I am reading ‘As Yet’, a collection of essays by Christopher Hitchins. I find him a frustrating guy to read, for a couple of reasons. Hitchins was a sort of professional intellectual, but unlike most members of that particular and peculiar subset of humans, he was a relentlessly rational thinker, which in my book is enough to make him interesting.
If writing is a form of communication, among many writers of ‘literary’ fiction, essays, and other serious (ly boring) forms it seems to me that the primary message the writer is trying to communicate is that he’s smarter than you. This is a self-indulgent flaw which is destructive to both writer and reader, and there is no excuse for it. I think it falls under the heading ‘if I cannot dazzle you with brilliance, I’ll baffle you with bullshit,’ and unfortunately Hitchins falls victim to it all too often, particularly when writing for such temples of the obscure and impenetrable as The New York Review of Books. Hitchins loves to talk in circles, loves to impress with his vocab, and loves to sprinkle French quotes in with his prose, just to prove that he can. I wonder who, really, he was trying to impress, other than his old college professors? Because if it was me, it didn’t work. The guy was capable of much better, and he proved it often enough, but in this collection of essays he lapses often into lesser and poorer forms of writing.
If you have something to say, please, no matter how educated and erudite you may be, please, just do us all a favor and fucking say it. Refrain from throwing up clouds of obfuscation and verbiage that do nothing to advance your points. In my not particularly humble opinion, Hitchins would have done better to read more Twain and less of whatever that shit is that is normally found in The NY Review of Books. I think the best forms of writing are those that are cleanest, clearest, and most direct. In corporatespeak we have a phrase, ‘clear and transparent communication.’ That refers to an unappreciated virtue which is harder to practice than you might think, and it puts me in mind of Elmore Leonard’s advice to leave out the parts that people skip over.
Hitchins needed a better editor.