Hitchens, the trailer

Once again, the LRB comes up trumps with its understated sarcasm: this time, the target is Christopher Hitchens and his new lite-lit book on Thomas Paine, and the marksman is John Barrell. Strictly speaking it seems to be a biography of Paine’s Rights of Man. It’s a trendy thing to do: document the work rather than the man, as if it were a man. It’s like calling pubs “The X at Y” rather than just “The X”, where you don’t notice the taste that saying it leaves in your mouth until they did it to the pub in a recent Dickens adaptation. In short, it dresses your mutton as lamb.

Verbose as usual, it still manages to hit home:

… Hitchens remarks that ‘it is a deformity in some “radicals”’ – he has Marx particularly in mind – ‘to imagine that, once they have found the lowest or meanest motive for an action or for a person, they have correctly identified the authentic or “real” one.’ Quite right too; and if any radical, misled by George Galloway’s description of Hitchens as ‘a drink-soaked former Trotskyite popinjay’, should suggest that this book was written out of vanity, he would surely be mistaken. A vain man would have taken care to write a better book than this: more original, more accurate, less damaging to his own estimation of himself, less somniferously inert….

And this is quite early on in the review. This is before we discuss his tissue of inaccuracies, all coincidentally working to augment rather than diminish the political thrust that Hitchens would like to see in Paine. It’s before Barrell shows passages of John Keane’s 1995 biography (of Paine rather than a book) side by side with the virtual rewordings that Hitchens drops into his own work. And it’s long before Hitchens is ultimately skewered on his own pompous overestimation of himself. Worth the wait, though.

This entry was posted in art, criticism, history, humanities, literature, time, understanding. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Hitchens, the trailer

  1. K says:

    Have you seen I Blame The Patriachy’s take on this?

    “I wish I could say that Hitchens, in mistaking useless bong-scrapings for words worth reading, merely failed to debug his joke-writing software when an Eisenhower-era stereotype virus crashed his hard drive, but the truth is, he’s just a fucking knob.”


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