Under the Green Desk Lamp…
There are few literary critiques more scathing than to call something ‘cliché’. Whether written work, movie, theory or idea, the accusation of ‘cliché’ is an attempt to strip an idea of all originality and reduce it to a rehashed, tired idea worthy of little to no real consideration.
At times, the accusations carry weight. Originality, after all, is the hallmark of the creative mind. To discover new ways of phrasing familiar concepts, or new metaphors to capture the intricacies of our particular perspective is the high-water mark of self-expression, and to rely on cliché in such an endeavour is to devalue our individuality and relegate ourselves to playing stock-characters on the stage of our own lives.
Others are more forgiving with the careful use of cliché. A red rose in a romantic moment, a moving if familiar pledge of commitment until the end of time/ mountains crumble/ last rains fall—there are plenty of clichéd tropes which still serve their purpose with poignancy—even if it’s at the expense of personalization.
Still, there are other sorts of clichés which go moreover ignored or unnoticed by most people. In his book ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces’, Joseph Campbell explores the idea of the ‘archetypal hero’ found in mythologies the world over.
This idea of the ‘monomyth’—the familiar journey told by countless cultures throughout every period of time—asserts that there are certain commonalities to the human experience and imagination—a familiar chord touched on no matter the background, language, or experience of the people in question.
The implications here are quite interesting. If there are indeed common strands of myth and story which echo across time and culture, it would be easy enough to disregard them—casting them aside along with all the other worthless and overly familiar clichés we so adamantly oppose.
Alternatively, we may be able to learn something from these enduring strands of the shared human experience. What motivates these similarities, and what conclusions might we glean from their timeless resilience?
Clichés, myths, legends…all have grown to such recognizable stature as a result of their ability to speak across cultures and great lengths of time…to connect with something deep within us all and speak to our inner-most truths.
So, do not shudder the next time someone reminds you of the colours of roses or violets, or offers some other tired yet comfortably trite piece of wisdom like that. Rather, recognize it for its history and accuracy. Rather than blaming the familiar for our own occasionally drab existence, let us look inside to find the underlying reasons for their ubiquity.
Beneath the worn-out stories and faded metaphors may lie a secret to our shared humanity, and the deeper we go into the genesis of these ancient comforts, the closer we may find ourselves to the echoes of the old and glorious themes of our common past.
-Brad OH Inc.