So many people have praised Christopher so effusively, I want to complicate the picture even at the risk of seeming churlish. His drinking was not something to admire, and it was not a charming foible. Maybe sometimes it made him warm and expansive, but I never saw that side of it. What I saw was that drinking made him angry and combative and bullying, often toward people who were way out of his league—elderly guests on the Nation cruise, interns (especially female interns). Drinking didn’t make him a better writer either—that’s another myth. Christopher was such a practiced hand, with a style that was so patented, so integrally an expression of his personality, he was so sure he was right about whatever the subject, he could meet his deadlines even when he was totally sozzled. But those passages of pointless linguistic pirouetting? The arguments that don’t track if you look beneath the bravura phrasing? Forgive the cliché: that was the booze talking. And so, I’m betting, were the cruder manifestations of his famously pugilistic nature: as F Scott Fitzgerald said of his own alcoholism: ‘When drunk I make them all pay and pay and pay.’ It makes me sad to see young writers cherishing their drinking bouts with him, and even his alcohol-fuelled displays of contempt for them as if drink is what makes a great writer, and what makes a great writer a real man.
Katha Pollitt, “Regarding Christopher” (The Nation, via The Awl)
At the risk of further distancing myself from my beloved former writing instructor, I’m going to pick at this quotation like a good little
vulture skeptic. I think, yes, there is a certain amount of romance surrounding the combination of alcohol and writing, and that Christopher Hitchens was just one in a long and storied bloodline of soused geniuses whose chemical hobbies seemed to be essential personality traits. And I think, yes, the idea that alcohol made Hitchens better at his job, or that it has ever made anyone better at his/her job, is largely an invention of talentless douchebags who like to drink more than they like to work.
But I also think everybody pretty much knows that already, and that reporting it as news to readers of The Nation is pretty silly. And I also think that, even though it was bad for him, and even though it may have negatively affected his career and personal life, and even though a lot of people have a big cob up their asses about the whole subject, drinking was one of Christopher Hitchens’ favorite things to do, and I think there’s nothing wrong with acknowledging that in an honest appraisal of his life. And I think there are a load of socially admirable habits - like religious devotion - for which people are posthumously praised, and for which the entire world suffers immeasurably.