A year ago this week—at which point he’d been thinned by chemotherapy but not yet harrowed with radiation—a few of us sat with Christopher Hitchens around his dining-room table, trying to come up with a title for the essay collection he had scheduled for publication. The question hovering over us, of course, was whether or not Hitch would still be here to see the book appear, but we set that aside and went merrily to work. The evening proved inconclusive, and I can see from a search of my e-mail files that we were still at it the next day. I wrote to him:
How about Persuasion? It’s what you’ve engaged in all your life.
It’s got its Jane Austen echo–a certain ironic delicacy–and seems somehow to combine the political and literary sides of you. It also seems to suggest the art involved in what you do (the gentle art of making enemies, etc.). And it makes the book into a single entity, rather than a collection of items.
He wrote back, with one of our usual joke-salutations:
angelface and dream-rabbit,
this is thought, despite its near-uncanny percipience, to be just a shade genteel. can you continue to cudgel?
The collection appeared—and he was here to see it—as Arguably. As titles go, it’s not bad, but when I consider it now, it seems faintly misleading. It suggests arguments undertaken just because they can be made. Hitch did love the pleasures of argument—why shouldn’t he? He was argument’s Michael Jordan—but for all that, I never, not once, saw him argue a point merely to display his wit (incomparable) or to hear his own voice (soft and seductive). His beliefs were always authentic, passionate, and wholly sincere; he regarded cynicism as the most boring form of naivete.
Our country and city have suffered a terrible loss. Christopher Hitchens was a wonderful friend, a brave man, and (I can now hear him saying “if you insist”) a great soul.