The NYT checks in on Hitchens

October 10, 2011 • 3:29 am

Yesterday’s New York Times has a piece on Christopher Hitchens, his receipt of the Dawkins award at the atheist meetings in Houston, Texas, and a report on his work and his health.

It turns out that Hitchens is in Houston anyway, undergoing chemotherapy at the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, where “he has turned his 12th-floor room into a temporary library and headquarters.” The Times continues:

Mr. Hitchens is gaunt these days, no longer barrel-chested. His voice is softer than it used to be, and for the second time since he began treatment, he has lost most of his hair. Once such an enthusiastic smoker that he would light up in the shower, he gave up cigarettes a couple of years ago. Even more inconceivable to many of his friends, Mr. Hitchens, who used to thrive on whiskey the way a bee thrives on nectar, hasn’t had a drink since July, when a feeding tube was installed in his stomach. “That’s the most depressing aspect,” he said. “The taste is gone. I don’t even want to. It’s incredible what you can get used to.”

NYT photo by Michael Stravato

We all know that Hitch is on the downslide, but he’s facing it with courage:

His main regret at the moment, Mr. Hitchens said, was that while he was keeping up with his many deadlines — for Slate, The Atlantic and Vanity Fair — he didn’t have the energy to also work on a book. He had recently come up with some new ideas about his hero, George Orwell, for example — among them that Orwell might have had Asperger’s — and he said he ought to include them in a revised edition of his 2002 book, “Why Orwell Matters.” He had also thought of writing a book about dying. “It could be called ‘What to Expect When You’re Expecting,’ ” he said, laughing.

Turning serious, he said, “I’ve had some dark nights of the soul, of course, but giving in to depression would be a sellout, a defeat.” He added: “I don’t know why I got so sick. Maybe it was the smokes, or maybe it’s genes. My father died of the same thing. It’s pointless getting into remorse.”

And he’s characteristically sardonic:

On balance, he reflected, the past year has been a pretty good one. He won a National Magazine Award, published “Arguably,” debated Tony Blair in front of a huge audience and added two states to the list of those he has visited. “I lack only the Dakotas and Nebraska,” he said, “though I may not get there unless someone comes up with some ethanol-based cancer treatment in Omaha.”

Well, at least I’ve beat the man at one thing: I’ve been to every state save North Dakota.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

—Dylan Thomas

h/t: John Danley

9 thoughts on “The NYT checks in on Hitchens

  1. To lose the mind and voice of Hitchens, together with Jobs, Pausch and Hicks is, for me personally a further defeat of any glimmer of belief—or at the very least, in that of a compassionate “creator”. That the likes of, say, a Pat Robertson continue to babble on into their dotage makes all this good dying (relatively)
    young even more unbearable.

    1. If I ever were to contemplate, for a second, attempting to believe in some other-worldly deity, it would be precisely because of such an argument: A god with a weird, dark sense of humour and a well-earned hatred of humanity, who prefers spending time with bright chaps like Steve Jobs and Chris Hitchens, while leaving us in the dreadful company of the [expletives deleted] Robertsons and Ratzingers and Perrys and Bachmanns. In musical terms: He gets Glenn Gould, we’re stuck with Lang Lang.

  2. Hitchens strength and determination in the face of adversity is inspirational and envious. He is a far better man than I could ever be in his situation.

  3. Once again, what a great example he sets for us all.

    My Dad’s side of the family is from North Dakota. Been there a million times, including 2 years at NDSU. You’re not missing much.

  4. The only difference I could discern between North and South Dakota was the diversity of the road kill.

    South Dakota: Deer, deer, deer, deer. North Dakota: Raccoon, cat, fox, ground hog, coyote.

    South Dakota’s Congressional delegation also apparently is a lot more powerful than the North’s. SD roads are amazing. ND roads are “chip seal”, which is a gravel-tar slurry.

    Of course, North Dakota also has the most grimly devoted tourist trap north of the Rio Grande in Medora. There’s a Cowboy Hall of Fame, a touristy dinner place that serves deep-fried rib eye (I am not making that up), a musical revue featuring every kid who couldn’t find a job in Branson, and a real-life 1880s-era “chateau” of a French aristocrat who tried (and failed miserably) to build a canned meat plant, had a run-in with a local cowpoke (self-defense was claimed at the trial), and was familiar with Teddy Roosevelt (familiar being used in the “breeds contempt” sense).

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