I wrote this about eight years ago for “In the Library.” It hints at why I hope Christopher Hitchens stays around.
Christopher Hitchens is a standing reproach to people who write the odd essay now and then. He is like some sort of crazed writing machine, he seems to average three or four longish essays a day, along with reading everything ever written and remembering all of it, knowing everyone worth knowing on most continents, visiting war zones and trouble spots around the globe, going on television and overbearing even noisy Chris Matthews’ efforts to interrupt him, and irritating people. And what’s even more painful is that this torrent of prose is nothing like the torrents of people like Joyce Carol Oates or Iris Murdoch, badly written in proportion to the torrentiality – no, this is a torrent of learned, witty, informed and informative, searching, impassioned history on the hoof. If Hitchens is a journalist then so were Gibbon and Thucydides.
Unacknowledged Legislation is a collection of essays on writers in the public sphere, as the subtitle has it. The essays are many things, but one of the most noticeable is that they are unexpected. The essay on Philip Larkin for example entirely declines the opportunity to express easy outrage, and instead digs much, much deeper. The one on Martha Nussbaum’s Poetic Justice wonders why she didn’t mention Mill’s autobiography and then at the fact that she seems unaware of the element of caricature in Dickens’ Hard Times. ‘When the utilitarian teacher M’Choakumchild – perhaps a clue there? – tells Sissy Jupe etc.’ Hitchens misses nothing.
Christopher Hitchens, Unacknowledged Legislation, Verso: 2000.