“There are all too many things that could kill you, do not kill you and then leave you considerably weaker ,” wrote the English writer Christopher Hitchens in Mortality (Atlantic Books, 2012) , a collection of reflections – some published in Vanity Fair – written during his terminal cancer. During his life as a journalist and writer Hitchens has never been afraid to call in question everything – even Mother Teresa – with courage and his clever dialectic. In his Walking Dead (his cancer was discovered when it was already at the fourth stage ) he reflects on the Nietzschean maximum “whatever does notkill me makes me stronger”, held during all his life as a “reliable saying”, but now – face to face with his own irrevocable finitude – he can only say that in the physical “brutal word” this is not true. There is no strength in losing hair, weight and appetite. “Will I really not live to see my children married ? To watch the World Trade Center rise again? To read – if not indeed to write – the obituaries of elderly villains like Henry Kissinger and Joseph Ratzinger ?”. He becomes conscious of his death. What will remain after this dramatic relevation?
In this diary we can see clearly what lasts: the power of the word – ” freedom of speech ” – the power of knowledge, even when this is denied because nothing and nobody can give you an answer. Hitchens does not abandon his faith in science even when medicine is not able to help him stay alive. Mortality is a lucid journey without return – sometimes as rough as a medical chart, at others so touching . However, Hitchens remains Hitchens even here: the writer’s polemical verve and independence do not lose their force even in the pages that reveal his weakness: “To the dumb question ‘ Why me ?’ , the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply : ‘Why not?’ ” .