'One of the most terrifying rhetoricians the world has seen'
By MARTIN AMIS - OBSERVER
Added: Sun, 24 Apr 2011 09:44:12 UTC
Christopher Hitchens, left, on holiday with Martin Amis in Cape Cod, 1985.
Spontaneous eloquence seems to me a miracle," confessed Vladimir Nabokov in 1962. He took up the point more personally in his foreword to Strong Opinions (1973): "I have never delivered to my audience one scrap of information not prepared in typescript beforehand … My hemmings and hawings over the telephone cause long-distance callers to switch from their native English to pathetic French.
"At parties, if I attempt to entertain people with a good story, I have to go back to every other sentence for oral erasures and inserts … nobody should ask me to submit to an interview … It has been tried at least twice in the old days, and once a recording machine was present, and when the tape was rerun and I had finished laughing, I knew that never in my life would I repeat that sort of performance."
We sympathise. And most literary types, probably, would hope for inclusion somewhere or other on Nabokov's sliding scale: "I think like a genius, I write like a distinguished author, and I speak like a child."
Mr Hitchens isn't like that.
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Why should he sit still and see a valued and precious discipline being insulted, even threatened with not being taught?