Monday, May 10, 2010

Dissecting Clichés

I was less than my prolific self last week.

I would have written more, but it’s poor form to blog from someone’s murder trial.

But I’m back and so is Michelle Kerns. If you don’t remember Kerns, she is the woman analyzing literary critics’ dependence upon clichés.

Her analysis (and accompanying graphs) are many positive things — fascinating, insightful and accessible. Unfortunately, those words are clichés, so I’ll just post a link instead of trying to describe it.

Of the publications she is following, Entertainment Weekly packs the highest percentage of clichés into their critiques. (Smart money bets EW remain the frontrunner through the entirety of Kerns’s experiment.) They averaged 1.1 cliché per 100 words. Time Out New York and Publishers Weekly trailed at .93 and .92 Kerns, respectively.

Yes, “Kerns” are the metric measurement for clichés per 100 words in a book review.

Kerns — the writer, not the unit of measurement — specifically picks on alliterations in her dissection of April’s reviews. Some of the alliterations, like “parboiled profundities,” I found clever. Some are admittedly pretentious, for example, “craziness crazily” and “This promising premise begins on promising premises.”

Elsewhere, Elisa Bassist asks, Have I Earned these Clichés? She writes about why she writes and comes up with, “It’s the closest definition I have of living.” Yes, she notes that her conclusion is a cliché. That’s why she gives her essay that title.

It’s much better than I’m making it sound, though I disagree with some of Bassist’s points. She describes writing as a “social act.” I would argue that it’s the opposite. Reading might be a social act; but writing, almost always, is done alone and for your own sake. If someone else reads a personal meaning into your own writing — wonderful! — but writing is a selfish process. It’s about you, even when it isn’t. (And, now, I have added my cliché to the stack.)

Bassist seems to acknowledge this when she quotes Jim Harrison.

“A writer [is] a small god who has forty acres as a birthright on which to reinvent the world.”

Two final notes — first, Elisa Gabbert has fun with Venn diagrams.

She says that most people separate “women poets” from “poets.” How can anyone divide the two? Whether right or wrong, I identify femininity with poetry. Most of the women I know are poets. Many just don’t bother to write it down.

Lastly, we finally have an e-reader that I would consider buying. The Kobo reader, from Borders, will cost $149 and come stocked with 100 classics, according to the Associated Post. That’s $1.50 per classic. Sure, I probably have most of these unidentified classics on my bookshelf already. (Whether I’ve read them or not is a different issue.) But it still sells for $100 less than competing e-readers.

-Jason Lea,

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