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Reece Jordan

Reece Jordan


Total Article : 168

About Me:18-year-old sixth form student, studying English Literature, History and Government and Politics. My articles will broadly cover topics from the current affairs of politics to reviews of books and albums, as well as adding my own creative pieces, whether it be short fiction or general opinion.

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David Foster Wallace and Clichés

David Foster Wallace and Clichés

Martin Amis has claimed that ‘all writing is a campaign against cliché. Not just clichés of the pen, but clichés of the heart. When [he] dispraise[s], [he is] usually quoting clichés. When [he] praise[s], [he is] usually quoting the opposed qualities of freshness, energy and reverberation of voice.’ This notion – that clichés are something to which a ‘campaign’ must be held against, something symptomatic of weak expression – is one shared by Charles G. Roland: ‘the use of a cliché (when recognised) may serve as a warning to an author, a signal that he should reconsider what he is writing.’ Both suggest, by their request for them not to be used, that clichés are of no value, that something original should take their place. David Foster Wallace, in his short story “Good Old Neon”, illustrates how such self-censorial means of expression which Amis and Roland champion, and the persistent hunt for originality, forces us to turn away from deep truths latent within clichés. These articles will show, firstly, that Wallace’s story demonstrates the verbal and societal construction of clichés and how language is inadequate for expressing the feelings that underlie them. Secondly, that the focus on uniqueness and detachment from clichés is a futile aim and can only end in isolation and the denial of one’s humanity. And lastly, that the nested narrative acts as both supportive to the theme of common human identity within the story as well as arising the issue of empathy being a projection of the self.


“Good Old Neon” demonstrates the discrepancy between the banality of the linguistic composition of clichés and the actual feelings wishing to be expressed within them. Nearing the end of the story, once he has decided that he will commit suicide, Neal (the narrator, or assumed narrator up until the last few pages when it is revealed he is a conception of Neal from ‘David Wallace’) states: ‘Basically I was in that state in which a man realises that everything will outlast him. As a verbal construction I know that’s a cliché. As a state in which to actually be, though, it’s something else, believe me.’ This establishes a key notion within the text, namely that our states of being and the ‘verbal constructions’ of them are disparate. The reason for this, it is suggested, is that the narrator finds the expression too commonplace – he seems almost apologetic, pre-empting criticism from an assumed reader in the mould of Amis and Roland: he affirms that he ‘[knows] that’s a cliché’, and then requests that we ‘believe’ him, as if we had already dismissed his claim because of its triteness.


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