[commentary] Cliches, Community, and Modern Man


[commentary] Cliches and Community and Modern Man

April 2017

The artist is engaged in a constant war against cliche. The author and cultural critic Martin Amis fittingly titled his collection of book reviews exactly that, ‘The War Against Cliche.’

Allow me to further explain my meaning through an example.

We are all familiar with the expression “relationships are everything” or “in the end, its the relationships that matter.” But these formulations of this great truth are so hopelessly cliche, hackneyed, and dull. They have been struck so often that they no longer ring.

If my friend is crying and hopeless and reaches for another glass of whisky and I, after hearing his story, uncertainly counsel to him that he is sad because he lacks friends and love as a result of having unwisely chased only money and prestige- these words will enter one ear and with grace slide out the other, not making even the most modest of encounters with his heart.

Bur perhaps if I formulate my response as to avoid cliche, he may hear my words and have a moment of recognition. Perhaps that strong clear melodious note will be heard if I counsel him with the words below:

Love is better than any other drug I have ever done. I mean that literally. The most powerful flashbulb memories I possess are in the terminal in Shanghai when I was a sophomore in college. My father and brother smiled and embraced me and I felt a golden warmth dance over my entire body. I remember sitting on the cold tiles of a bathroom floor in Yellowstone national park on the phone with a childhood crush, and feeling a similar sensation overcome me when she hesitantly admitted to me that she wanted to be mine, and I her’s. I can keep listing these moments of love and affection, both platonic and romantic.

From a strictly biological perspective, nothing releases dopamine into the nervous system as powerfully as connection with another human being. 

Relationships are not some poetic construct. Quite literally, just as a meal forgone will provoke stomach pains and a fierce search for food- meaningful relationships forgone will stir sharp painful sensations within the heart and mind, both physically and spiritually.

I think you’ve been neglecting one of your primary biological needs I told my friend who reached for another glass of whisky. Friends are literally as chemically potent as food.

Would you ever think of forgoing food for weeks on end? Then why do you think you can go an entire season without spending time with friends, sharing feelings and thoughts late into the evening, giving and receiving affection?

The above answer is about 241 words. The cliches used three and eight. I am of the opinion that the war against cliche is to be won through the tactics of personal anecdotes, vivid biographical details, and more generally- higher word counts.

Cliches and explication must go hand in hand.


A related thought:

Considering all the above, its is odd how we respond with urgency and seriousness to the plight of a human who is starving and cannot access carbohydrates and fats. We create soup kitchens and develop food stamp programs.

Yet when modern man cries that he is afflicted by loneliness, a lack of deep friendships, isolation, alienation, and a lack of community- we murmer in sympathy yet more or less are not too concerned.

Lonely people are biologically deprived. We must treat these ‘social’ deprivations as seriously as ‘material’ deprivations.

This is the challenge mental health advocates must surmount in their education efforts.

Every generation must find for themselves the problem of their time. I believe that our artists must cut through the bravado of machismo and tough talk, and the clever mistruths of commodity/material culture, and consider earnestly and with love, the social pains of our fellow human beings.