Friday, 14 January 2011

Hitch 22, part one

Christopher Hitchens: is it terrible to say he never really interested me that much? I was aware of him, sure. I'd read his articles in Vanity Fair and thought he was an entertaining writer and character. But he was a journalist who seemed to live for the argument and I was never sure whether he was arguing from the standpoint of really believing in something, or just for the sound and the fury of it.
Politically I was aware that he was 'left wing'. But he wrote for Vanity Fair, which is Conde Nast, and hardly the forefront of any revolution. Plus, his little brother wrote right wing Tory propaganda, first for Express newspapers (where I once bumped into him in the cuttings library, back when they had such a thing) and more recently the Daily Mail.
Then as often is the case it was a casual reference to Hitchens (a Facebook friend carried a link to his recent interview with Jeremy Paxman and praised the memoir) that made me think more seriously about him again, and in particular about the way he connected in. I'm increasingly fascinated by the connections people make and I kick myself everytime I hear of something I'd not been aware of before but probably ought to have been.
For instance, I was only vaguely aware that he was pals with Martin Amis: I had no idea how deep this connection was. Amis, I guess, is another of those GREAT FIGURES who has been peripheral to my reading life. I read London Fields and The Information round about the time they came out but his later stuff left me cold. Nor had I ever delved backwards. Which is strange because, looking back, I can't see why I wouldn't have done: The Rachel Papers and Money were very much talked about and should have been the kind of books I'd have loved. Perhaps I stayed away from them semi-deliberately, to make a point that I was 'above fashion'. God knows.
Reading Hitch-22 I now realise just how connected Amis & Hitchens are. They are the McCartney-Lennon of literary journalism and they came out of Oxford rather than the Cavern Club.
Oxford also connects Hitch to Bill Clinton (he hung around at the same parties) and introduced him to the likes of Isiah Berlin, got him his first scholarship to America and turned him into a political activist.
Reading Hitch-22 you get the sense of a man at the centre of a movement. Britain was changing and there were these new young talents pushing through. When Hitchens, Amis, Julian Barnes and others went to university an opportunity was opening up the like of which wouldn't repeat for perhaps another 25 years. Assumptions about class and history had shifted. Assumptions about the economy had moved. Hitchens stood at the heart of it and he was brilliantly qualified to take advantage.
More to follow I think...

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