Damned By Faint Cliches

A little snippet of A. Alvarez’s The Writer’s Voice*, from the section titled "The Cult of Personality and the Myth of the Artist":

For the dissident writers, an author’s integrity could be judged by his tone of voice and his attitude to language. Like George Orwell, they believed "the greatest enemy of clear language is insincerity," and the language of insincerity is cliche–the debased phrases and dead metaphors that come automatically, without thinking, without any personal input from the writer. Orwell says of empty formulations like these, "If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought." Style, he meant, defines intelligence as well as sensibility; how you write shows how you think.

Why, yes, I do have a packet due this week.

*I can really recommend only the first part of this book–though the whole thing is interesting. Alvarez makes some beautiful points about writing and voice, but undercuts them with repeated, overly defensive swipes at what he views as today’s "politically correct" academy. There’s also a patchwork quality that likely comes from the material having begun as three separate lectures. Here, it just reads as changing course mid-way through to begin cataloguing judgments about various eras of poetry (coming down hard on the Beats) in a way that doesn’t lead to any particularly salient points about voice.

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