Unspoken Truths

May 9, 2011

Vanity Fair, June 2011
By Christopher Hitchens

"Like so many of life’s varieties of experience, the novelty of a diagnosis of malignant cancer has a tendency to wear off. The thing begins to pall, even to become banal. One can become quite used to the specter of the eternal Footman, like some lethal old bore lurking in the hallway at the end of the evening, hoping for the chance to have a word. And I don’t so much object to his holding my coat in that marked manner, as if mutely reminding me that it’s time to be on my way. No, it’s the snickering that gets me down."

Read more (vanityfair.com)


GMD said...

Heart-wrenching column -- your writing is perfection. Stay strong.

Steelman said...


Steelman said...

just forwarded your article to a friend, observing your lament. hate to be so selfish, but the beast must remit long enough to allow your speaking in a public place again.

all our times are measured, and your measure is not yet full.

hang tough!

Absolutely amazing and touching. I truly hope that the great Christopher Hitchens somehow beats this wicked cancer....although, it doesn't seem sop good :(

SallyS said...

Gorgeous piece. You sound exactly like yourself, Christopher, only adding a heavy measure of plaintive to the profound.

It will go in a compilation of "writers on writing" one of these years.

I hope you can still hear how very very good you are.

Mato77429 said...

This obviously meant a lot to Christopher. His articles for Slate have seemed grueling lately; you can feel, in each paragraph, how he's battling with his nausea to place some relatively straightforward ideas to print. A woman my girlfriend works with went through chemo a few years back while teaching as a professor of rhetoric at Portland State University, and had to quit because of what she described as her new inability to select adjectives. She simply could not describe what she was trying to convey to her class and became tragically unconvincing. Consequentially, she began to fear that people thought she was stupid. Five years after remission, however, she says she's gained back most of what she'd lost during chemo, even though, at the age of 70, most people would begin to experience this ebb regardless of having undergone the cruel treatment or not.

The subject matter of this article, however, seems to come from a place so entrenched within Hitch that it would likely be the last to go should his memory become unreliable. I recall from a previous article or possibly interview (I don't remember which) where he described himself along the lines of a person who is known for his political debate, while at heart, feeling most comfortable discussing english literature and telling jokes. It's becoming ever clearer as his agonizing battle continues that this is where he feels most like himself. The ideas flow more naturally and the reader can simply soak up the wine spilt by Christopher in rumination. It reminds me a bit of Orwell's Coming Up for Air, as he seems to return to a place that allows the past and the present to coexist in a brilliantly harmonious way. Christopher is beginning to return to the fundamentals of his intellect, to the boy who reveled in long jokes and being lost in great literature, and who, by paying respect to those minds of the past who offer so much, built himself a place in stone.

Adam said...

Oh Hitch.

Doug Sheets said...

This, as everyone has pointed out, is an absolutely heart-wrenching and beautiful article. I wish there was someway I could help Mr. Hitchens. I have thought about what it would be like to donate my trachea in an effort to keep Mr. Hitchen's voice alive. I feel it would be a crime to allow someone with such a voice, passion and wisdom to fall silent yet allow myself who has lesser abilities to retain the ability to speak. Whilst I know you would turn down the offer should I have proposed it to you, I want to illustrate to you just how strongly I want you to feel better.

We love you Hitch! Keep the 'fight' and your head up.

Greg Smith said...

 Brilliant piece. Thanks Hitch. You truly are a voice for so many of us. We love you.

Jwfender said...

I sent my writer/daughter this piece and she wrote back:

"I resolutely believe that J Franzen's 'Freedom' was the perfect novel. Every layer, every level, was flawlessly executed. People studying the form hundreds of years from now will use this book. I cannot overstate his achievement.
I feel the same way about this piece by Hitchens. It is the perfect personal essay. It just does everything. I spent a lot of time studying personal essay as a form in graduate school, and this is IT. Starts one place, and slowly winds its way somewhere else. Makes you laugh even as your eyes are tearing up. Speaks directly to you (Hitch even covers the importance of this in the piece) but is also universal. It is damn near impossible to write even a decent personal essay, and here Hitchens has just NAILED it. It is beyond description. Amazing."

SLJanzen said...

Emotion (reason isn’t everything) over your circumstance has struck many of us dumb, but nonetheless desperate to try to tell you how we esteem you, perhaps with the wee hope that encouragement will help in some way.

So many of us owe you an enormous debt. You have taught me so much—and disabused me, for one, of the notion that I could think things through for myself. Your help on many issues has been inestimable to me. You are one of the gods: of articulate speech, of writing, of literacy, of intelligence put to its finest use. (The concept of “god or gods” only “works” for me only if I spell it mentally as “good,” and you are one of the great goods.)

“The worship of God is honouring his gifts
In other men: and loving the greatest men best, each according
To his Genius: which is the Holy Ghost in Man; there is no other
God, than that God who is the intellectual fountain of Humanity.” -- Wm. Blake

“Thank you for sharing” really applies here. Thank you for so generously sharing, freely, online. Thank you for “putting it in writing.“

We have need of you, Mr. Hitchens. “Courage, relentless courage.”

With admiration and appreciation and gratitude and love,

PS. Sometimes the worst of illness or afflictions is that it makes most of us self-centered. Our paths narrow as if in snow storms. Even in your medical miseries, you manage to be “outward bound”—there’s another lesson for us in that.

tamela said...

Dear Mr. Hitchens,

I am deeply saddened to know you are suffering with this.

That may sound odd, given that I am a Christian and that you have made it clear what you think about people like me. Yet, I feel a great burden for you, and am sorry you are having to go through this.

If there is a God, he has been incredibly kind to bless you with the gift of your voice - and not just the ability to speak, but to speak effectively, persuasively, wittily, and for so many years. If this is the case, then this God must love you a great deal.

It is my sincere hope and prayer that you can know this love I believe God has for you, and feel his comfort at this time.

Zahava said...

You have reached in and touched my heart. You have always written brilliantly. Helplessly, I hope you will beat this thing and I shall continue to enjoy your voice.


Christopher reads from Hitch-22: A Memoir