Art Pour L'Art | Art Pour Les Gens

I've been having a lot of conversations lately that go like this:

PERSON: How are you doing?

ME: Oh...good, but things'll be better after [weekend, conference, project, etc.].

PERSON: Yeah, I know it.

ME: It's crazy.

PERSON: Doesn't get any better, just keeps coming at you.

I'm starting to see that it really does. This seems to be one of the clichés that is so fundamentally and basically true that it transcends the status of cliché and becomes something else--a truism, maybe.

Other things in this list of transcendences include: your kids grow up faster than you are ready for them to; time accelerates; and your body just stops moving as quickly and smoothly as it used to.

As a writer who has a surfeit of creative writing education, I have been warned and counseled and browbeaten over the avoidance of cliché. It is the thing, we are told, that will destroy our writing. Cliché is the seed which becomes fully flowered florid prose, which, in turn, becomes the throw-away airplane potboilers that no one ever really acknowledges that they have read, at least not in mixed company or without a certain measure of guilt.

Yet, aren't there a few of these truisms out there that deserve a place in good writing? Isn't this how people connect to a work and want to pay $20.00+ for the book (or at least want to check it out from the library)? How does one balance the cliché with the truism? How does one give the truism a new outfit so it seems like a proper insight into the truth about the human condition without simply being a set of new threads for the emperor?

In my experience in the graduate training centers of creative writing and in the editor's chair at a couple of literary magazines, I've seen that the anxiety over cliché has created a whole lot of work that fails to engage anyone but the author. Or it connects with the other writers in the creative writing workshops who are so afraid of clichés that they would rather read bad prose that seems to be free of cliché than good prose that is, as they might say, tainted by it.

In the attempt to give cliché the slip, many writers have lost the reader well. It is now so hard for readers to find themselves in so much of this new writing that they much prefer "inferior" stories that have the porch light on and a welcome mat out.

And I suppose, who can blame them?

Certainly this is more of the old, art for art's sake argument. I used to think that position had more merit than I do now. Imagine, for example, a chef who says "I only cook food for food's sake." Even the most obscure chef, trafficking in the hautest of haute cuisine, still must acknowledge that somebody is going to have to eat the dumpling. You can't just make it and let it sit on the counter, what is the purpose in that?

It'll just go bad, and you'll have to throw it out. Thus is is with books, I think. A sad state of affairs.