Ideas & Short Essays, Reviews: Books & Film
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Jenny Diski on fucking loving clichés

I’m enjoying reading Jenny Diski, this for the first time. She’s a Brit and not very widely read here in the states, but she’s a truly talented writer, with a compelling life story. Diski’s memoir writing takes her blunt and unapologetic descriptions of her unorthodox life and combines them with understated British humor and interludes of literary flourish that somehow remain unpretentious.

She opens her memoir recounting her cancer diagnosis, fearing above all that she’ll become a cliché, complaining most of all about the fact that now that she has cancer she is supposed to be “on a journey,” and it’s the potential sentimentality of this, not her impending death, that worries her.

This probably sounds quite morbid, to hear me tell it, but Diski is a skilled enough writer to pull it off, and she pulls it off because like the rest of her memoir, it’s stark with authenticity. This is an accomplished author who doesn’t give a fuck.

Having begun the memoir with her worries about falling into clichés, Diski later in her memoir takes a few paragraphs to ponder writing and language and clichés. It’s intriguing and provocative, especially for those of us who are writers.

Clichés exist because they once worked brilliantly. They helped to universalize the intractably private, to keep a distance from what people wanted to say but couldn’t.

They must have been alive then. Now they are either the deadening end of meaning or party favors to be played with. For some writers they are a spring-board, perfectly placed to be rejuvenated, to renew or cut through their general use as thought concealers.

If people reach so readily for a cliché it’s because there’s something they can’t say or even think. When Beckett or Nabokov twists a common place into an oh-so-considered sentence, it too does the work of the uncanny, the too-well-known as unknown. I fucking love clichés.

 

 

 

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Writer. In the summers, I live and work in the incredible state of Alaska, in the bush community of McCarthy; I pass the winters in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California. I'm working on a memoir-based nonfiction book on the American Dream. I blog, quite frequently, and I also have a novel in process, set in Alaska.

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