Christopher Hitchens has died.
It seems appropriate to quote here, as I’ve done earlier, something he said in one of his many debates against religion and unreason:
I don’t know if you really think that when you die you can be corporeally reassembled, and have conversations with authors from previous epochs. It’s not necessary that you believe that in Christian theology, and I have to say that it sounds like a complete fairy tale to me. The only reason I’d want to meet Shakespeare, or might even want to, is because I can meet him, any time, because he is immortal in the works he’s left behind. If you’ve read those, meeting the author would almost certainly be a disappointment.
And as I wrote then:
What a tower of courageous, unsentimental intellect. Perhaps our consolation after his death — which will happen sooner or later, after all, to him and to all of us — will be the same consolation he finds in communing with Shakespeare through his works: that Hitchens’ own spoken and written words will remain with us, engaging us in the endless conversation about what is good, beautiful, noble, pure, and true, “the only conversation worth having.”
The words indeed remain. And through them his wit and conviction and ferocious intellect live on.
Here, for instance, is a passage from his Letters to a Young Contrarian; it’s as good a passage as any with which to honor Hitchens’ memory on this day.
Beware the irrational, however seductive. Shun the “transcendent” and all who invite you to subordinate and annihilate yourself. Distrust compassion; prefer dignity for yourself and others. Don’t be afraid to be thought arrogant or selfish. Picture all experts as if they were mammals. Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity. Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence. Suspect your own motives, and all excuses. Do not live for others any more than you would expect others to live for you.
I shall leave you with a few words from George Konrad, the Hungarian dissident […]:
Have a lived life instead of a career. Put yourself in the safekeeping of good taste. Lived freedom will compensate you for a few losses. . . . If you don’t like the style of others, cultivate your own. Get to know the tricks of reproduction, be a self-publisher even in conversation, and then the joy of working can fill your days.
May it be so with you, and may you keep your powder dry for the battles ahead, and know when and how to recognise them.
(Image via Thiago Lins)