April 14, 2012

"You're disarming yourself in an important struggle if you can't produce a fucking sonnet."

Asserted Christopher Hitchens in an interview in 2010, which I'm reading a propos of a discussion we're having about the value of the childish humor that comes in the form of substituting one word for another. Hitchens and his friends — intelligent adults — cracked each other up over the years by redoing book titles, changing "man" to "cunt" or "love" to "fuck," which is endlessly productive of laughter if you give yourself permission to do it. But I drifted into the part of the interview that's about the importance — the sexual importance — of reciting poetry. Hitchens continues:
"What if I had to try on my own merits? You've got to have some sort of reserve arsenal." He looks incredulous when the photographer, a very beautiful young woman, expresses doubt about the efficacy of this seduction technique.

"Oh no, not if it's done right," he says knowingly. Go on then, I say. Give us a demonstration. "Maybe at lunch?" he suggests, cheering up immediately. "Let's have lunch, and make a day of it." And so, inevitably, we adjourn to the pub....



[D]rink certainly makes him livelier company than the 10am sober version, and we pass a highly enjoyable few hours in a pub garden, during which he tries out successive renditions of a Shakespearean sonnet, Being Your Slave, What Should I Do But Tend, on the photographer.

"Well?", I ask her.

"Give her time to let it sink in!" he objects.

"Um," she ventures. "I'm feeling something like blind panic."

"Really? No!" And he's off again. "Being your slave what should I do but tend/Upon the hours and times of your desire?"

"My feeling," she reports kindly after he finishes, "is that I would be more seduced by argument."

"Well, I've got arguments!" he exclaims, laughing. "You want arguments? I've got arguments!"
Argument! When you say you want argument, I think that means I'm going to reject your arguments. I'll give you — as we say in law — a full and fair opportunity to litigate... and then you should feel decently well treated enough when I reject your claim.

27 comments:

edutcher said...

Never wrote any sonnets, but The Blonde loved my little bits of verse (insert verse/worse rimshot) and keeps asking when I'll write more.

Paul Zrimsek said...

"My feeling," she reports kindly after he finishes, "is that I would be more seduced by argument."

"No it isn't," retorts Hitch.

"Yes it is."

"No it isn't."

"Is."

"Isn't... sorry, did you pay for a full course of arguments, or just the five minutes?"

rhhardin said...

I'd go with traditional love limericks.

HoTouPragmatosKurios said...

A fucking sonnet.

Not to be confused with a wooing sonnet.

That Hitch, he never messed around with Mr. In-between.

rhhardin said...

You can't beat A. D. Hope for love poems.

edutcher said...

He certainly laid it (and them, presumably) on the line, didn't he?

Ann Althouse said...

The beautiful female photographer was doing her work and had to follow along with the reporter. Question whether she experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. What could she really say or do in this situation?

Ann Althouse said...

On the other hand, think of the photographs she might have taken if she'd played along and leveraged her sexuality.

But that's always the problem with sexual harassment. There are gains to be gotten by those who take advantage, and the advantage that's there for one woman is missing for others.

What happens to the unattractive photographers?

Amexpat said...

Hitchens was always a bit of a show off with his subliterary games.

I used to play two subliterary games with Salman Rushdie. The first, not that you asked, was to re-title Shakespeare plays as if they had been written by Robert Ludlum. .... The second was to recite Bob Dylan songs in a deadpan voice as though they were blank verse. In addition to the risk of the ridiculous, it can become quite hypnotic.

traditionalguy said...

Hitchens knows that every Romance Dance has to get through the formalities of a caution and assessments stage and enter into the kissing stage. Until that tipping point is reached, flirting produces nothing but amusement.

wyo sis said...

Oh, those intellectuals! Aren't they a stitch?
The same activities go on in redneck bars minus the precious pretentiousness.

EDH said...

Reminds me of Mad Libs.

No, not the protesters of Madison, Wisconsin, but the "phasal template word game".

Mad Libs (from ad lib, a spontaneous improvisation) is a phrasal template word game where one player prompts another for a list of words to substitute for blanks in a story, usually with funny results. The game is especially popular with American children and is frequently played as a party game or as a pastime.

Mad Libs was invented in 1953 by Leonard Stern and Roger Price, who published the first Mad Libs book themselves in 1958. It resembles the earlier games of Consequences and Exquisite Corpse. Mad Libs books are still published by Price Stern Sloan, an imprint of Penguin Group, cofounded by Price and Stern.


Was a lot of naughty fun for a kid, until my mother found the book. I think she wanted to call an exorcist.

Michael said...

Flirting is not sexual harassment.

Daniel5000 said...

I am surprised that Prof. Althouse would advocate the extension of Title VII liability to individuals, as opposed to just employers. Who knew you were such a Civil Rights radical?

SGT Ted said...

Hitchens game reminds me of one of the bits Jimmy Kimmel does called "Inappropriate Censorship" where he takes what were ordinary talk from various TV show broadcasts and bleeps a word or two to make it sound vulgar. It works really well. Google some from youtube they're worth it.

Mark O said...

Sonnets? There's nothing like singing "Scotch and Soda." Beats a sonnet every time.

Pogo said...

Some women think the existence of heterosexual males is sexual harassment.

Pogo said...

I wrote tons of poetry in my younger years.

Women were not swooning, but I suspect it wasn't my bad verse repelling them.

Hitchens missed how rap overtook sonnets long ago.

Richard Dolan said...

Odd seeing this today. Last night Charlie Rose had four illuminati (Rushdie, McEwan, Fenton and M Amis) discussing Hitch whom they all knew well. They were all interested in why Hitch always remained merely a consumer of literature, never a producer. The reasons offered were many and varied, but often involved the notion that Hitch couldn't stand to spend his time focusing on the lives of imaginary people when there were so many interesting real ones readily within reach. He enjoyed literature, no doubt, but also used it as a tool to seduce, impress and often intimidate others. As for producing literature (rather than the high-toned journalism he was so good at), they suggested that brooding seclusion was just not his thing.

deborah said...

"I'd go with traditional love limericks."

You would. This one's for you, doll:

I knew a woman, lovely in her bones,
When small birds sighed, she would sigh back at them;
Ah, when she moved, she moved more ways than one:
The shapes a bright container can contain!
Of her choice virtues only gods should speak,
Or English poets who grew up on Greek
(I'd have them sing in chorus, cheek to cheek.)

How well her wishes went! She stroked my chin,
She taught me Turn, and Counter-turn, and stand;
She taught me Touch, that undulant white skin:
I nibbled meekly from her proffered hand;
She was the sickle; I, poor I, the rake,
Coming behind her for her pretty sake
(But what prodigious mowing did we make.)


Love likes a gander, and adores a goose:
Her full lips pursed, the errant note to seize;
She played it quick, she played it light and loose;
My eyes, they dazzled at her flowing knees;
Her several parts could keep a pure repose,
Or one hip quiver with a mobile nose
(She moved in circles, and those circles moved.)


Let seed be grass, and grass turn into hay:
I'm martyr to a motion not my own;
What's freedom for? To know eternity.
I swear she cast a shadow white as stone.
But who would count eternity in days?
These old bones live to learn her wanton ways:
(I measure time by how a body sways.)

-Roethke

Ignorance is Bliss said...

Ann Althouse said...

What happens to the unattractive photographers?

They are at a competitive disadvantage, because they are lacking a bona fide occupational qualification.

Alex said...

"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."

LoafingOaf said...

Hitchens and his friends — intelligent adults — cracked each other up over the years by redoing book titles, changing "man" to "cunt" or "love" to "fuck,"

That was a common game with movie titles in movie chat rooms when I was a teenager.

deborah said...

Alex, it would be a fun post for Althouse to post that, and have each commenter add only one thing.

Nora said...

I say good humor and well developed sense of irony goes before reciting sonnets, but I find it very sweet of Hitchens to think about sonnets. Who could have thought that he was such a romantic.

Alex said...

A sonnet-writing general who can program computers. Awesome.

PatCA said...

Or as Dorothy Parker would have said in her favorite word game, "You're disarming yourself in an important struggle if you can't produce a sonnet fucking."