After being challenged in the year 2000, the journalist and critic Christopher Hitchens sat down to write a book called “Letters to a young contrarian”, styled after the book by the poet Rainer Maria Rilke from the 19th century called “Letters to a young poet”.
The central message of the book is one that speaks very loudly to me; about the need for nonconformity in a modern society. Conflict is not a problem, and neither is being assertive with one’s views. I have both the Rilke book and the Hitchens book side by side in my bookshelf, and I think they make an excellent pairing. One speaks of excavating the heart to write poetry, the other speaks of excavating the time to write arguments.
Like earlier when Mark came upstairs and saw me, and the first thing he said was “are you reading Hitch again?” And yes, I was, because one can admire his intention and his skill and craft. One doesn’t have to agree with him, and I think he’d be the first to admit that. Of course, after he’d try to slaughter your arguments, and whip you in the debate. But he would agree that the conflict, the debate, was needed and necessary.
I take my title for my secret magazine project, the one I’m tinkering with as I learn Django, from Hitchens book. It’s called “youngContrarians”. That may give a little hint as to what I’m doing, but I suppose it doesn’t matter if I say that. I find that I steal more and more time from my official project to tinker with that.
But this thing… it fires me up because it means I can have some outlet. Over time I can find others who, like me, subscribe to the notions of being contrarians, and who can contribute. It will never make money, of course. It’s not designed to. But maybe it can give a voice, and a few readers, who enjoy it.
And maybe, maybe, in some small way it can contribute to a debate that is not constrained by partisanship and dogma. Maybe, just maybe, it can become a voice for debate rather than argument and platitudes. I’d like that, although I don’t expect it. Maybe all it will ever be is a voice crying in the wilderness, but here is the thing: it will be my voice, and it will be my rules, and even if nobody ever reads it, it will be contrarian.