Monday, September 24, 2007

Kill dem cliches!

British novelist Martin Amis, in an interview with TV host Charlie Rose:

Charlie Rose (CR): You've said, famously, that literature is an act against cliches--

Martin Amis (MA): A war against cliches. You know, whenever you write, “The heat is stifling,” or “She rummaged in her handbag,” this is dead freight. And by the way, the war has extended on to another sphere. People who use these moldering novelties like “Seen it, done it,” “Got the T-shirt,” “He went ballistic,” “I don't think so,” “Hello!”--these are dead words. They're
heard words.

What cliche is is heard writing, heard thinking, heard feeling. The writer has to look for a way to freshness, and to make it your own.

CR: And what is that process for you?

MA: Well, it's not like you get a cliche and wiggle it around and use synonyms for it. You see plenty of that.

CR: I mean, how do you plumb the creativity to avoid cliches?

MA: The process for me, and this is how I've always worked... [When it comes to] style, you don't take an ordinary paragraph or a decorative paragraph and then give it style. You know, lots of rumble and wow. You don't do it that way. What you're trying to do is be faithful to your perceptions and transmit them as faithfully as you can, but in a language that... I say these sentences again and again in my head until they sound right. There's no objective reason why they're right, they just sound right to me. So it's euphony, sometimes it's harshness that you want, but it's just matching up the perception with the words in a kind of semi-musical way even if it's atonal.

The YouTube video here.

Martin Amis? “The Information?” Aw-right, Wikipedia to the rescue.

We're all guilty of those “moldering novelties” more often than we think, so repeat after me: Avoid cliches like the plague!


P.S. In Britain, apparently, novelists, poets, playwrights, writers are deemed good enough subjects for television interviews. When was the last time you saw a Filipino literary figure, major or minor, command airtime on local TV?


Amadeo said...

Can we avoid clichés?

I don’t believe so. At least, it will be very hard to do so.

And here's why.

mixkaela said...

I like the line "Her smile could stop a revolution" as opposed to that bit that could launch ships and such.

Filipino novelists get minimal air time and often not as novelists. You see their names on the screen and underneath, something asinine as 'Professor of so-and-so'.

Quentin X said...

That's why TV is often referred to as the idiot box.

writing_degree_zero said...


Just a quick comment. The "Charlie Rose Show" is not a British program. It's a show out of New York, aired weekdays over PBS.

gibbs cadiz said...

AMADEO, you wrote a killer of a post. :)

MIXKAELA, when do we see kaya, uhm, butch dalisay or cristina pantoja hidaldo or f. sionil jose or dean alfar holding forth on local tv? hehe. :)

QUENTIN X, you said it. :)

WRITING DEGREE ZERO, hi, thanks for the correction. pbs--which means it's the equivalent of our nbn (channel 4) here, a channel nobody watches, haha. good for pbs to spend time with these people--i also saw a charlie rose clip with gore vidal. gore vidal! :)

writing_degree_zero said...

Hi again! I don't think PBS has an equivalent in our local channels. NBN is a gov't station, while PBS is viewer-supported and relies on various foundations for funding. I like watching the Charlie Rose Show, and thank God for PBS.

gibbs cadiz said...

WRITING DEGREE ZERO, but PBS is partly subsidized by government funds/taxpayer's money, right? i remember the recent controversy over kenneth tomlinson and his alleged attempts to tilt pbs rightwards/bush-wards. there's a more concrete parallel with our craven nbn channel. :)

writing_degree_zero said...

It's not. PBS is a private, non-profit corporation.

Jego said...

When was the last time you saw a Filipino literary figure, major or minor, command airtime on local TV?

A couple weeks ago in fact. Carlo J. Caparas was a guest on several TV shows. And on ANC, I think I saw Hal Santiago being interviewed with a couple of other notable komiks writers/illustrators.

Jay said...

Great article, would you mind if I share this @

RiA said...

hi sir

this is really helpful. i'm actually doing my poetry essay at this moment when i read this article, i'm really having a hard time avoiding cliches...people should start thinking creatively, if it can't be avoided then let's not put too much of it on tv,films, literature, etc. thanks very much.

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