Christopher Hitchens died in Houston last December, here
at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.
And while this may well be the sole thing that unites him with the city, it’s a connection that will last forever.
I’m down here this week researching an article on ‘Literary Houston’. Without doubt there are other writers much more closely associated with ‘space city’, but it was Hitchens who first came to mind after the decision was made to come here. I’ve been thinking a lot over the past few days about how much pleasure the man’s writing and debating performances have given me over the years. The world lost, in him, a passionate, articulate, forceful, funny, at times belligerent, singular, entertaining voice that lit up cultural and political discourse in ways few others could.
His death upset me. And so I’m pleased to be here in Houston, to think about his life and work; to quietly pay homage to a friend I knew, but never knew.
I think this is largely how literary tourism operates. Emotion fuels it. A felt need to connect, as E.M. Forster observed, with people – real or fictitious- who’ve meant something to you. Who’ve added something to your life.
On the plane down I re-read Letters to a Young Contrarian. Here’s some advice from it:
“The high ambition, therefore, seems to me to be this: that one should strive to combine the maximum of skepticism, the maximum of hatred of injustice and irrationality with the maximum of ironic self-criticism. This would mean really deciding to learn from history rather than invoking or sloganizing it.”
“Beware the irrational, however seductive. Shun the “transcendent” and all who invite you to subordinate or annihilate yourself. Distrust compassion; prefer dignity for yourself and others. Don’t be afraid to be thought arrogant or selfish. Picture all experts as if they were mammals. Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity. Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence.”