Remembering the real Hitchens, not the caricature

Hitchens’s best work was fueled, as he said, by a hatred of bullies. That is another way of saying that his best work was a brilliant struggle with himself, for he could be the worst of bullies. Along with his wound-driven vitality, his titanic certitude also accounted for his spellbinding quality (not to mention that beautiful voice that made him sound uncannily like Richard Burton). His late work seemed to me to be a relaxation of that struggle. He accepted the universal caricature of himself as the hard-drinking “contrarian” and reveled in his capacity to bully all comers. It was at that point, when Christopher Hitchens became “Christopher Hitchens” that celebrity wrapped its rubber arms around him.

But incandescent individuals like Hitchens work from behind a mask, and through the toll and ardor of work, they inevitably become, to one degree or another, the mask. I will not miss at least half of what Hitchens wrote in the last few years. I will miss the presence, somewhere on earth, of a man of tantalizing depth and mysterious energy, who lacked just enough self-knowledge to turn, a little, the consciousness of his time.