Sunday, August 12, 2007

Spoiler Alert!

In a most definitive sign that the long-dreaded phased redeployment of the Enlightenment—that is to say, the epochal obsolescence of a certain Clinton-era barfly counter-intuition—is already rather underway, Christopher Hitchens, twelve sloshy, warry, heretical years after the century-defining appearance of The Missionary Position, has finally gone there: yes, a vehicular-manslaughter-with-exacerbating-CNS-factors takedown of Harry Potter in the Times Book Review, a publication whose recent paper-stock and brain-cell cutbacks have made it squarer than ever. (Zing!)

The objections raised are going-through-the-motions shite that Hypegeist
had long ago introduced into the conversation (if not quite online, because he refuses to be a blog, because he somehow believes in blogging), and what Hitchens' front-page placement this week proves is nothing so much that, unlike every other 10-year-old girl, 45-year-old girl, heroin addict, and rancid MTA metrosexual/MetroNorth commuter in the world, it took Hitch weeks, not days, to finish the Deathly Hallows. Now, I understand that me complaining about this is pretty unforgivably pot-calling-the-kettle-a-Harry-Potter-(which-is-to-say-holocaust-) denier (Hitchens unhelpfully asks, "Are the Malfoys as black as they have been portrayed?", which means nothing to me, because, as is now cliche, the cliche doesn't make sense), but shouldn't Scotch-and-Trotsky goggles in fact make whatever you're looking at more attractive, if also harder to read?

So yes, I agree, insomuch as I care or it matters, which it doesn't, which may be the point of Hitchens taking the time to write this and cashing the check and spending it on totally not food or shelter, that Rowling doesn't focus enough on puffy, blossoming girls, the fascist problem, or the sensitivities of expat two-score-and-eighteen-year-old neighborhood-watch bogeys (in roughly that order). But why submit yourself to the scrutiny of non-chattering-class muggles, or more to the point, the worst muggles in the chattering classes, who pretend to love the fun, yay!, super-fun liberation of ta(l)king juvenilia seriously? Oh, Chris(t), why?
The ban on sexual matters is also observed fairly pedantically, though as time has elapsed Rowling has probably acquired male readers who find themselves having vaguely impure thoughts about Hermione Granger (if not, because the thing seems somehow impossible, about Ginny Weasley).

Of the 2,000 or so people in the forecourt, perhaps one-third had taken the trouble to wear prefect gowns and other Hogwarts or quidditch impedimenta. Many wore a lightning-flash on their foreheads: Orwell would have recoiled at seeing the symbol of Sir Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists on otherwise unblemished brows, even if the emblem was tamed by its new white-magic associations. And this was a sideshow to the circus, all across the English-speaking and even non-English world, as the countdown to the witching hour began.

I would give a lot to understand this phenomenon better.

That the main characters nonetheless have a strong moral code and a solid ethical commitment will be a mystery to some — like his holiness the pope and other clerical authorities who have denounced the series — while seeming unexceptionable to many others. As Hermione phrases it, sounding convincingly Kantian or even Russellian about something called the Resurrection Stone:

“How can I
possibly prove it doesn’t exist? Do you expect me to get hold of — of all the pebbles in the world and test them? [black swan sighting] I mean, you could claim that anything’s real if the only basis for believing in it is that nobody’s proved it doesn’t exist.”


As one who actually did once go to boarding school by steam train, at 8, I enjoyed reading aloud to children and coming across Diagon Alley and Grimmauld Place, and also shuddering at the memory of the sarcastic schoolmasters (and Privet Drives) I have known. The distinctly slushy close of the story may seem to hold out the faint promise of a sequel, but I honestly think and sincerely hope that this will not occur.

The thought
of Hitchens as a boy—or reading to boys— is one only an ethical sadist like Hitchens would conjure. But after copying and pasting (and making different colors!) the Hogwarts longings of the biggest waste of prodigious talent ever, perhaps I do now kind of see the point of him dipping his disgusting, divine hobbit toe into the tar stream of educational culture (broadly conceived). Indeed, what better rejoinder to the relativists who care about J.K. and her billions, than paragraphs about "Ginny Weasley" and "Wizengamot" and "Dumbledore" that read like they're important without having to convince oneself to be a good sport?

Charitably, then, let us consider Hitchens' performance one of those deadly serious pranks meant to instill the ramrod of Empire in the English boarding school, or, you know, whatever people pretend to say about that kind of stuff. "A boring subtext, about the wisdom or otherwise of actually uttering Voldemort’s name, meanwhile robs the apotropaic device of its force."

Yes, infantiles, leave prose to the pros.

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