How I ended up being me has a lot to do with the fact of Hitchens by way of his best friend Martin Amis. Because if there is one writer whose entire style most affects the way I think about people, it would be Amis. I was reading Amis adamantly for many years and what most impressed me about him was the way into which he could make people whole and transparent. In reading American fiction, I always got the feeling that characters were invented for the purpose of the book and as such could only fulfill certain functions - like a cast of characters in a play or worse yet, a movie. When I started to write my first and only novel I frightened myself in my discovery that I was thinking like a movie. But I wanted to see people as they are, and this is how Amis works. His characters seemed so much more full of the jaggies other authors overemphasized or ignored altogether. Amis possessed a sort of insight into people that made their desires visible no matter how small they were. And so I came to understand what people must be by having them splayed for me by a master, and so that is the template for humanity. I don't think anyone has filled a larger canvas with the human soul.
It would not be a safe world if every policy writer were as literary as Hitchens. Government is mostly about administration, trade-offs and compromises. But his perspective usefully highlights psychology, context, courage and virtue — important things that are hard to talk about in policy jargon or journalese. No one will agree with, or even comprehend, all of his aversions, but his affections are easy to admire, especially his strong and growing affection for America.
Most of all, his is a memoir that should be given to high school and college students of a literary bent. In the age of the Internet and the academy, it will open up different models for how to be a thoughtful person, how to engage in political life and what sort of things one should know in order to be truly educated.
But I, like Hitchens have my fascinations about why people emerge from their personal muck with bold claims about what others should do. I do so from the safe remove of my profession which sets up deterministic sandboxes for those disciplines which can be digitized. I once thought I was the Liberator of Bartleby, now I'm not so sure. So I attempt to recover my humanity and round myself out by writing here and exposing myself to the stream of ego and belief.
I am in many ways late to the heavyweights of literature that might prepare me better to sort through that of moderate heftiness in the world of contemporary arts and letters. But I think I acquit myself satisfactorily, better than average at a level that was above my previous stature. I stay happy given the headroom I still have. And yet I grow worried as I grow wise and remain unconnected personally to any such colleagues as I imagine I might have had were I actually paid to do such thinking. But I am comforted that my mediocre skill feels more like a gift than a burden. Nevertheless, I remain a family man and not French and am therefore bound to such domestic concerns that restrain the sort of integrity I would need to be a more worldly sort approaching the class of writers I might seek to emulate. I don't have time to save the planet, my daughter has a sore throat. I cannot partake in such pleasures necessary to sustain the drudgery of applying my mind to the sort of imperatives Hitchens has. I keep myself from caring and so I am consequentially dull. Stuck. So I don't need a muse so much as a wife, which I have.
In this, you might find a false dichotomy. There are plenty of examples, I imagine, that demonstrate that a life of domesticity does not preclude one of creative production. But I have lived with that dichotomy too long, both in theory and in practice. So there it is. I'm not out to destroy every myth and draw strength from those that reinforce me so long as I can.
Having said all that, I remain a writer. I cannot tell you what sort, it is a horrible weakness I possess. A kind of self-knowledge that has no shorthand, no way of telling you what I am, but only that which impels me to do what it is I do. In Ken Burns' Jazz part nine, the critic says that music has so many confusing genres merely because there is no language capable of describing what the music itself conveys. My language even fails to describe my use of language. Yet I know that it is as a writer that I sustain the community I need to make sense of those things I need to know, because as a reader it all goes nowhere but to my self. And I find little moral comfort in perfecting my own understanding for only that sake. It is to be a public intellectual or catalyst that I find respite from my curiosity which drags me along like a lassoed calf.