Monday, September 03, 2012

The Eternal Coatman's Snicker . . .

Christopher Hitchens
October 7, 2011
Photograph by Michael Stravato
The New York Times

Christopher Buckley has written a rather emotional review of Mortality, the final words left us by Christopher Hitchens ("Staying Power," New York Times, August 30, 2012), and he quotes these lines from the book:
The novelty of a diagnosis of malignant cancer has a tendency to wear off. The thing begins to pall, even to become banal. One can become quite used to the specter of the eternal Footman, like some lethal old bore lurking in the hallway at the end of the evening, hoping for the chance to have a word. And I don't so much object to his holding my coat in that marked manner, as if mutely reminding me that it's time to be on my way. No, it's the snickering that gets me down.
That's a fine example of easy erudition on the part of Hitchens, though I'm not quite sure what the snickering might refer to in this passage, though I think that I might understand it in T.S. Eliot's original poem. Speaking of poetry, Buckley informs us that Hitchens also quoted some verses from William Cory's translation of a poem on mortality by Callimachus:
They told me, Heraclitus; they told me you were dead.
They brought me bitter news to hear, and bitter tears to shed.
I wept when I remembered how often you and I
Had tired the sun with talking, and sent him down the sky.
We step into this stream of life only once, so far as I know, and if we do step in again, it's not the same stream. Nor is Heraclitus even the same Heraclitus. Hitchens is gone forever as well, and the eternal coatman now waits on us to finish our swim.

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At 2:27 PM, Blogger jinrok said...

I recall a speech from Hitchens, fairly late in his illness, which makes me fairly confident in the claim that the "snickering" has to do with frequent minor humiliations like a runny nose, incontinence or loss of his mental edge. Quite a bit different for Prufrock, indeed, who seems to have earned the lack of respect that so bothers him.

At 2:52 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks for that explanation, which makes sense.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder how many atheists on their death beds do wonder if there's a God and try to convince themselves that they were not that bad people after all (hoping that God would hear their self talk). Most of course would never be able to admit it, burying their fear behind a mask of arrogance. Others would hide their anxiety and pain behind disdainfulness and mockery, like the late stand up comedian George Carlin.


At 1:59 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I suppose none of us really know what happens after death, though theists (including Christians) have belief to sustain themselves.

For that matter, nontheists have belief to sustain themselves.

But I suspect that all of us find the fact of death worrisome, at the least.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The reason why some are believers and others not is very much psychological, cultural. Many young people abandon their faith away from home, on campuses. Peer pressure and fear of being ridiculed, not science and logic as they falsely claim. The church focuses too much on theology, often over-intellectualized, shying away from science, logic, critical thinking and other relevant fields (apologetics) leaving people literally unarmed and unable to defend their faith, defenseless against such aggressive predators like Hitchens, Dawkins, Dennet, Harris among others and their blood-thirsty followers who don't believe in God but can't stop thinking and reading about Him. Do you think that any of them hungers for truth? Perhaps some agnostics, but the majority of atheists just make up facts and use fallacious arguments to justify their "beliefs". I read their books and the amount of lies, intentional logical fallacies, half-truths is so big I always feel disgusted after reading them. But I read them from time to time anyway, as those lies strengthen me.
I believe that it would be much more helpful to study one of Norman Geisler, Ravi Zacharias or William Lane Craig's books instead of the Book of Daniel.
But I also agree with the late Samuel Huntington who wrote that the growth of Christianity in Korea can be easily explained and is psychological - the need for stability in the rapidly changing Korean society and Hebrews 13:8 satisfies their needs when the old structures disappear. It's nothing mystical as many others claim. Sometimes reading between the lines reveals much more than the message people share - be it an atheist, or a believer. E.g. Last year I decided to do a little investigation and check on one especially aggressive and active on-line militant atheist Polish-Canadian couple. It turned out their only son died in his early 20s (and 10 years ago) from a malignant tumor and they've suffered ever since. It turned my own anger towards them into strong compassion. Their hate to God stems from the pain they can't alleviate. They won't look for the truth. They'll do anything to pull others away from God. Bertrand Russel's daughter claimed that her father abandoned his beliefs to submerge into promiscuity, but spent thousands of hours to write books and articles trying to logically disprove God. What are other Atheists running away from?
And death is worrisome often because we focus on what we'd leave behind, not what lies ahead, focus on pleasure instead of real life. Christians have nothing to worry, even if they are wrong. Atheists, if they are wrong, have much to lose, so they fight tooth and nail to disprove God.


At 4:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, I didn't know I produced such a long text :)


At 7:56 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Maybe you need to write a doctoral thesis.

I agree with you that a study of apologetics would be more interesting than the Book of Daniel, but one makes the most of what suits various individuals.

I see that our reading list overlaps, by the way.

Jeffery Hodges

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