Melville House has been publishing a popular series of books called The Last Interview and Other Conversations which bundles the final interviews of various writers along with selected earlier interviews. The series includes books on David Foster Wallace, James Baldwin, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jorge Luis Borges, Hannah Arendt, Philip K. Dick, and Kurt Vonnegut among others.
The latest installment is a collection of transcripts of eight interviews with Christopher Hitchens, from a rambling C-Span interview in 1987 to his actual final interview, conducted in late 2011 by his “New Atheist” colleague Richard Dawkins for The New Statesman magazine.
For me, the book got off to a rocky start. Most of the other interviews have been cleaned up or at least lightly edited but the C-Span transcription is literal to the point of unintelligibility. Here’s a sample:
“RUTAN: “Blabscam, TV’s rigged political talk shows” by you, Christopher Hitchens. “Blabscam” suggests a scandal. Is it really a scandal?
HITCHENS: Yeah, I think it’s a scandal. I think it’s a crying shame. [Coughs] I mean, I’ve been now on The McLaughlin Group, which probably some of your customers watch too, on, um, It’s Your Business—on most of these shows. The only one, you may be touched to see, I don’t mention as being a fix is, um, this show and I guess I could have also, um, mentioned Firing Line which I’ve been on, William Buckley’s program which, again, I wouldn’t include.”
There is a similar transcription of a Hitchens appearance on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, which is equally unedifying. There is also a fair bit of repetition in the other interviews as Hitchens keeps coming back to ride his favourite hobbyhorses: 9-11, the second Iraq War, Mother Teresa, the Clintons, Tony Blair and his distrust of religion in general.
All of this will be well-travelled territory for Hitchen’s fans – the presumed audience for the book – and it’s not like there is any shortage of Hitchens interviews freely available to watch on YouTube.
Two of the interviews, both for print publications, do stand out as being worthwhile. One is from Portland Monthly in January, 2010, where Hitchens is in a thoughtful conversation with Marilyn Sewell, a psychotherapist, poet and former Unitarian minister.
Sewell gently but persistently challenges Hitchens to engage with liberal Christian ideas and not just the fundamentalist straw men he often ridiculed.
The other is a long interview/profile by Andrew Anthony in The Guardian later the same year while Hitchen’s is undergoing chemotherapy treatment for the cancer that would take his life in December, 2011. It is a touching and rather more humble version of Hitchens that we often got.
The Introduction by Stephen Fry is also quite touching and tinged with regret that Hitchens isn’t around now to weigh in on the Donald Trump debacle.
The final interview, with Dawkins, struck me as smug and overly congratulatory, basking in their mutual brilliance and endless “correctness” of analysis.
So, like Hitchens himself, the book is a bit of a mixed bag of erudition and hot air.
Christopher Hitchens: The Last Interview and Other Conversations, Melville House