Saturday, September 8, 2012

Mortality - Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Buckley on the new book Mortality by Christopher Hitchens
“For me,” he writes in “Mortality,” “to remember friendship is to recall those conversations that it seemed a sin to break off: the ones that made the sacrifice of the following day a trivial one.” In support of this, he adduces several staves of William Cory’s translation of the poem by Callimachus about his beloved friend Heraclitus:
They told me, Heraclitus; they told me you were dead. They brought me bitter news to hear, and bitter tears to shed. I wept when I remembered how often you and I Had tired the sun with talking, and sent him down the sky.
He was a man of abundant gifts, Christopher: erudition, wit, argument, prose style, to say nothing of a titanium constitution that, until it betrayed him in the end, allowed him to write word-perfect essays while the rest of us were groaning from epic hangovers and reaching for the ibuprofen. But his greatest gift of all may have been the gift of friendship. At his memorial service in New York City, 31 people, virtually all of them boldface names, rose to speak in his memory. One selection was from the introduction Christopher wrote for the paperback reissue of “Hitch-22” while gravely ill:
“Another element of my memoir — the stupendous importance of love, friendship and solidarity — has been made immensely more vivid to me by recent experience. I can’t hope to convey the full effect of the embraces and avowals, but I can perhaps offer a crumb of counsel. If there is anybody known to you who might benefit from a letter or a visit, do not on any account postpone the writing or the making of it. The difference made will almost certainly be more than you have calculated.”
One of the “fragmentary jottings” in the last chapter of “Mortality” is a brush stroke on Philip Larkin’s chilling death poem, “Aubade”: “Larkin good on fear in ‘Aubade,’ with implied reproof to Hume and Lucretius for their stoicism. Fair enough in one way: atheists ought not to be offering consolation either.” For a fuller version of that terminal pensée, turn to his essay on Larkin in his collection “Arguably”: “Without that synthesis of gloom and angst we could never have had his ‘Aubade,’ a waking meditation on extinction that unstrenuously contrives a tense, brilliant counterpoise between the stoic philosophy of Lucretius and David Hume, and his own frank terror of oblivion.”

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