Controversy always seemed to follow Christopher Hitchens. In its latest iteration, controversy has followed the late polemicist, now the center of controversy in a new book, to his grave.
In “Unhitched: The Trial of Christopher Hitchens,” political activist and author Richard Seymour employs a unique technique to shred Hitchens’s political philosophy to pieces: Seymour puts the late writer on trial.
“It is written in the spirit of a trial,” Seymour tells the UK’s Guardian. “I do attempt to get a sense of the complexity and gifts of the man, but it is very clearly a prosecution, and you can guess my conclusion.”
In that spirit, “Unhitched,” released today, interrogates Hitchens and builds a case against the man whom Seymour calls an “amanuensis” of the George W. Bush administration. The book also charts his shift from “career-minded socialist” and “left-wing firebrand” to “neoconservative Marxist” who Seymour describes as “an advocate of America’s invasion of Iraq filled with passionate intensity.”
Seymour explores Hitchens’s early days as a socialist with the Labour party and casts doubt on the late author’s own version of events in his memoir, “Hitch 22.” “I’ve interviewed a lot of his former comrades. If you read Hitch 22, it’s not an entirely reliable account – what he remembers and what others remember are different,” says Seymour. “He’s subtly, and sometimes not so subtly, revised things.”
While the book is highly critical of Hitchens’s views on war, politics, and religion, there are characteristics of the late writer Seymour openly admires. “There are parts in his writing where you read it and glow, it’s so perfectly put,” Seymour says. Still, all in all, “Unhitched” is “a denunciation of the changes he underwent in the last 10 years in particular, with Iraq and America the two central themes,” Seymour adds.
“Unhitched” grew out of an essay Seymour had written about Hitchens which was published in a collection called “Christopher Hitchens and His Critics.” After Seymour sent Hitchens a copy of that essay, their relationship deteriorated. “We stopped exchanging emails shortly afterwards,” Seymour recalls. “He thought of it as an insult and threw a few back.”
Based on that initial essay, radical leftist publisher Verso commissioned “Unhitched” about six months after Hitchens’s death in December 2011. In spite of the bad blood between the two, Seymour is hopeful that, were he alive today, Hitchens “might have had a bit of a laugh” about the new book. “One thing in his favor is that he was narcissistic but not prickly or vain,” he told the Guardian. “I think he would have thrown an insult or two at me. He described Max Blumenthal as ‘a young skunk who hasn’t learned to piss yet’ and I think I could expect something along those lines.”
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.