The Dude on Death (and life)

British television viewers were treated yesterday to a Newsnight special, in which the normally grumpy puss presenter Jeremy Paxman conducted a half-hour interview with Anglo-American writer Christopher Hitchens. The subject of Paxman’s almost reverential piece is the original drink-soaked trotskyite popinjay for war: a journalist and essayist famous for being one of the leading ‘new atheists’, beloved of professional godbotherers and liberal newspaper columnists the world over. Hitchens, who until now has been notorious for hard living, was earlier this year diagnosed with a malignant form of oesophagal cancer, and the prognosis is not good.

We normally associate Christopher Hitchens with a pugilistic polemic that takes no prisoners. Not even the Blessed Teresa of Calcutta is spared. But the topics covered in the Newsnight interview broadcast last night were more human and emotional, with a focus on the writer’s state of mind as he faces a nemesis with no bodily form or sentience.

Back in September, Hitchens commented

“The alien had colonized a bit of my lung as well as quite a bit of my lymph node. And its original base of operations was located – had been located for quite some time – in my esophagus. My father had died, and very swiftly, too, of cancer of the esophagus. He was 79. I am 61. In whatever kind of a ‘race’ life may be, I have very abruptly become a finalist.”

Aside from my general approval of Hitchens’ politics and view of religion (in summary, ’tis a bad thing), on watching the interview I experienced a wave of warmth and affection for a man I have never met, and whose path I am unlikely to cross, at least in this life.

Watch the programme for yourselves. The BBC version linked above is no doubt available only to UK residents, so below is embedded the first half of a YouTube rip-off. A link to the second half may be found on the YouTube page