Eagleton on Hitchens.

Oh man, this is tasty.

“Hypocritchens”, as he was known at Balliol, was suave, bright, fearless, loquacious, self-admiring and grotesquely ambitious.


This blend of self-vaunting and perfunctory self-deprecation is a common device in his prose, as he recounts some self-aggrandising moment from his career as a war journalist while insisting that he was shaking with fear at the time, or professes to be knocked back by discovering that the great Isaiah Berlin should prefer his humble company while he is still an Oxford student to that of “much more distinguished figures”.


What others would see as squalid social climbing, gross opportunism and a greedy desire to have it every possible way, he himself seems to regard as both clever and amusing.


It is as though he sees his own double-dealing as a rather agreeable versatility – as testimony to his myriad-mindedness rather than as a privileged, spoilt-brat desire (among other things) to hog it all. One is reminded of the scatty socialite in Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies who had heard talk of an Independent Labour Party and was furious that she had not been invited.

7 thoughts on “Eagleton on Hitchens.

  1. Weird, it’s like you were reading my mind, or my Twitter feed. My favorite line: “If one can swallow one’s vomit at some of this, there is much in the book to enjoy.”

    I have a strange urge to read this memoir by “Hitch.” I’m afraid it’s going to be boring, I mean, starts out as a middle class privately educated youngster, then goes to Oxford and turns into a Trotskyite, but utlimately has some sort of mid life crisis and falls back into the high Toryism of his early years. Hmmm..have we heard this before? In between each of these “signposts” some stuff happens, spanked by Thatcher, goes after Mother Theresa, moves to the USA etc. At Oxford he meets up with Julian Barnes and Martin Amis, and becomes a writer, but I always got the feeling that Hitch never lacked self-assurance (as Eagleton points out), I mean, Vidal used to call Hitchens the Dauphin to his Roi Soleil. Yawn.

    Still though, I may just read it. At least Hitch takes literature seriously, I suppose, and one must admit, even if I’ve only agreed with him once or twice, (perhaps) he is fairly clever and witty, but all around (and consistently) completely insufferable. Here’s another review I found, the first paragraph is amusing:

    THERE IS in Christopher Hitchens’s autobiography a photograph of a group of smug-looking English youths sitting cross-legged on a pavement. The year is 1968. Bloody political unrest is shaking Europe, the February Tet offensive has lit the exit sign for the US in Vietnam. What is Hitchens’s group doing? His caption says they are ‘‘blockading a racist hairdresser’’.

    One shudders to think of the violence to come.

    Read the full review here

  2. I saw Eagleton a few months ago, debunking ‘Ditchkins’ (his amalgam of Dawkins and Hitchens) and their “off the peg” Enlightenment. It was pretty much a recycling of his latest book, but I liked Eagleton’s comment about the new rationalists reading the Bible as a set of falsifiable facts being like reading Moby-Dick as an account of the whaling industry.

    • I spent most of the evening attaching the word “grotesque” to every other adjective to see what happens – fun game. Seriously though, Eagleton’s a great writer, always fun to read, whatever his opinions. In fact, reading him makes me sorry for the general state of philosophical writing – needless to say, if Graham Harman’s throwing in a few adjectives here and there is considered “great style” then I’m not sure what the future holds for us…

  3. I’m such a huge fan of Kingsley and Martin Amis that I’m sure I’ll enjoy the book.

    I have to say that I thought Hitchens book on religion was a cut above Dawkins and Dennett’s. I mean, every religion has a contemplative tradition that Dawkins and Dennett tend to talk past (this is the gist of Eagleton’s point). By focusing so much and so clearly on the moral problems that historically attend religion, Hitchens presents a much more serious challenge I think. His book is also incredibly entertaining (but then I’m one of those people who really does think Graham Harman is a fantastic prose stylist, so to the extent that you disagree, take my aesthetic judgments with a handful of salt. . . though maybe we can all at least agree that Quine’s prose style is vastly overrated?).

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