The whole concept of clichÃ© has caught my attention recently. At the Ennet House, we get introduced to a character named Geoffrey Day, who proclaims that he has come to Ennet House “to learn to live by clichÃ©s” (IJ, 270). How exactly does something become clichÃ© and what does it mean for one to “learn to live by clichÃ©s?”
To start with a solid definition, a clichÃ© is “a trite, stereotyped expression; a sentence or phrase, usually expressing a popular or common thought or idea, that has lost originality, ingenuity, and impact by long overuse” (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/cliche). Day, a “recovering” drunk desires to “turn [his] will and life over to the care of clichÃ©s” (270). He wants to seek solace and comfort in phrases such as “One day at a time. Easy does it. First things first.” (270). In so doing, we learn that the result of Day’s surrendering to a life of clichÃ©s is that his life becomes “easier” (271). He explains that before a life a clichÃ©s, “I used to sometimes to think. I used to think in long compound sentences with subordinate clauses and even the odd polysyllable. Now I find I needn’t” (271). Day needn’t think because the clichÃ©s do the thinking for him. All that is necessary to live a life of clichÃ©s is to follow the directions of the short phrases, which have already been thought about, which have already been defined by others. There is, definitionally, no original thought involved in clichÃ©s. Therefore, Day’s life of clichÃ©s is an escape from personal thought or initiative.
Gately’s response to Day’s philosophy of a clichÃ©d life seems to parallel DFW’s own response to modern societies’ creation of clichÃ©. If Gately could, he would tell Day “that the clichÃ©d directive are a lot more deep and hard to actually do” (273). This is the essential point. ClichÃ©s have become clichÃ© because they have been repeated too many times to hold any significant meaning any more. But, the important thing to remember is that at some point in time, before the clichÃ© was a clichÃ©, it actually had meaning. It was once new and original and significant. The only reason that a clichÃ© has lost its meaning is because we have taken it away.
DFW’s work thus far has, in part, been a plea to stop the removal of meaning and value from what become clichÃ©s; from what we create to be clichÃ©s. In his works and in his interviews he calls for a return to the basics: to real love, and genuine emotion, and true sentimentality. But, the problem he faces in attempting to return to these basics is that we as a society have overused these ideas and made stereotypes out of them so that now they have become trite. As he talks about in the McCaffrey interview, love has become so clichÃ©d that we can no longer talk about it or express it without an ironic wink or a nudge. We have created platitudes where there used to be meaningful thought.
As he recognizes this sad fate of meaningful thought, in his writing DFW tries to get us to work to make the clichÃ©s relevant again. This is not an easy task, for they have been so overused and ingrained in us that it is almost impossible to see them as anything but stereotypical. This is why Gately wants to warn Day that clichÃ©s are “hard to actually do.” Contrary to what Day believes to be the case, if one were to truly live a life of clichÃ©s, one would have to live the clichÃ©s completely, fulfilling the value of each phrase. But, in order to do so, one would have to instill meaning back into the clichÃ©s–and this is no insignificant task.
Ultimately, Day and Gately’s comments on clichÃ© highlight one of the biggest issues DFW sees with regard to modern society. But, we are still left wondering how this work to revert the clichÃ©s must be done–in neither his interviews nor in his writing does DFW give us clear directions. I suppose that merely being aware of the problem is the first step to solving anything, but what can we do next?