Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Things already looking up? Don’t count your chickens. And let’s not go overboard over the death of one Christopher Hitchens

Here is a short film a made a two and a half years ago when the credit crisis, or as it was referred to at the time ‘the current period of economic readjustment’ started. Within months things seemed to get better, and I thought that I had been rather too pessimistic. Well, apparently I wasn’t. In the true spirit of Christmas I should like to share it with the world. Enjoy (as they say in trendy bars).

NB The first version of this film used Steely Dan's version of East St. Louis Toodle-Oo, but the You Tube software wouldn’t let me use it and the film with the original soundtrack was deleted within a few days. But I then managed to find Duke Ellington’s original version and that is the one used here. That explains the otherwise pointless reference to Walter Becker and Donald Fagen.
There are more films by the incredibly, unbelievably, superlatively, breathtakingly and magnificently talented filmmaker Jacques Pernod available here. I suggest you view Thelonius Watches Paint Dry and Indolence as a way into appreciating his unique vision. Once you have accustomed yourself to his dystopian yet life-affirming style, you could attempt Significance (Or An Evening With Rob).

. . .

Oscar Wilde once wrote that ‘sentimentality is a bank holiday from cynicism’. Better known is the dictum attributed to Wilde that ‘a cynic knows the price of everything and the value of nothing’, but it was not what Wilde wrote, in fact. It is a paraphrase from a line in his play Lady Windermere’s Fan, and it was not original. Someone else said it first, but I can’t remember who and I can’t be bothered at this point to try to find out. Anyway, I prefer the first because for me it sums up so much in the world. It helps explain how at Christmas the Nazis were able to hold carol services for the staff at their concentration camps and get dewy-eyed about it all while all around them the killing and other horrors continued. It also explains one facet of the character of many journalists. Thet can, as a rule, cynically treat ‘civilians’ - that is everyone who is not, like them, lucky enough to be a journalist - appallingly, all in the spurious interests of ‘the public’s right to know’. But they reserve their sentimental molly-coddling for their own and will weep in public profusely at the death of a colleague. Thus, the ‘serious’ papers in the UK and the US have been printing fulsome tributes to one Christopher Hitchens and not stinting themselves in their praise. I doubt that the ordinary chap in the street had ever heard of him, but they have now and with his death a few days ago, Hitchens has already been lined up as one of the ‘greats’ in the pantheon of hacks and associated rogues.
Hitchens could most certainly write well and was also master of an entertaining and acerbic turn of phrase, and although I have not read a lot by him, I must concede that and acknowledge his gift for having himself marked out as the man who will not flinch from saying the unsayable. One of his better known achievements is to put the boot into Mother Theresa, which will not have gone down well with those who regard the woman as third in command after Jesus Christ and his mum. But as far as I am concerned whatever those achievements, they are all overshadowed by two things about his life: he was one of that curious kind who starts his or her political life on the extreme left - Hitchens traded as a Trotskyite for many years - but at some point doesn’t just drift as rush to the right. Then there is the fact, which should disconcert those now canonising the man but doesn’t seem to in the slightest, that not only did Hitchens support the invasion of Iraq by Britain and America, he became something of an apologist for those fuckwits who surrounded and manipulated George Dubya and who gloried in the name Neo-Cons.
I find it very hard indeed to take seriously anyone who can make such an intellectual journey without apparently batting an eyelid. John Maynard Keynes once said that ‘when the facts change, I change my mind’, but it is simply inconceivable that the facts changed so radically that Hitchens decided that his radical Trotskyism was a crock of shit and that those nasty chaps on the right might not be quite as nasty after all. His brother Peter (who now writes for the Mail on Sunday) and the writer and historian Paul Johnson (who once edited the New Statesman) did the same. I simply cannot take them seriously. I once read a bizzare piece (in the Guardian - where else?) but Martin Amis in which he almost had orgasms over Hitchens’ ‘wit’. I can’t give you a link to it because the Guardian’s copyright on the aritcle has lapsed, but it was headlined ‘Amis on Hitchens: ‘He’s one of the most terrifying rhetoricians the world has seen’. The use of ‘terrifying’ to describe what kind of rhetorician Hitchens apparently was should give you a clue as to the kind of self-regarding cack Amis’s piece was. And indication of just how incestuous the world of literary luvviedom is can be found here (Amis on Saul Bellow, Hitchens on Amis, McEwan on Amis, Amis on Hitchens, God on Amis - that kind of thing).
It is not that Hitchens changed his views as he grew older. Many do that, and although the usual drift is to the right of centre
I don’t doubt that his friends and family loved Hitchens and will miss him, but that doesn’t oblige me to join in the hooraying. I don’t deny that, as many have testified, he was very good company, could be relied upon professionally and could hold his booze. For me Hitchens is just another ‘left’ radical who threw it all up and became a ‘right’ radical. And as someone commented at the end of Francis Wheen’s memoir in the Daily Telegraph: ‘For someone who didn’t believe in RIPs, why the RIPs?’

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