Saturday, 22 May 2010

Hatchet job

I see Decca Aikenhead butchers Christopher Hitchens in today's Guardian employing the old trick of playing nice to his face then sticking knives in anywhere she can in print. She paints him as a feeble, heartless, macho, self-indulgent, drunken (in fact alcoholic), loser who was never really what he had been cracked up to be. Worst and most telling of all: he is a golf-club bore.

His views can certainly be debated but she doesn't bother with that, preferring character assassination.

Let's see how she does it:

1. Physical repulsion

The paunchy, middle-aged figure who opens the door at 10am has a crust of dried toothpaste around his mouth, an air of bleary dishevelment and the stooped shuffle of a man just out of bed...

...Gruff, vague and nursing a cup of tea, he clasps one hand discreetly over the other in a manner suggestive of some practice in taming the morning shakes....

...Once noon arrives, though, he brightens up, proposing the first scotch of the day with one of those bluff jokes about rules for drinking so dear to saloon bar bores the world over...

2. Madness and degeneration demonstrated by way of irony and stereotype

...What the left just does not get, Hitchens argues, is that "Islamofascism" is hellbent on destroying our civilisation, and unless you fancy being bombed back into pre-Enlightenment times, you should bloody well be out there on the barricades, fighting the good fight beside him...

3. He is an emotional cripple

...there is barely a mention of his three children, one of whom was still in his first wife's womb when he left her for the second, neither of whom gets much of a look-in...

4. He has lost his marbles

the chapters on his parents, both now dead, and the other private reflections that are more illuminating – more so, probably, than the author intended...

5. He is a nasty has-been, one of a crowd who...

..preoccupied by masculinity and legacy, their palpable thrill about military might suggested that, deep down, they secretly feared progressive principles were for pussies.

6. As for his parents (but check points 3 and 4 above)

...He was the eldest son of a naval officer – "the Commander" – a quietly conservative, blimpish character in the Denis Thatcher mould

7. He is a bore not just when he is drunk

His father, by contrast, was a dreadful bore. And yet it is quite clearly the Commander's legacy that haunts Hitchens today...

8. He can't even argue

...I'm surprised by how often he sabotages an argument with a lurch into self-indulgence....

9. He is a sentimental, drunken bore

...his memoir contains an extended and frankly sentimental tribute to a US soldier killed in Iraq...

10. Another stab at the physical repulsiveness

...Hitchens would be the first to agree he cuts a less dashing figure than the beautiful young firebrand who illuminated the pages of the New Statesman in the 70s...

11. He is (naturally) puerile

...The march of time certainly hasn't altered one thing about Hitchens, which is, alas, his unaccountable pleasure in word games of the most puerile variety...

12. He really has no idea about women.. or poetry

...You're disarming yourself in an important struggle if you can't produce a fucking sonnet. What if I had to try on my own merits? You've got to have some sort of reserve arsenal." He looks incredulous when the photographer, a very beautiful young woman, expresses doubt about the efficacy of this seduction technique...

13. His powers of argument never were as good as people imagined (retrospective assassination is generally useful)

.."Well, I've got arguments!" he exclaims, laughing. "You want arguments? I've got arguments!"

He certainly has. Quite how they've earned Hitchens his status as a legend, however, I am at a loss to say. ...
(Does she argue? No arguments provided in the article.)

14. One last bore, saving the best till last...

..Why does he say to the barmaid, "Put a Xerox in that" when he wants another drink? He's meant to be an international sophisticate, not a home counties golf club bore...

I'm sure I haven't got all the bores in. Nor all the hints that he is a confirmed alcoholic.

Thank you for your time, Mr Hitchens.

I rather suspect that if he had written against the Iraq War he would have been gloriously sexy and a genius.

Decca Aikenhead on the other hand is positively fragrant.


witwoud said...

She has form:

Coirí Filíochta said...

I stumbled across the Hitch 'n Noam hooha in the Nation and thought Chomsky came out on top, with his line:

Hitchens condemns the claim of "facile 'moral equivalence between the two crimes." Fair enough, but since he fabricated the claim out of thin air, I feel no need to comment.

My reading of Hitchens' intellectual trajectory, is that it went from brilliant young man, to going off the boil in his forties.

He wrote brilliantly plausable arguments on important geo-political realties, each one outdoing the last in logically reasoned and hugely creative language; peaking in the late nineties and since then, like watching someone past their prime, initally Ali versus Norton, but then Ali versus Holmes and a sad slow decline into a shadow of his former self.

Whether this is right or not, I don't know, and will proabably never mneet him in person, so Hitch can only ever be a mental construction, something to play with, bat about back and forth, and any opinions expressed, merely those of a debater taking a position, not because I passionately believe it, but to hone the rhetorical skills one needs as a critic in Letters.

I thought the article was great, funny, Hitch mowed down to size, the Timothy Spall crack, brilliant. And far be it from me to knock a fellow boozer, but the Pillar of Hercules routine is a young man's game, and once you hit sixty talking of drink as Hitch does, it is not unfair for a rival hack to point out that forty years of pub life might actually not have sharpened the wits but atrophied them.

I think Hitch is old school, feted and constantly told how brilliant he was, at first as a younger man, his talent bigger than any faux pas, but it is increasingly clear that the older he gets, the more like a right-wing boor he becomes. And his Socialst self, I mean, c'mon, who is he trying to kid?

George S said...

That is a very good pastiche indeed, witwoud, just a little OTT, as it should be.

No, I don't agree coirí, I have watched him speak in public through this or that medium and his marbles seem absolutely in place to me. He has a brilliant mind, a vast store of recall, literature, detail, and speaks impromptu with courage and grace to clearly hostile audiences, while Aikenhead's notion of an article is to tickle their tummies. There's little more loathsome than that. That doesn't mean Hitchens is right about everything or, indeed, anything, but it does mean I note he has these qualities because I have seen them with my own eyes and heard them with these ears.

It strikes me Aikenhead is indulging in wish-fulfilment. 'Surely a man as brilliant as that can't think what we don't think! Therefore he can't be brilliant: he must be repulsive, sick, hopeless, done for. At least he'll be done for by the time we finish with him.'

And it won't be anything to do with argument - Aikenhead fails to address any argument whatsoever - she simply piles on a greasy glob of contempt.

Which frankly destroys any credibility she might have had entering the interview and puts me firmly on Hitchens's side in precisely the aspects she sneers at, irrespective of this or that argument Hitchens has made for this or that.

Utterly self-defeating in other words.

Also finished up instinctively liking Matt Lucas, a man whose existence did not much impinge on mine before (except for silently sharing a lift with him once at the BBC) .

Nicole S said...

George, I admire your fortitude in wading through that stream of spite. How unbearable the Guardian has become. Let's hope brave and nimble Hitch, with Matt Lucas by his side, will still be laughing into his glass long after the smug, true-believing, hand-washing Aikenheadosauruses have flailed their last.

Coirí Filíochta said...

Oh c'mon, it's theatre, comedy, harmless mockery of an intellectual titan.

If Hitchens needs to be defended to the point of Decca Aiken being demonized as a two-faced back-stabber; his wattage must be dimming.

Now, forgive me if it's wrong, and remember this text is only the rehearsal of a voice debating in Letters a performance for the entertainment of a Reader; but isn't Hitchens only one of seven billion of us?

OK, he is very clever and writes beautifully; but so what? Does this mean, because he is a very comnfortably off bloke who likes poetry and drinking and opining on geopolitical stuff he is only a watcher on the sidelines of; like you and me, that he cannot be written about in such a way as not to lick his boots with gratitude by a hack who isn't as interested in all the Big Things going on in the world.

I think, for the purpose of this comment, that Hitchens is very vicious and unforgiving in his roleplay; agreeing it is right to bomb whole swathes of people, create mass murder and destabalise continents, just so he can feel good about himself.

If he is that concerned, why doesn't he go and join the army and live by his beliefs, instead of pontificating to the rest of the world about why it is right to bomb people on the strength of their Religion, flying round the world to put his rhetoric to use for a pile of crooks who, now out of govt. need full time bodyguards to protect em from the masses, and one of whom, Blair, has been exposed as the biggest cod Socialist multi-millionaire actively not wanting the public to know how much and where his mega-bucks come from.

Alexander the Great had a brilliant mind, so did Ghandi, but Hitchens; forgive me if I am wrong, but isn't he just one person of the seven billion, his views no more or less valid than a kid getting shot in the camp and tent cities of this world Hitchens likes to opine on in smug, know-all tenors.

That's one position to counter at least. Myself, I don't care about Hitchen's theories, because they seem to toxic. It's the certitude of them, never entertaining the idea he could be mistaken.

It's OK if we're wrong on our theories when there's only a poem, a jumble of words getting debated; but the future of humanity - well, you are either with me or against me nonsense that Hitch seems to argue - says it all. You are free to disagree, but if so, you are demonized.

I would rather he spin me one of his poems, and I'll do the same, keep it at that level.

George S said...

'I think, for the purpose of this comment, that Hitchens is very vicious and unforgiving in his roleplay; agreeing it is right to bomb whole swathes of people, create mass murder and destabalise continents, just so he can feel good about himself.'

Yes, mass murder, coirí. He personally approved of every murder by Saddam Hussein and by the Iraqi insurgency, and by the Taliban in Afghanistan...

Oh, I see, you mean only the US army, who went around murdering individual Iraqis and Afghanis.

And he approves all these things personally 'just so he can feel good about himself'. That was his argument was it? The one you were following?

Forgive me coirí but you can be an extraordinary idiot. One of seven billion of course, so if I tell you you are a clapbrained idiot who blows his nose into his sleeve and eats rats for lunch it is perfectly OK because you are only one in seven billion.

Only, if I tell you these things, it will be read only by those who read this blog, and they will know I really have no idea about your nasal habits or your diet, or indeed the state of your brain.


Ms Baroque said...

George, I'm troubled by all this, and have left you a longish reply in my own comments thread... I've also, since yesterday, been trying to look up more info on DA, as all I know of her is her interviews etc. Not much info available!

My boyfriend took exactly the same position as you, which took me aback because I genuinely read the interview differently.

I think you make a good point re the "bore"s etc. It is polemical writing. But as to the personal angle on it all, I took that to be because he's just published this memoir - so if we're talking about him as a personality, I thought it was because he'd in a sense started the conversation.

As I say in my own comments, I found him no less interesting or respect-worthy at the end of this piece than before. He's never claimed to be a saint. I'm now troubled...

George S said...

Imagine the same interview done with a woman writer by a male hack, and gently finesse the sexism the other way, Katy.

I don't think she intended you to find him more interesting. I suspect that was what all the 'bore' business was about.

But I have commented at your place too.

George S said...

And coirí - I am not demonizing Aikenhead as' a two-faced back-stabber'.

I am actually saying she is a two-faced back-stabber. Care to find me other definitions of her method?

I, me, that is to say, I myself, think this way of writing stinks. That is my honest declared opinion. It stinks because it is two-faced and back-stabbing.

Aikenhead is a well-known journalist read by hundreds of thousands. I am a poet read by a few thousand. One annoyed blog is not going to demonize her. Not seeing she too is one of seven billion.

Nicole S said...

More 'demonisation' of Aikenhead here:

Anonymous said...

Might be nice though to read DA on George Galloway, provided the treatment is as hatchet-like!

George S said...

There is less to chop up there, Arnold.

witwoud said...

Decca on George Galloway: the problem is, you might start to like the guy after reading it. And that would never do.

Coirí Filíochta said...

How dare you disagree with me!!!

I will be taking this further Szirtes, I promise you that. This will not be allowed to rest as it is. Not a jot. No way!!

See me after class!!