The cancer in Christopher Hitchens's esophagus has robbed him, temporarily he hopes, of his ability to speak.
As dismaying as this is to those of us who admire him, and to the man himself, his most recent article for Vanity Fair demonstrates that, like Roger Ebert, who has also written movingly on the experience of being unexpectedly silenced by an illness, Christopher may have lost his speech, but retains his voice.
Read the excerpt below, and find the full article here at Vanity Fair.
To my writing classes I used later to open by saying that anybody who could talk could also write. Having cheered them up with this easy-to-grasp ladder, I then replaced it with a huge and loathsome snake: “How many people in this class, would you say, can talk? I mean really talk?” That had its duly woeful effect. I told them to read every composition aloud, preferably to a trusted friend. The rules are much the same: Avoid stock expressions (like the plague, as William Safire used to say) and repetitions. Don’t say that as a boy your grandmother used to read to you, unless at that stage of her life she really was a boy, in which case you have probably thrown away a better intro. If something is worth hearing or listening to, it’s very probably worth reading. So, this above all: Find your own voice.
The most satisfying compliment a reader can pay is to tell me that he or she feels personally addressed. Think of your own favorite authors and see if that isn’t precisely one of the things that engage you, often at first without your noticing it. A good conversation is the only human equivalent: the realizing that decent points are being made and understood, that irony is in play, and elaboration, and that a dull or obvious remark would be almost physically hurtful. This is how philosophy evolved in the symposium, before philosophy was written down. And poetry began with the voice as its only player and the ear as its only recorder. Indeed, I don’t know of any really good writer who was deaf, either. How could one ever come, even with the clever signage of the good Abbé de l’Épée, to appreciate the miniscule twinges and ecstasies of nuance that the well-tuned voice imparts? Henry James and Joseph Conrad actually dictated their later novels—which must count as one of the greatest vocal achievements of all time, even though they might have benefited from hearing some passages read back to them—and Saul Bellow dictated much of Humboldt’s Gift. Without our corresponding feeling for the idiolect, the stamp on the way an individual actually talks, and therefore writes, we would be deprived of a whole continent of human sympathy, and of its minor-key pleasures such as mimicry and parody.