An answer to Ruarai’s question on Christopher Hitchens?

There’s been a number of gems in the after flow of the gush that followed the death of Christopher Hitchens… not least this ascerbic ‘complement’ from his former comrade in arms at The Nation, Katha Pollett…

But the gem of gems so far has to be this erudite and subtle take on Hitchens’ late discovery that both his mother and his grandmother (and therefore, he) were Jewish from Marc Tracey…

It’s long but very much worth a thorough read, taking in, as it does, James Joyce’s Ulysses as a seminal and influential text upon the man and the polemicist, if you want to dig beneath his prodigious talent as an ‘intellectual skywriter’

At its core it argues that Hitchens, unlike other notorious crossers of the floor, never quite gave up his faith in Marx, even if he parted ways with dogmatic Marxism.. And Tracey dates his crossing of that floor not to 9/11, but to the Fatwah on Salman Rushdie twelve years earlier and the fall of the wall when (to use the jargon) his crude cold war dialectic (‘a plague on both their houses’) gave rise to a new synthesis:

The dialectic—the ability of opposites to feed off of each other and eventually produce a synthesis that assimilates the best aspects of both into an overpowering Truth—is the answer to the riddle of Hitchens’ career, particularly of what many saw as his rightward turn later in life. If he did not quite add up, perhaps that is because Marx is not “right” but rather “rightest,” and Hitchens achieved not “synthesis” but rather “Hitch-22,” his personal variation on Joseph Heller’s famed construct wherein two mutually exclusive premises are bound to co-exist. Belief in unbelief, certainty in uncertainty: These are the Scylla and Charybdis through which Hitchens skillfully steered his ship.

But Hitchens speaks most movingly and with the most tactile feel for the magic of the dialectic not while discussing what could be termed his faith, Marxism, but while discussing his mother’s faith. “Judaism is dialectical,” he argues. “Even pre-enlightenment Judaism forces its adherents to study and think, it reluctantly teaches them what others think, and it may even teach them how to think also.” Yvonne gave him “two sides to his head” not by virtue of being Jewish as well as English; the two sides, instead, are contained totally within his Jewishness.

See also: Did Christopher Hitchens have a Big Idea?