Thursday, July 26, 2012

Alexander Cockburn.

As a hick from somewhere close to French Lick, muddling along from regional backwardness to a place approximating planetary citizenship, I first became aware of Alexander Cockburn's work not during my university tenure, but while working at UNI-Data Courier in 1988/89.

The task of abstracting The Nation generally fell to me. It radically enhanced my radicalism, with Cockburn's "Beat the Devil" column a major factor in this wonderful education. What I remember about his writings is a fierce, tenacious, unyielding prose style. I borrowed a phrase from Cockburn that I still deploy today: "Health fascist."

"Rest in peace" simply doesn't pass muster in this instance. Perhaps "polemicize in perpetuity" makes more sense.

Alexander Cockburn, by James Fallows (The Atlantic)

... As Michael Tomasky points out in this appreciation, Alex Cockburn essentially pioneered the modern persona for which Christopher Hitchens became much better known: the fancily Oxford-educated leftie Brit litterateur/journalist who would say all the outrageous things his bland Yank counterparts lacked the wit, courage, erudition, or épater-spirit to utter on their own. As both Tomasky and James Wolcott make clear, Cockburn was far more committed and purposeful in his outrageousness. His own brutal obituary about Hitchens both explains and exemplifies the differences. Short version: Cockburn said that Hitchens always knew just how far he could go; Cockburn knew, and kept on going.

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