The Inestimable Value of Clichés

In his great work, Earthly Powers, Anthony Burgess has the main character—Kenneth Toomey, a doddering, debauched, eighty year-old novelist—remark upon the insignificance of his life’s quest, the search for the “right” words:

I was thinking like an author, not like a human, though senile, being. As though conquering language mattered. As if, in the end, there were anything more important than clichés.

Toomey goes on to contemplate the word “faithful,” one of those old all-encompassing terms that celebrated writers have labored their whole lives to come up with an objective correlative for. Still, the mere thought of the hackneyed concept nearly brings the decrepit novelist to tears:

You have failed to be faithful” he thinks, lapsed as he is, fallen as he has become. It is the lines of the passé Christmas chestnut that fill his eyes to the brim:

O Come All Ye Faithful. [Read more…]