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Today it is okay to drown, at least for a little while

Now he is scattered among a hundred cities
And wholly given over to unfamiliar affections,
To find his happiness in another kind of wood
And be punished under a foreign code of conscience.
The words of a dead man
Are modified in the guts of the living.

From W.H. Auden’sIn Memory of W. B. Yeats


Harold Bloom, in The Anxiety of Influence, writes:

The precursors flood us, and our imaginations can die by drowning in them, but no imaginative life is possible if such inundation is wholly evaded.

All writers know this flood, this beautiful terrifying flood, whether we realize it or not. It is a flood of words so gloriously brilliant and so achingly gorgeous that they make us both shudder with pleasure and wince with pain. It is a double-edged sword, like that dreadfully thrilling moment when we first realize that lust and anxiety are almost indistinguishable from one another. It is like looking into the face of one whose beauty renders us speechless with both desire and fear. It is a flood of pleasure, of admiration, of love, of pain. After the flood, we are exhausted, inspired, and hurt, in love with a beauty that, try as we might, we can neither possess nor emulate.

And Bloom is right: if, reeling with desperation, confusion, awe, or pleasure, we refuse to fight against this chaotic intoxicating maelstrom, if we chose to drown, we surrender. We render ourselves incapable of engaging in the joy and the toil and the torturous thrill of writing, depriving ourselves and others, leaving too many words unsaid.

Yet, as with all maxims, there are exceptions and caveats to Bloom’s claim. There are those few writers, those glorious few, whose flood of words we cannot help but surrender to. We must let the dizzying awe and the terrifyingly ecstatic thrill that we feel in the presence of their words render us silent with admiration, with love.

In the words of Eliot, their “human voices wake us, and we drown”.

This is especially true when one such voice is extinguished too soon, a voice that refused to “go gentle into that good night“, a voice that, like a benevolent Ozymandias, towers over us, leaving us to ask ourselves what we could we possibly say that would do them justice.

A voice like Christopher Hitchens’s. A voice like no other. A voice that has been silenced all too soon. A voice of staggering brilliance that has now left us with the haunting and heartbreaking question of what might have been.

Many will try, but few possess the words, the knowledge, the personal insight, or the rhetorical talent to give him the remembrances he deserves. For those of us who do not, this is a day to surrender to our awe, our admiration, and our sadness. It is a day to listen to others. It is a day to surrender to our memories of the voice of Christopher Hitchens, a human voice that woke us if ever there was one.

Today it is okay to drown, at least for a little while.

  1. You eloquently expressed the bittersweet loss, Miranda. Bitter to know Hitch no longer exists; sweet to know that his words and wisdom remain. Thank you!

    December 16, 2011
  2. Miranda, what a beautiful and moving piece. I would go as far as to say my favourite of yours which I have read.

    In an age when religious antagonists try to bulldozer the opposition by simply shouting the loudest, it is all the more important that voices like Hitchens were heard. Much as I admire Richard Dawkins, I always felt Hitchens ‘won’ his debates with more panache. I believe it is always better to argue against religion with philosophy than with science. I always remember the way he completely destroyed Tony Blair in the faith debate. Christopher Hitchens was a great orator with a great intellect and the cause of reason is worse off without him.

    His brother, Peter, an incredibly right wing christian who throughout his life had many a run-in with Christopher, wrote the article (below) today. It’s probably the only thing he has ever written I have ever agreed with!

    It is a shame that people like Rick Warren feel the need to attack Hitchens today via twitter. Perhaps he realises that this is the only time he will win the debate. In response to Rick Warren’s appallingly insensitive comments I would like to say I hope now Hitchens has gone, he really has gone. That there is no afterlife or eternal damnation. I hope this for all the reasons Christopher Hitchens spent his life explaining. It’s what he would have wanted.

    December 16, 2011
  3. Hi Miranda — (I e-mailed you about something that would take you 10 seconds to do for me: regarding your blog—but about mine. For now I hope you’ll let the address you through. It’s in it’s infancy anyway.

    December 16, 2011
  4. A ferocious lion of courageous intellect, who was driven by the truth and a high sense of morality. The world of great intellect lost a giant of an intellectual and a beautiful human being. His words, however, will never die.

    December 16, 2011
  5. Connie #

    Miranda, I complimented your obit on facebook, and I have to do it here. Very well written, very eloquent, very much up to Hitch’s standards.
    well done, I really appreciate it!

    December 16, 2011
  6. Jeff #

    Beautifully said, Miranda.

    The world is a poorer place because he died, but it is a better place because he lived.

    December 16, 2011
  7. Functional Atheist #

    Nicely said, Miranda. The finest piece I’ve read (so far) about Hitch was Christopher Buckley’s remembrance in The New Yorker, but I’m sure there will be other great ones (I’m particularly looking forward to what Martin Amis and Salman Rushdie will write).

    Condolences to Hitch’s wife Carol Blue, his three children, and to his many dear friends, including but not limited to the three fine writers I mentioned in the paragraph above.

    December 16, 2011
  8. You write so very well

    Time to spread your wings…

    December 16, 2011
  9. I loved reading this.

    December 17, 2011
  10. Andrew Hughes #

    What a wonderful tribute.

    December 17, 2011
  11. That was beautiful. Choked me up.

    Not being much of a drinker, I’m not going to raise a toast to Hitch. Instead, in his honor, I’m going to try to learn something new, and since I never read poetry….any suggestions?

    December 18, 2011
  12. Rob #

    Miranda, you have risen to the pinnacle of the authentic with this piece. Beautiful, heart rending and guileless. Very, VERY well done!!

    December 18, 2011

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