the book that is allegedly under review, is SOL.

Of course no Hitchens piece is complete without some sort of whinging about the Middle East: "mark my words" he says. (Oy. Do we have a choice?) He is very desperate about this matter nowadays. He gets into his high preacher mode, pointing out some evil in Islam or the Middle East and then using it to argue that those who disagree with him are supporting terrorism and tyranny.

He's a clever man. Less so now than he used to be. He can no longer argue very effectively -- at least not at a serious academic level. From a WSJ article regarding a panel Hitch was on in Miami:

"I now wish I hadn't participated," says Nathan Katz, a professor of religious studies at Florida International University. "He was utterly abusive. It had the intellectual level of the Jerry Springer Show."

I saw this on CSPAN. Hitch really is aiming for the Jerry Springer audience. Hitchens' behavior was typical: monopolizing, mugging and playing to the crowd. He was appallingly rude to the scholars like Katz, speaking to them like they were idiots even though they clearly knew more and had sharper arguments (that he was unable to counter). Attempts to raise the level of the conversation were constantly undone by Hitchens' antics. He likes to prattle on about little factoids, parading them as evidence of his learnedness. But intellectually he actually does not have much to offer in the way of a serious argument -- above what you'd hear from a college sophomore -- and in the end he resorts to anecdotal whinging. It is rather sad. His faculties truly have declined.

He has developed strategies, however. He does alright if it is a media event designed so that he can turn it into a circus or a shouting match. He will quickly resort to bullying. He talks -- loudly -- over his interlocutors. He knows how to put on a show.He has a store of arcane knowledge and bon mots and rhetorical tics. The problem is that they are really more for show than anything else. He doesn't use them to engage in a discussion with another person with a different point of view. He actually uses them in order to get the discussion away from a point that he can't counter.

If he senses too much disagreement from the audience he becomes very emotionally volatile and takes great moral offense. He will switch into his school marm/preacher stance, chastising those whose immorality has insulted his sensibilities. It is a bit surprising given that he's an admitted contrarian. You would think that he'd be able to reap what he sows.

After all, his joining up with the neocons was freely chosen. It's not like he was a 17-year old boy under conscription to a fascist regime in the midst of a brutal world war. What a pickle he's in.

NOTE: One reason for my intense criticism of Hitchens is that, like a lot of his former fans, I would have expected better. It is rather sad to read his writings or watch him give talks now. I also see a decline in his intellectual capabilities and I suspect we are watching early onset dementia from chronic alcoholism. Chronic alcohol dependence can damage alcoholics' brains, particularly the frontal lobes, which are critically involved in higher-order cognitive functions such as problem solving, reasoning, abstraction, as well as short-term memory, and emotional regulation. (Recent studies suggest that chronic smoking acerbates these conditions.)

Further reading:


trixie said...


I reserve the right to moderate the discussion.

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