Tuesday, May 06, 2003

More Hitchy ass-kissing

So, assuming Hitchens is done being insane about Iraq, I'm going to go ahead and resume kissing his ass. Hope I haven't jumped the gun.

Anyway, there was a fine article in the recent Harpers by Cristina Nehring discussing the state of the essay as literary form and the essayist as writer of ideas. I thought it was a great article bemoaning the current crop of essayists. The Thoreaus, Emersons, etc., of the past were essayists with a bite, Nehring argues. When they related the trivia of daily life, it was to use as a wedge to get at something broader and more universal about the human experience. Perhaps they missed the mark at times, perhaps they overgeneralized, but they weren't afraid to make these generalizations or to muse on what it is to be human. In contrast, Nehring sees the modern essayist as a writer who seems ashamed of his craft. He [pardon the gender specific pronoun, I mean it universally] now writes almost entirely of trivia with no broader meaning: idyllic coming-of-age in the country seems to rule the day, as do pointless offerings such as "I prefer feather beds" and so on.

Essayists in their own words often view their work as inferior to the poets and novelists, but Nehring cites several moving examples of essay-writing that are virtually peerless in capturing their subject. (wouldn't this post be better if I had the article in front of me?) In the politically correct climate of the times, Nehring muses that essayists fear to make the broad, cutting pronouncements that defined our prized essayists of the past. Is it not true, she asks, that there are aspects of human existence that transcend ethnic/gender/national boundaries that are still worth exploring? Surely there is still something unifying and human about us all that we should not fear to probe. She offers a few modern essayists who remain unafraid of opinions and generalizations, and among them, she cites Christopher Hitchens. Now, it's no difficult task to come up with an opinionated Hitchens quote, having just run across this bit, I'll offer this from "Letters to a Young Contrarian":
"In some ways I feel sorry for the racists and religious fanatics, because they so much miss the point of being human, and deserve a sort of pity. But then I harden my heart, and decide to hate them all the more, because of the misery they inflict and because of the contemptible excuses they advance for doing so."

Now, you may not agree, but isn't it refreshing to have something concrete to agree or disagree with, rather than mealy mouthed statements so diluted as to not offend any party? Why, you may ask, is this refreshing, when Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly and their equally opinionated ilk are so contemptible? Well that's easy. Challenge the Hitch on any statement and he'll come back at you with mountains of research, facts, supporting opinions, and apt comparisons. He'll offer intellectual and moral honesty as well as clarity. Those others of course, obfuscate rather than clarify, twist facts rather than straighten them out, and avoid truth and evidence like leprosy.


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