ARTYFACTS: Day 20 - Hitchens - a Paine in the neck

Friday, May 26, 2006

Day 20 - Hitchens - a Paine in the neck

Given Hitchens penchant for unpopular causes, using nothing more than reason and wit, I was looking forward to this lecture, but it was a lazy performance and at times oddly fractious.

Lazy pen portrait
His Thomas Paine lecture was nothing more than a pen portrait. He made no attempt to relate Paine’s ideas to the modern world and simply strung together a sequence of anecdotes. It did nothing more than illuminate Hitchens own attachment to reason, anti-theism and republicanism. Like Galloway his love of rhetoric is really about him loving himself.

Questions and answers (sometimes)
Things did get a little more seismic in the Q&A session. There was a hilarious example of muddle-headedness, as some questioners made complaints about not being able to get to the fixed microphone to ask their question. After a couple of minutes of this nonsense, Hitchens lost his patience and said, “If you really want to ask your question walk to the fucking mike! That’s my last word on this fucking question.” Some continued to holler from the floor, and he refused to answer their questions. They had a point, as a roving mike was clearly necessary. However, the point was more than laboured.

Q Wasn’t Spinoza ahead of Paine in his attachment to reason, giving it a deeper philosophical basis?
A Hitchens was vague on Spinoza and could only recall some irrelevant biographical detail.

Q I represent a Brighton resident who is holed up in Guantanamo bay? Do you think the US has abandoned those principles you attribute to Paine?
A I’ve been to Abu Graib – it’s better than it was under Saddam. Hitchens has a simple tactic – he avoids answering the question by giving an eloquent answer to another question.

Q When can we expect another debate with George Galloway?
A He had a go at George Galloway, claiming that he had invited him to debate six times and had met with six refusals. He also looked forward to writing his prison diaries. Cheap shot. This all goes back to Galloway giving him a hard time in Washington when he called him “a drink-soaked former Trotskyist poppinjay”, effectively checkmating him in the use of juxtapositions of outdated adjectives and obscure nouns (a favourite Hitchens device). My favourite galloway jibe at hitches is, " You know, Hitchens, you’re a court jester. Not of Camelot, like other ridiculous liberals before you, but at the court of the Bourbon Bush".

Q Who, in our own times, has taken up Paine’s causes?
A Perhaps Havel and Mandela. Certainly not that bloated bullfrog who sits astride Venezuela.

Q Why has the US abandoned Palestine?
A Israel is a better place than palestine. Hitchens completely ignored the question.

Q Will the UK ever be a republic?
A Hitchens lambasted the Royal Family as ‘ a clapped-out roadshow – it’s finished’. Charles he called an “organic Islamicist”. Whatever way you look at it, being subject to the vagaries of a hereditary system was absurd. Hitchens was at his best on this subject.

Hitchens was unfairly antagonistic to questioners, who were polite and clear in their questions. Mishearing one questioner, then checking him on his use of grammar, was downright insulting. The cigarette being pointed at the audience from his lips like a gun was a schoolboy tactic. At one point he claimed not to have been asked a question by any women, despite the fact that he had given a long answer to a woman only moments earlier. Galloway was right; this guy has lost even his own plot. However, it was good to see a little passion in a book event. They can so easily turn into sycophantic sessions with questions such as, "What do you do when you get writer's block? How do you get your inspiration?..." This stirred up some passion on both sides. I met a lovely lady after the event who turned out to be the Sherriff of Sussex. Do we need any further proof taht England is the most civislised country in the world, when even our Sheriffs and polite, urbane and wear pearls! She was very quiet on Hitchens republicanism, mentioning only that she was meeting Charles and Camilla tomorrow.

3 stars


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought he was drunk! No one is this naturally rude and repugnant when sober.

5:36 pm  

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