Reading Martin Amis--2
Hitchens & Bellow
It seems to me that the story of Hitchens’ introduction to Saul Bellow set in motion the “Christopher Hitchens Show” that came to dominate the evening. Hitchens had mildly agitated for this story, in which he played the lead, to be told. “No sinister balls!” Amis reportedly demanded of Hitchens in the car on their way to Bellow’s home. “Distressing, hard-nosed, left-wing blues,” explained Amis, was their shared definition of “sinister balls.” But it was to be a balls-out night for Hitchens, who, shortly after arriving, picked a fight with his friend’s literary mentor over Edward Said—at the time Bellow’s favored bête noire. Hitchens now commandeered the evening with Our Favorite Writers just as he had done with Amis’s evening with his favorite writer so many years before.
Hitchens grew animated as he moved through a rendition of his tangle with Bellow. He told how Amis had kicked his shin repeatedly under the table to get him to relent—more than either of his two wives had ever done. “Bellow likes to fight and so do I,” was the slim explanation that Hitchens had offered Amis the next morning. This story was humorously told, and it drew a good laugh. At this point, the audience was still rooting for both Amis and Hitchens—wanting them to open up. A discussion of the literary major league and what happens when titans clash might have opened on to any of a number of ideas that the audience was keen to hear about. But it didn’t. It simply thrust Christopher Hitchens into the limelight.
Martin Amis never had a chance, as I now see it. Christopher Hitchens is a linguistic berserker—among other things—whirling about in the front line of battle, a cigarette in one hand and a drink in the other, as he indiscriminately shreds the opposition with his pick-ax intellect and his broadsword tongue. Hitchens’ rants, delivered in a whirl of words with an unflinching moral certainty, consumed a good deal of the evening, and Amis certainly must have known that resistance was futile.