Monday, November 19, 2007


I just ran across Christopher Hitchens's tribute to Norman Mailer, which Slate published last week. I'm struck by this:

"Culture," said Norman Mailer, pugnaciously, in 1981, "is worth a little risk." Admittedly, he was uttering these words at a rather chaotic press conference, just after a tripwire-dangerous convict for whose release he had so ardently campaigned had stabbed a harmless waiter to death. But I remember admiring Mailer's audacity even as I slightly whistled at his promiscuity...

Yes, he did value risk-taking and not just for the rest of society (which was what was faintly "off" about his recommendation of murderer Jack Henry Abbott....)

The fact that Hitchens could use the pinky-extended phrase "faintly 'off'" in reference to a sequence of events that left an innocent man stabbed to death on the street tells you quite a bit, I think, about his way of looking at the Iraq War. The fact that he "admir[ed] Mailer's audacity" as Mailer defended the sequence of events that led to this stabbing death tells you a bit more. (I don't even want to talk about the use of the word "promiscuity" in this context, which makes me queasy.)

Hitchens seems to see the war now the way he saw Mailer's deeds then. The thousands and thousands of dead and injured, and the millions of exiled, are the stabbed waiter -- pity, isn't it, but you do have to admire the audacity of the whole enterprise, don't you? Yes, Bush's choice to condemn young Americans and Iraqis to death while wiping the sweat of a jolly afternoon's mountain biking off his brow seems faintly "off." But deposing Saddam is, after all, worth a little risk.

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