Sunday, April 24, 2011

Amis on Hitchens: 'He's one of the most terrifying rhetoricians the world has seen'

Christopher's personal devil is God, or rather organised religion, or rather the human "desire to worship and obey". He comprehensively understands that the desire to worship, and all the rest of it, is a direct reaction to the unmanageability of the idea of death. "Religion," wrote Larkin: "That vast moth-eaten musical brocade/ Created to pretend we never die …"

And there are other, unaffiliated intimations that the secular mind has now outgrown. "Life is a great surprise," observed Nabokov (b. 1899). "I don't see why death should not be an even greater one." Or Bellow (b. 1915), in the words of Artur Sammler: "Is God only the gossip of the living? Then we watch these living speed like birds over the surface of a water, and one will dive or plunge but not come up again and never be seen any more … But then we have no proof that there is no depth under the surface. We cannot even say that our knowledge of death is shallow. There is no knowledge."

Such thoughts still haunt us; but they no longer have the power to dilute the black ink of oblivion.

Anyway, we do know what is going to happen to you, and to everyone else who will ever live on this planet. Your corporeal existence, O Hitch, derives from the elements released by supernovae, by exploding stars. Stellar fire was your womb, and stellar fire will be your grave: a just course for one who has always blazed so very brightly. The parent star, that steady-state H-bomb we call the sun, will eventually turn from yellow dwarf to red giant, and will swell out to consume what is left of us, about six billion years from now.

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