This metaphor comes to us via The Chorus and Cassandra, a 1985 essay by Christopher Hitchens in defense of Noam Chomsky. At the time, Chomsky was taking a lot of flak from those on the right regarding his views on Vietnam, Cambodia and other forays of American foreign policy. Hitchens, as we’ve come deliciously to expect, takes issue with Chomsky’s foes’ lack of intellectual rigor and their blindness to historical nuance.
The piece was written by Geoffrey Sampson, an academic nonentity who made various other incautious allegations and who later, while engaged in an exchange with my friend Alexander Cockburn, strolled into the propellers and was distributed into such fine particles that he has never been heard from again.
Here’s another Hitchensian undressing I found while hanging with Internet. This time the target is John Updike and the book he came out with after 9/11, Terrorist. Hitchens, long-time blower of the beware of radical Islam trumpet, has two goals in this review: to defend 9/11 from aesthetic bastardization and to retrieve the novel from under the pens of its lazier practitioners. I love this review (even though I will admit to liking Updike’s Rabbit novels and especially his essay on Ted Williams’ final game) because it represents a kind of apotheosis of Hitchens’ life-project. He’s here on this planet both to implore us all to write (and describe and think) well and to rescue morality from God-fearing, religion-mongers. He ends his review with a stomp:
Given some admittedly stiff competition, Updike has produced one of the worst pieces of writing from any grown-up source since the events he has so unwisely tried to draw upon.