Christopher Hitchens and the Utter Creeping Moronism of Eloquence; and Towards a Definition of Martin Amis Neocon Disease

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09/23/2008 4:45 PM |

It gets to a point, eventually, when you just love the way you can make ideas sound, are so impressed with the rhythm and authority, the impressiveness of expression that you can grant to all your thoughts, and the effortlessness with which your thoughts seem to organize themselves, that you just think in overpowering publishable sentences and circumvent the process of checks and balances that generally goes into working an idea into an expression.

What this leads to, generally, is the publication of every idiotic notion that crosses your mind.

This is a typical Hitch piece, more or less, making grandiose attacks and appealing to intimidating notions of rightness, making extravagant connections and leaving tantalizing links merely suggested (because surely we can all follow that avenue in lockstep to its conclusion and it’s our failure if we can’t), and positively eviscerating anyone who’d waver or hem and haw or try to point out nuances, because what fucking business do our painstaking, roundabout rationales have muddying up the righteous clarity of the Hitch (the man and the words).

To a certain extent this is merely a matter of the same kind of self-impressed windiness that befalls all of us (all of us? me and a lot of people) at times. But there’s a particularly neocon strain to all this, too, which I am now going to talk about at great and possibly incoherent length, hurray.

Eloquence obliterates self-doubt; self-doubt, I think, is a key character trait of moderate, tolerant, consensus-based liberalism. And Hitch’s political makeup is in a lot of ways akin to the postwar Leftists who were voraciously well-read and secular and eggheaded but ultimately turned to the right as much out of a sense of their own superiority — on account of being voraciously well-read and secular and eggheaded — as anything else, and then had sex with women who had babies who grew up to be Billy Kristol and John Fucking Podhoretz, nice one, guys.

And then of course there’s the neocon movement’s U. of Chicago connection, which is convenient because do you know who else was at U. Chi and ended up pretty far to the right because he was colossally eloquent and ultimately arrogant as a result of it? Saul Bellow. Saul Bellow, one of the literary and personal heroes of Hitch’s BFF, Martin Amis.

(This is hardly to mention Martin’s dad Kingsley, who made his own dogleg right, along with other exemplars of the English prose style and satirical sense of superiority, like Evelyn Waugh. The point is, there’s actually a pretty elegant flowchart to be made of this.)

Martin Amis, of course, is one of the all-time great examples of the utter creeping moronism of eloquence; his political literature and public pronouncements, this decade, have been notable for a frothing reactionary conservatism predicated on the notion that There Is Evil in the World That We Must Fight Because We Are Smarter and Better Than Them, Can’t You Blighted Pantywaists See? (that weird sort of secular synonym of our homegrown, Christian Manichaeism), and an ostentatious wielding of said ideas in the “provocative”, quotable manner of the born rhetorician. (C.f. for instance: “Has feminism cost us Europe?” Which I submit is the stupidest thing said this decade. Like, yes, Marty, the thought has occurred to many of us that the ratio of birthrates of presumed future religious fundamentalists relative to the birthrates of presumed future secular humanists is worrisome. [Although that's giving him too much credit: he's not thinking "fundamentalists", he's thinking "Muslims", full stop.] But, you know, when you phrase it like that, you sound like an idiot. We used to have this thing called political correctness, not because we worried about offending people with our words but because we wanted to align our words with scrupulously balanced modes of thought. So just because it sounds so definitive when you say it doesn’t mean that that’s the right way to say it — the right way sounds a little more measured and watered-down, but also it isn’t reductive or useable for purposes of sexism.)

So basically what we have is a conservative mindset founded on a rhetoric of superiority — you know, like the pounding rhetorical upsweep at the end of every paragraph Christopher Hitches writes. It’s the kind of conservatism that comes from indulging your most half-baked, self-pedestalling ideas under the guise of a “thought experiment.” We all do “thought experiments”; few of us feel that the workouts we give our consciences demand an audience. It’s like an athlete demanding people pay to watch him fucking stretch.

And this, this absolute conviction in the rightness of the words coming out of one’s mouth, it results in writing that sounds so fucking stupid, the wasting of words on ideas that don’t deserve them. Just because you can make it sound good doesn’t mean you can make it fundamentally true, or even consequential.

7 Comment

  • Hear fucking hear. I read his piece not 5 minutes ago–talk about instant blogo-catharsis.

  • Just as knowing that you can do an okay impression of David Fister Wallace doesn’t mean that you should, regardless of whether or you not you think his death makes his voice up for grabs.

  • Given your use of the phrases “Christian Manichaeism” and “utter creeping moronism,” apparently without irony, it’s not surprising you’ve declared war on eloquence.

  • So many questions here. Like, are you actually Kent Jones or are you commenting under an inside-jokey pseudonym (if it’s the former, hey, thanks for coming here to read and comment, I admire your work)? And, was “Fister Wallace” a typo or intentional? (The letters are next to each other on the keyboard, but that’s kinda cruelly funny.) And, is this breathless semicolonic that different from the way I usually write? (I thought writing it that if anything I was getting into a snowballing Hitch mode of authoratativeness.)

    In any case “okay Foster Wallace impression” is one of the nicer things ever said about the jungle of verbiage sprouting up around here.

  • Mark, this is bloody brilliant! Six stars, mate!

    I’ve been wanting to say the exact same thing for ages about Hitchens and Amis without using expletives, but you’ve demonstrated with real eloquence — not the bastardized concept QWT alludes to) that it isn’t fucking possible.

    Don’t let the trolls grind you down, and please forgive me if I do a post linking to this one. You deserve a wider audience.

  • Fucking awesome. Right on target. Please don’t stop, Mark.

  • When Amis asked ‘Has Feminism Cost Us Europe’ he was trying to provoke people like you, deliberately. So it can’t be the stupidest thing said for a decade if it worked so well. Your only arguement for it being the stupidest thing said for a decade is that it’s ‘reductive or useable for purposes of sexism.’ I’d imagine far more reductive and sexist things were said in this decade. I know of several I’ve overheard in the pub. Also, who are these sexists who trawl the broadsheets looking for ‘usuable’ quotes with which to arm themselves in the battle against womanhood? You’ve made them up. Must be your eloquence running away with you…as for the hypocrisy of criticising Amis for publishing his ‘thought experiments’ on an INTERNET BLOG where you publish your OWN thoughts…I’leave it there.

    This may be rejected as ‘trolling’ but fair’s fair…