Nevertheless, when I re-read the review more closely, I found myself put off by the Amisisms, and the way Amis shoulders his way into every anecdote and every argument with a "Who, me?" expression on his face. I can't help it. I feel like God must have felt when He looked down to see the first man innocently, but effectively, masturbating. It's that propulsive combination of innate technical proficiency with twitchy, repetitive self-satisfaction.
An Amisian paragraph is so often like an elaborate old hot air balloon constructed of intricately-wrought bindings and long mahogany planks, burnished bright and festooned with lacy quotations, but which simply won't sail; it can't get airborne no matter how much hot air - self-serious moralising and cheaply-earned political asides - you pump into it.
But back to the Hitch. The quotations I liked best were the ones that had prune-faced Amis reaching for the alka selzer.
Aesthetics is an unfurling, not bounded by temporality (as with nature) but by craft, the edges formed by the work and the workmanship (edges which may include time, timing, decay, decrepitude, the finite and the infinite, but always as meaning, as symbol, as structure that is not wholly explained by itself, etc.) These quotes from Hitchens unfurl in a typical, even familiar narrative fashion and yet they each end with a perfect detail, where the general and the universal collapse under the immense force of comic gravity into a single, impossibly dense detail. Nancy Reagan, and Ronald's shrimpy, limp member. The shrivelled sheath of a man so full of shit that he wouldn't even be a used condom if the shit were removed. And, taking a Burroughsian ass-face a step further into ecstatic body horror, Hitchens employs "studded", if not inviting then forcing the reader to think of bony nubs implanted into soft, wrinkled tissue, culminating in the final twist: if it isn't bad enough that you have teeth in your anus, you could at least make some effort to brush them properly?
One is reminded of a William Baziotes painting:
Hitchens, in the examples above, is excessive and lurid, but expressionistically exquisite. Amis makes much of "decorum" and relegates the "jokes and jibes" to the side in order to celebrate the "terse witticism", the "crystallisation", the "insight that leads the reader to a recurring question". Here are several:
The recurring question is not, apparently, is it at all true, or does it mean what Hitchens seems to think it means, or how much has he chipped away as he carves the crystalline insight out of the lumpen rock of experience, but rather, according to Amis, "if this is so obviously true, and it is, why did we have to wait for Christopher to point it out to us?" Well it's not, it really isn't - and why wait for Christopher to point it out? Well, that can be answered: because Hitchens is a man who, for better and for worse, has spent his life pointing things out, with tremendous gusto, sometimes with hatred, and with a profound ear for rhythm and a sharp eye for image. Why should he now revert to the saggy agnosticism Amis wants him to accept, why should he settle for tepid moralising about how hatred "should not become an intoxicant", and steer clear of the jokes and jibes? Is it because he should now be "serious" - humbled, subdued, cautious, tempered? Nabokov, as quoted by Amis, said "Life is a great surprise. I don't see why death should not be an even greater one." The cosmic punchline that greets us after our last breath is probably not the sun's eventual explosion or man's return to "stellar fire", as Amis boringly has it, it's probably going to be a lot more like the toothy ass of death's face giving us our first breath in the afterlife.