A rather lacklustre column
on the rather lacklustre Bloomsday, at PopMatters now.
In the brief review today, Christopher Hitchen’s Unacknowledged Legislation
. The Hitch is an excellent critic, but not a great essayist. He seems to be somewhat deficient in the more narrative mechanics of the essay. He has humour, albeit a critic’s humour, but not much of the friendly generosity or creative openness of the true essayist. Though all these articles are made of intelligently critical stuff, and he loves splitting political hairs and allegiances, I yearned for the care and accommodation of the reader in his writerly style. The kind of sensibility that novelists keep before them constantly. Hitch has made doco’s and TV pieces (most recently viewed: his ambivalent look at Texas) which are far better in their mode and pace of address, so I assume he’s at least somewhat familiar with what a narrative is and can do.
Hitchen never judges prose, only direct political acumen. His leftist hero is Orwell (does that make him a part of the Orwell Industry, where all media socialists seem to coalesce?). But on the whole, his is an annoying posture of aggravation, fuelled by some broad singsong about the Demise of the Left (and I mean the whole political mass of it), whether in America or the UK, wherever pockets of unity can be still be dismissed as ideologically confused. Sounding much like the gruff ex-Trotskyist who’s so used to covering his own contradictory ideological tracks that he flintily demands every interlocutor, polemicist or tired proselytiser to clearly state his terms of reference. The Hitch argues from a wishful panoptical perspective, yet still comes across acutely personal in his attacks. Yellow or embittered journalism? Either way, I had to skip frequently when he started spouting a line. He tires quickly; he abuses his reader’s patience. And I still can’t shake the feeling he’s doing the dirty thinking-work of American Conservatives. Inadvertently. Like he’s on some US committee or secretive society with ‘Freedom’ and ‘Alliance’ in the title.
The articles on Wilde are excellent. The kinship with Rushdie was interesting. The Conan Doyle, Dorothy Parker and Great Gatsby pieces are excellent. The Amis/Koba critique fails to mention and hence exploits his closeness and familiarity with the Amis household. But then again, the far superior War Against Cliché
is almost diametrically opposed (‘symmetrically’ opposed) to this collection. Amis trades general politics for talent and talented writing.
The back cover of my US edition has some interesting (if mixed) critical quotes. John Banville smarmily opines ‘Gore Vidal should be so lucky to have this boy
for an heir.’ [my italics, of course] The TLS identifies the Hitch as an ‘editor’s dream’.
But the most pithy stuff comes not from Hitch but from Desmond MacCarthy (re: Wilde).
(iii) Conscience must be merged in instinct before we become fine.
(iv) Nothing can cure the soul but the senses, just as nothing can cure the senses but the soul (p6).
There’s a whole book of worthy criticism in that.