Katie Roiphe: Hitchens Taught Me That Provocation Isn’t Exhausting. It’s Fun.

A wartime lexicon.
Dec. 16 2011 5:11 PM

The Joyful Life of the Provocateur 

Hitchens taught me that provocation isn’t exhausting. It’s fun.

111216_FW_hitchens7wiki
The late Christopher Hitchens

Photograph by Getty Images.

See Slate’s full tribute to the life of Christopher Hitchens. Read Slate’s complete collection of Christopher Hitchens' columns.

I first met Christopher on the set of the Charlie Rose show at a low point early in my career of provocation.  The attacks were beginning to get to me, and I was thinking: Is it really worth having every nice, right-thinking liberal person in the country hate you? In any event, it felt that morning on the black set, with Naomi Wolf and other clucking third-wave feminists, like we were stuck for all time in Sartre’s No Exit. When the cameras started rolling I found myself waiting for a deus ex machina to save me, and that elegant, rumpled deus ex machina turned out to be Christopher, who in his wry, dazzling way wiped the floor with the clucking feminists.  

Afterward, Christopher hailed a cab and took me for cocktails at the Pierre hotel, one of those old-fashioned Fifth Avenue hotels with a heated awning. This felt exotic to me, partly because I was 24, and partly because it was 10:30 in the morning. He was a thrilling talker.  We sat in the empty grandeur, and three hours and five drinks later Christopher had somehow charmed me back into the calling. His point, which he was the living embodiment of, was that provocation was fun. In any event, it was fun with him or around him, or when he did it, and the world can be a little bit consoled that the fun and irreverent, erudite, near prophetic charisma is still there in the sentences.

See Slate’s full tribute to the life of Christopher Hitchens. Read Slate’s complete collection of Christopher Hitchens' columns.

Katie Roiphe, professor at NYU’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, is the author of Uncommon Arrangements: Seven Marriages and In Praise of Messy Lives.

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