Trial of the Will

December 7, 2011

Vanity Fair | January 2012
By Christopher Hitchens

When it came to it, and old Kingsley suffered from a demoralizing and disorienting fall, he did take to his bed and eventually turned his face to the wall. It wasn’t all reclining and waiting for hospital room service after that—“Kill me, you fucking fool!” he once alarmingly exclaimed to his son Philip—but essentially he waited passively for the end. It duly came, without much fuss and with no charge.
Read more.


A fine piece. It's interesting to see the man write of his experiences literally flirting with death. I hope (though that's all it is, and a fleeting thought at that) that his treatments are working for good. He says they have, but for how long will that last? Just keep fighting Hitch, that's all anyone can say.

Anonymous said...

So the alcohol and cigs didn't make him stronger, after all. They just expedited his trip toward death.

Anonymous said...

There must be hundreds, if not thousands of Hitchens fans who are lactating and pumping. I wonder whether any would be willing to send him some of their milk?

Note: The following studies have been done on Human Mother’s Milk. The protein reported on in these studies is human alpha-lactalbumin. Researchers use the acronym HAMLET to describe what human alpha-lactalbumin does to tumor cells; it is lethal to them. “Human Alpha-lactalbumin Made LEThal to tumor cells” is what HAMLET stands for.

Adv Exp Med Biol. 2008;606:217-40.

Apoptosis and tumor cell death in response to HAMLET (human alpha-lactalbumin made lethal to tumor cells).

Hallgren O, Aits S, Brest P, Gustafsson L, Mossberg AK, Wullt B, Svanborg C.

Department for Experimental Medical Sciences, Section for Lungbiology, Lund, Sweden.

HAMLET (human alpha-lactalbumin made lethal to tumor cells) is a molecular complex derived from human milk that kills tumor cells by a process resembling programmed cell death. The complex consists of partially unfolded alpha-lactalbumin and oleic acid, and both the protein and the fatty acid are required for cell death. HAMLET has broad antitumor activity in vitro, and its therapeutic effect has been confirmed in vivo in a human glioblastoma rat xenograft model, in patients with skin papillomas and in patients with bladder cancer. The mechanisms of tumor cell death remain unclear, however. Immediately after the encounter with tumor cells, HAMLET invades the cells and causes mitochondrial membrane depolarization, cytochrome c release, phosphatidyl serine exposure, and a low caspase response. A fraction of the cells undergoes morphological changes characteristic of apoptosis, but caspase inhibition does not rescue the cells and Bcl-2 overexpression or altered p53 status does not influence the sensitivity of tumor cells to HAMLET. HAMLET also creates a state of unfolded protein overload and activates 20S proteasomes, which contributes to cell death. In parallel, HAMLET translocates to tumor cell nuclei, where high-affinity interactions with histones cause chromatin disruption, loss of transcription, and nuclear condensation. The dying cells also show morphological changes compatible with macroautophagy, and recent studies indicate that macroautophagy is involved in the cell death response to HAMLET. The results suggest that HAMLET, like a hydra with many heads, may interact with several crucial cellular organelles, thereby activating several forms of cell death, in parallel. This complexity might underlie the rapid death response of tumor cells and the broad antitumor activity of HAMLET.

PMID: 18183931 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

1: J Biol Chem. 1999 Mar 5;274(10):6388-96.

Anonymous said...

What is the url of p. 2? The "next" link doesn't seem to be working.

Anonymous said...

As great as anything he's ever written.

Bill Hayton said...

Its sad to hear about Hitches condition. Clearly his writing expertise is intact.
I wish you well
Bill Hayton

Anonymous said...

They didn't expedite his trip towards death. They made his journey rather more exciting. Do not forget, all of us are dying, it's just a "time" game.

Patrick Wm. Connally said...

He only, in a general honest thought
And common good to all, made one of them.
His life was gentle, and the elements
So mix'd in him that Nature might stand up
And say to all the world 'This was a man!'

The quote from Shakespears's Julius Ceasar is kind of out of time as Mr. Hitchens is alive, but he is one of the strongest people.

Anonymous said...

"They didn't expedite his trip towards death. They made his journey rather more exciting. Do not forget, all of us are dying, it's just a "time" game."

You just contradicted yourself. Do you even know what 'expedite' means? To speed up. It's just a 'time' game, indeed. Are you seriously so stupid that I need to explain this? OK. Constant boozing and smoking caused Hitch's life to end (much) sooner than it would have had he given up those habits at a young age. Everyone knows this. Therefore, they 'expedited' his journey toward the end of his life.

Anonymous said...

The article actually lacks a discernible point. I mean, are we really supposed to believe that the cliche he explodes was ever really all that important or believed?

I like Hitch better when he is disabusing us of notions that we actually took seriously (e.g., god, mama theresa's nobility, Kissinger's honesty, that being anti-war is a left-wing position, This latest just seems to be designed just to provide a framework for updates on his health. It really had no larger conceit in my view. I can think of much better musings on death than this-- and I'm surprised to hear myself say this. Hitchens writes better on most subjects than anyone I've read, but sometimes he just seems to focus on the wrong things in a scene.

Anonymous said...

Strength - the meanings of "strength" include: 1)moral power, firmness, or courage; and 2) power by reason of influence, authority, resources, numbers, etc. By these measures, you are growing stronger. Your strengths will also be carried forward by those who understand and agree with your point of view. The sincerest thank you for your rigor of mind and vigor of spirit - evidenced in this piece and the rest of your body of work. Best Regards, Rob Sobol

Anonymous said...

"So the alcohol and cigs didn't make him stronger, after all. They just expedited his trip toward death."

Well, they are what is killing him so ergo they can't have made him stronger, according to the maxim.

Anonymous said...

"They didn't expedite his trip towards death. They made his journey rather more exciting. Do not forget, all of us are dying, it's just a "time" game."

I'm sorry to have got you all hyped up. What I wrote must have been rather intriguing...

Life is not the destination but rather the journey of oneself. If you want to judge time by seconds, minutes and hours then yes, everything we do one way or the other expedites our death. Having him quit some of his habits might have prevented him from tipping the outbreaks of intellect and from vividly living surreal moments with role models from the past. Don't be so banal as to judge time by passing moments and recognize that through it all one can transcend into a higher dimension of self awareness. Transcendent of life through the mind and literature left behind. Having you be so simplistic in your attack on time quiet is reflective of your current accomplishments in life and your intellectual appeal. Not understanding what I mean regarding "time" and the usage of it in your part is rather blasphemy, it is utter fatalism. Instead of all that, fill yourself with cognitive perception and you will get along the same thinking wave.


Anonymous said...

I have to say, I check Daily Hitchens with a sense of dread these days, especially after seeing how ill Hitch looked at the Texas Freethought Convention, so it for however long it may last, it's always wonderful to be greeted by a new article from him, whatever the subject matter. I'm still hoping for a miracle; not a religious one but a medical, scientific one. Hang in there Hitch.

Scumdrops said...

I quoted the same bob dylan song in my dissertation on 'the will to power' a for my degree.

Anonymous said...

I think that knocking down oft-repeated falsehoods is almost always a worthy endeavor. So thank you Hitch for cleaning up that small cobweb from the multitudes' minds. It's usually said in jest, but there are masses of fools that, deep down, believe it.

I am so sorry about what you are going through. I wish we could help. If there is anything we the iconoclasm-adoring masses can do, will you tell us please?

Best wishes always, to you and your family.

jjrtar said...

My mom passed away a year ago from esophageal cancer with a deep religious faith. She was diagnosed and deceased within 6 months. However, she was able to impact and prepare her six kids and 16 grand kids with memories and life lessons that will endure. When Christopher talks about not wanting to swallow, being fed by a tube, and wanting the next meds, I and my family was there to deliver. The coughs and expectorating he mentions, are worse than you can imagine. Hanging on for your wife is truly noble.

Christopher, we disagree on religion and would love to have a chat about it as it defined my mom's journey through cancer but respect and admire your writing. It is amazing how so much becomes trivial as a loved one is suffering.
Best wishes!

Michelle said...

I will pray for you, they smugly said.
He slyly retorts, I will think for you.
Readers will think better for having read 'the Hitch'
Eternally grateful

tbm said...

"The article actually lacks a discernible point...sometimes he just seems to focus on the wrong things in a scene."

This comment irked me.

The man is dying. That he is able to compose a coherent report on his situation, refracted through the same intellectual and cultural knowledge that he's always brought to bear on other topics, is something to be grateful for, not an occasion to carp.

What, in the commenter's estimable opinion, would be a more appropriate focus for the man's attention in a "scene" he may be remaining in only for a matter of months, weeks, days?

Anonymous said...

A comment and a question. First, although it hardly needs to be mentioned, I suspect the editors at Vanity Fair feel they've got their money's worth with this fellow. Also, I wonder how his recent cancer treatments compare with his experience with waterboarding.

I wish his good health and a long life, which I shamelessly admit is for purely selfish reasons.

Anonymous said...

It must be so lonely, horrifying and sad to face death without faith.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous with his "Mother's Milk" and other gobbly-gook comments should take his show somewhere else. Maybe he can find some rubes elsewhere to impress.

Anonymous said...

tbm: "...not an occasion to carp".

Look, I'm a bigger fan of the Hitch than you (made manifest by my ability to treat him as an adult, as he has demanded over and over again in the face of this grave illness). So, I won't be admonished here to treat him with kids' gloves.

He is a grown man with talent and ethics as large as any man in the public sphere; however, at times he can indeed scribble about the banal and least interesting aspects of a phenomenon in my opinion.

He would clearly respect my ability to judge his work on its merits and not on the state of his corpus; why can't you?

It is worth noting that he said Hunter Thompson was "losing it" in the introduction to a book on HST (after his death in '05) so let's stop all this unctuous and maudlin moralizing vis-s-vis death ok? There is the writing and there is the writer-- I can love the writer and critique the writing all the same.

Anonymous said...

How awful to be famous,
How public, like a frog
To have your praises sung all day
By an admiring bog.

John said...

Reply to :

"It must be so lonely, horrifying and sad to face death without faith."

This happened to the "Mother Superior" of the Catholic School I attended. She was a lifelong believing Catholic and lost her faith when she was near death. The other nuns in her convent said she went through an agonizing experience - her faith was not there to comfort her when she needed it most.

Anonymous said...

Christopher Hitchen has long ignored and wilfully deniend the very existence of God.Now his days are numbered, and he is surely going to expire. He came to this world without his will and he will leave this world without his will. To allah we belong and to whom we return. Hell fire was created before man, and it has been burning with anger ever since, and it awaits him, should he fail to repent.

Anonymous said...

I feel sorry for him. First he will lose his body, and then he will lose his soul. He has counted himself unworthy of eternal life. He may be done with god, but God is not done with him. Outside of all these terrible circumstances, he wants others to join him in his declaration of the death of God. It will be his death (not the death of God) I am sure that he will be thinking and writing about. Wasted his chance. Wasting the chance of others also. Too bad.

To the above and particularly to, "Hell fire was created before man, and it has been burning with anger ever since, and it awaits him, should he fail to repent."

How poetic. Also, how pathetic. I needn't point out the wasted time in life you've spent on your musings about eternal hellfire and the like, but surely Hitch has devoted his time for other things you can agree that were worthwhile. For example, deprecating Christianity and giving a fair shake to Judaism. (Though one can only hope that, in time, you will realize both of these superstitions are as equally false as your own.)

P.S. Go read Lucretius.

Anonymous said...

"He would clearly respect my ability to judge his work on its merits and not on the state of his corpus; why can't you?"

That is probably true. Atheists do not allow themselves to indulge their own human reactions because they are merely byproducts of adaptive physical processes. Imagine what a colorful and beautiful world we will have when atheists come into power and eliminate human impulses deemed counterproductive.

Michelle said...

You Jesus Freaks just don't get it...
Wishing doesn't make it so...
There is NO god and neither you nor I nor Hitch will be able to prove it from the other side....
I recently lost my father to cancer and the whole family WISHES we could see him after we die....

Gene Cotton/ Portland, OR said...

Thinking of you often Mr. Hitchens. Keep up the good fight!

Anonymous said...

"To allah we belong and to whom we return. Hell fire was created before man, and it has been burning with anger ever since, and it awaits him, should he fail to repent."

That's nice. Do you have any other fairy tales to share?

Love you, Hitch. Your great legacy will live on.

Anonymous said...

Much love from Salt Lake City. You are an inspiration to us all whom find themselves completely surrounded and engulfed by absolute religious absurdity and oppression. I am forever grateful of your efforts to bring some rationality into an often irrational world. Cheers!

tbm said...

Anon (how about a handle? if you insist on responding...):

Fair enough. I'm not suggesting this is Hitchens' best work, I'm just grateful he's doing any work. I guess I'm not as "tough-minded" as you.

My wish for you is that you'll have the benefit of someone as tough-minded as yourself on your own deathbed, who can judge your utterances and actions on their "merits," without any allowance whatsoever for any pain, weakness, etc. you'll be feeling. And I hope they'll freely express themselves, rather than keeping any adverse judgments to themselves out of some delusionally weak-minded sense of decency, lest you feel you're being patronizingly handled with kid gloves (n.b.).

It's not about "moralizing." It's about decency. Having a thought like yours is fine, I just see no need to utter it. I guess we'll have to agree to disagree.

Karen Olsen said...

I think it's a lovely article, myself. A bit painful to read, but a fine piece of writing, nonetheless. I've been wanting to meet Hitch personally; but whether I get the chance or not, I've greatly enjoyed getting to know him through his writing and speaking (on Youtube clips) over the past couple of years...

--Karen Olsen
Seattle, WA

Mark said...

I truly dont know what we are going to do when Hitch finally leaves. What an incredible man.
Who will succeed him? Richard Dawkins maybe? We need more people to carry the good word of their being no god. Morality without religion is the only true morality.
When he does finally leave us, womens rights, freedom of speech, truth and beauty will be all the poorer. Hang in their Hitch, I dont think you realise how inspirational you are.

Not if someone writes in his stead. There are plenty of young writers (me included) who hope to make a name for themselves writing like Hitch does. (And Richard Dawkins is a poor writer and speaker when it comes to religion. It's not intellectual about it in the least.)

Anonymous said...

tbm: Look, you are not so much wrong on these points as you are 180 degrees backwards-- to wit: Hitchens himself has said over and over that he would HATE it if he felt his readers were giving him some kind of pass merely due to his illness.

I am respecting the man so much more than you seem to realize. I am doing as he has asked and you are doing the opposite of what he has requested. Yet, you think it is me who is being rude! Oh the irony!

Plus, I am not a professional writer so nobody will be at my death bed ruminating over my belles lettres alright? At any rate, your weird "wish" for an equally honest and salient critique of an essay of mine at my endtimes is as silly-ass as ever (I for one would want that-- just like Hitchens does-- but you seem to think it would be something I wouldn't want). But lastly, your concern over hurt feelings seems almost surreal considering who it is we are talking about: I mean this is a man who vivisects people for a living; he can take it.

And for the record Hitchens is one of the finest writers and moral thinkers I've ever come across. Happy now?

Oh, and as requested, here's my nom de guerre: Lt Diablo

Anonymous said...

Hey lt diablo: I completely disagree with you about the essay. It is beautifully done and the topic is more valid than you know. I recall reading a criticism of Hitch for saying TWDNKMMMStronger, though he surely said it with tongue well in cheek. So Hitch takes an apt opportunity to denounce that unfounded belief, and by so doing he has definitively put it to rest for all who care about critical thought.
That Hitch can handle the truth is a fact, and an irrelevant one.
Go Hitch, keep on thinking, keep on writing if you can, keep on taking the best possible care of yourself.

Anonymous said...

"It must be so lonely, horrifying and sad to face death without faith."

I just don't understand the expectation of loneliness and horror without a religious faith. As we die, and perhaps suffering in knowing we will soon die, we share the experience of every other human and animal, ever. That's incredibly comforting, it's huge, and it's real.

Anonymous said...

Too bad he wasted his life being so angry. Like all athiests he displayed an extraordinary arrogance fed by his inability to realize that there could be a being superior to himself.

Anonymous said...

In reference to the fool who accused him of being arrogant, allow me to quote him:

"I have been called arrogant myself in my time, and hope to earn the title again, but to claim that I am privy to the secrets of the universe and its creator — that's beyond my conceit."

Hitchslapped from beyond the grave.


Christopher reads from Hitch-22: A Memoir