How are you supposed to say anything these days?
Last time you went to a party, there were conversations going on in different parts of the room. For instance, they were talking about art. Not something you would pass up after a timely, nourishing glass of white wine and the general feeling of joviality.
Ah! They are discussing impressionists, so you are eagerly joining in.
- Monet, – you chirp in. – Claude Monet is what it is all about.
And suddenly the faces of some of your interlocutors look distorted by boredom and thinly veiled contempt. You may not realise it yet, but you’ve just said The Beatles. Shakespeare. Beethoven. Jesus Christ. You have just been trapped by a cliché. Because what kind of man would mention that Claude Monet is his favourite artist during a discussion of the Impressionists?..
So next time you are well prepared, and you are not going to blow it.
- How about Monet? – you ask, disdainfully. – Does anyone still like that one?
And once again – boredom and contempt, and quite possibly from the very same people. You are losing another fight against cliché, because you’ve just said “Yesterday” is sappy and Hamlet is a rip-off. It’s too easy and trite – trying to make a point by dwarfing a giant.
So what are you supposed to do? How are you supposed to say anything? Some say you can beat it by just ignoring the fact that what you think, say or do might be a cliché, and just go ahead with your thoughts, words and whatever it is that you do. But in that case you will just end up an obscure non-entity, a bastard child that posterity won’t adopt even out of compassion. I believe that it was Martin Amis who once gave the most brilliant piece of advice that a young writer could ever hope to hear: never write a sentence that absolutely anyone can write. You really have to give that one a good thought.
But why all the trouble? Why the hypocrisy? Why can’t you just be sincere and honestly state your preferences? Well, sincerity is of course nice and sweet, but in a polite and intelligent company it’s not enough to say that you just bloody love Monet. That is really not much of a smart remark; actually, that’s not much of a remark at all! You would have to add something to that. Like Monet’s childhood sketches are the real deal. Or that according to some experts he was a gay. Or that you really like Monet, but that Manet guy was a fraud, a real waste of brushes and canvases. You would need some rare and preferably bizarre fact from Claude Monet’s biography. Some knowledge, you see. Some wit.
But perhaps it’s getting quite complicated at this point. So why not just keep silent and listen to what the others say? Well, but then of course: silence is the biggest, most blatant cliché of all.