December 18, 2011

Havel vs. Hitchens: Blogosphere have you no sense of decency or proportion?

It's rightly called by the clumsy and unattractive term "Blogosphere," a word that does not trip lightly off the tongue. It has, as usual, no sense of proportion and less sense of shame. This has been particularly evident in the last few days with the passing of two men, Vaclav Havel and Christopher Hitchens.

Along with untold hundreds of other's I had my pass at Hitchens soon after his death foretold was announced as a fait accompli. I was saddened by his passing as much as I am saddened by the passing of many whom I do not know except via their work but for whom I come to have more than a passing interest if not a bit of respect. I wrote what I had to say about Hitchens fairly early on the day his death was announced but was unprepared for the tsunami of comment that came along on the heels of my own marginally interesting reflections and continued..... and continued.... and continued... until one would have thought that the revealed author of the New Testament had passed on without finishing the Book of Revelations.

I mean, really, the outpouring of memoirs and memory and sheer unadulterated name dropping was somewhat nauseating to behold. At one point it looked like this:


Pretty dense, right? And all for a man who evidently was the very model of hale fellow well met and, from what I could tell, a pretty good and workmanlike writer of the wiseass Oxfordian mold. A kind of latter day Kingsley Amis, a dedicated alcoholic of a writer that I used to edit monthly back in England in the late 70s. In habit and in prose, Hitchens was sort of a shadow of Amis and, I think, a pal of Amis' son, Martin.

Contrast, if you will, the much more sedate reaction to the passing of a man who, besides being a writer and poet of real distinction, also helped midwife freedom, real freedom, into the world -- Vaclav Havel:


Much more "restrained" to say the least, isn't it? Indeed you'd have to say that the "blogosphere" seems to be more comfortable with bluster and braggadocio that it does with real greatness; with dithering and blathering about the cyberealm than achieving anything permanent in the world dimensional.

Amanda Rivkin writes well on Vaclav Havel, 1936-2011:

Who in New York, Baku, or its affiliate, well-to-do cities of East and West dares brave the consequence for something greater than a slogan, or greater than themselves? To be a dissident has reached the point of cliché if only because human rights is all too often the case of a competing elites, alienated from "the people"; to be imprisoned does not necessarily mean you speak for human rights, but it does mean, if only for a moment, that you spoke for yourself. Yet in many societies, this remains a grave crime. To do so creatively, brilliantly, and in a way in which the humor never fades from the voice, the laughter never subsides, and the constant cackle is one that echoes in the executioner's chamber as opposed to in society, the inmate's cell and among those who have struggled to know the difference between the two --€” this is the gift Havel gave.

It's best to remember that Havel's motto was "Truth and love must prevail over lies and hate."

What does it mean in the end? Little other than the passing observation that small men sometimes have bigger sendoffs in the land of the blind. After all, if you can't see clearly it's hard to tell what someone's real stature is.

Vaclav Havel spent years in prison trying to bring freedom to a people held in slavery by a totalitarian ideology that Hitchens worshiped. In the end he helped to liberate around 100 million people.

Hitchens, on the other hand, wrote for, can you dig it?, Vanity Fair. Whew! Dude! What a winner! In the end he help to liberate about 1,000 cases of whiskey. Double winner!

Posted by gerardvanderleun at December 18, 2011 10:05 AM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

Hitchens appeared to be a vicious jerk towards anyone of the Christian faith. Good writer yes, horrid human being. Its a good thing he didn't believe in heaven or hell.

Posted by: JeffC at December 18, 2011 8:24 PM

Thank you.. Well said.

I was amazed at the twitterverse all aflutter over this man dying. Seemed like many were just trying to out grieve each other.

Hard living, heavy smoking, self medicating drinker. Died of cancer.. What were the odds?

Posted by: JohnH at December 18, 2011 10:54 PM

Vaclav Havel is a man who ranks up there with Pope John Paul II, in his understated influence over history. I must make it a new year's resolution to begin reading some of his works.

Posted by: Jewel at December 18, 2011 11:39 PM

It's because of the atheist thing, dude. Atheists make people crazy. Atheism is the Kardashian of the elite.
No question Havel was the man. But I don't recall his Faith or lack of it ever being an issue.

Posted by: dr kill at December 19, 2011 7:18 AM

A tad harsh, perhaps. Havel was a great man, flaws and all, with a smaller circle of direct acquaintances in our media centers. His art was as a playwrite, a less accessible form than essay and journalism, and his native language is not commonly spoken.

Even living out here in the sticks I have friends and acquaintances who spent time with Christopher Hitchens, corresponded with him on occasion, and certainly he possessed a wide readership in American and the UK. The network effect made Hitchens a much more familiar and approachable figure. He was a notable character of a type widely accessible to Anglo/US types, rather than a quirky and unfamiliar Czech.

Is it any wonder his passing was more widely noted, especially as his illness prepared many for the day when they would relate their impressions?

I think the differences in reactions have far less to do with with the worthiness or historic stature of Havel and Hitchens than the different roles each had in public discourse.

Posted by: Dan D at December 19, 2011 8:21 AM

A thoughtful and cogent comment. I take your point. Thanks.

Posted by: vanderleun at December 19, 2011 8:44 AM

Christopher Hitchens: Frequently wrong,never in doubt.
A very literate chain-smoking, alcoholic
Trotskyite.He once described himself as a Trotskyite.
Interesting that so many people think he was a great man, or even a great writer.

Posted by: David at December 19, 2011 6:24 PM

It was all showbiz for heart.

Posted by: thud at December 20, 2011 12:59 PM

Hitch had the foresight to die loudly and slowly. He talked about his cancer all over the media for the last year or so. So all the obit writers had plenty of warning, plus a large number of events and incidents in Hitch's life to write about.

That's the trick to a good send-off; let everybody know you're going, and be really gregarious for a few decades before you go, so there are a lot of anecdotes for the obit writers to mine.

Havel, by contrast, seemed to die all by himself, catching us flat-footed. Not fair at all.

Posted by: AreaMan at December 20, 2011 8:22 PM

It is a sad truth that in a media where everyone has basically an equally loud voice, every idea can appear to get elevated to the same status. It is kinda like when on television, you have one guest who is rational and educated... and another that is a complete nutjob. It tends to give greater credibility to the nutjob than is deserved.

Posted by: Pax Americana at December 21, 2011 8:00 PM