Some time ago, I signed up for TED talks, as a fun and somewhat time saving way to learn new things. It’s certainly fun, although I haven’t watched as many videos as I’d like. Despite the videos not being too long, it’s rather hard to sit down and view them on a regular basis, what with a child and all. But last week, my interest was triggered again.
‘The World’s Most Mysterious Book’ — now how could I ignore this video? It describes the Voynich Codex, a peculiar book from the fifteenth century that still keeps scientists puzzled.
After watching the video I searched the internet and found the following website that shows scans of the individual pages.
The Voynich Codex is shrouded in mystery simply because we do not have an inkling on what it is about. It makes me curious whether the author has made it all up to confuse people back in those days. Perhaps the language was created like J.R.R. Tolkien’s Elvish, which might confuse future scientists just as much if all they have is a single text without any context whatsoever. Whatever the reason might have been, it is fun to fantasize about its origins.
Did the last question leave you stumpped? Me too! So I went on a digital spelunking quest into the unknown. I also looked into other vintage sources like a dictonary or two, and do you want to know what I found out? Well… No one really knows, it’s kind of vague.
Ask yourself these questions:
What is a trope? How do you pronounce it [troup]? Heck, I’ve been pronouncing it [troupy] because that’s how I learned it, the thing is, outside of literature university courses, you won’t hear many people speak it out loud, and if they do… case in point. It’s a little like genre, I honestly thought it was pronounced [genier] when I read it in articles until I realized genre was what I’d heard fancy people refer to as belonging to a style, or category = [jánre]
What is a cliché?
Which one is bigger? I ask this because it seems like cliché fits into the great encompassing shadow of the mighty trope. Trope, such a grand word, in the same category as genre, canon and the like. But, cliché just sounds right out bad.
My trusty hardcopy of The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Theory says:
cliché: (F ‘stereotype plate’) A trite, over-used expression which is lifeless.
F stands for French, ok, so what does it say about trope? Here is where I ran into trouble, my trusty Penguin (above) said:
trope: (Gk ‘turn’) In general it still denotes any rhetorical or figurative device, but… during the Middle Ages… it came to be applied to a verbal amplification of the liturgical text.
Gk stands for Greek, uhm, not exactly what I expected. I made a mistake, or I’ve been hearing the term incorrectly. Sniff.
I looked further, this time online, and it turns out that torpe does mean what I had read in The Penguin Dictionary, but there is a snag. It has recently (or recently enough) been included in wikipedia, where it also means cliché:
A literary trope is the use of figurative language – via word, phrase, or even an image – for artistic effect such as using a figure of speech. The word trope has also come to be used for describing commonly recurring literary and rhetorical devices, motifs or clichés in creative works.
So, I was right, trope has somethin to do with cliché, yay! And then? That’s where it ends qua dictionary entries. Wikipaedia is as close to a ‘real’ (and by real I mean authoritative) definition I could get.
Out of the world of books and authority, and into the trusted world of blogs, comments and random internet searches and fabulous forums (fora?). Here we get a lot of information, and starting at the top of my goolge bubble is:
Adam Heine, who tells us, in the battle of Tropes vs. Clichés, tropes are a reocurring pattern in literature, they are not good or bad because “tropes are what make stories run”. Clichés, however, “are subjective”, and he continues:
What’s old and tired to you may be brand new to someone else, or it might be someone’s favorite trope-they don’t care HOW much it’s been done; they love it every time.
I really like this definition because the last part of the sentence is so true, and it is true for everyone because we all like repetition, it is part of pattern recognition, and as humans, we are hardwired for pattern recognition. But again, where does trope start and cliché end? Even Adam seems a little murky on the subject. Though he does give a few pointers as to how not to fall into clichés, in the above mentioned blogpost.
Then I ran into this Reddit pearl posted by BillHadCheese,
I look at it like this:
A trope is an idea (a theme, a metaphor, an analogy, or even methodology) that is both discernible and categorical. The Chosen One. The Artefact of Power. The Damsel in Distress. The Knight in Shining Armor.
A cliche is either a trope that has become overused (perhaps misused), or a specific, overused metaphor. One would think The Chosen One would be a tired or cliché trope, but we manage to keep getting good stories using it. A phrase like “His teeth were white as pearls” is a straight-up cliché.
Again, more opinion than actual definitions (if you wanted definitions, you could just look them up), but tropes are the meta parts of content and clichés are those we don’t really want to see anymore.
In that feed someone goes on to question Mr. BillHadcheese’s arguement by asking if he means archetype instead of trope and to which he answers that an archetype can be a trope and… well, do you get the idea now?
But one thing most bloggers, commenters and general internet and literary persons can agree on is that clichés are not a good thing. Take a general dictionary search, for instance:
The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as:
A figurative or metaphorical use of a word or expression.
A significant or recurrent theme; a motif.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it as:
A word or expression used in a figurative sense.
A common or overused theme or device.
As we can see, it’s not that easy even for dictionaries to decide what should be what. And both seem to have a negative connotation.
Perhaps in the end it is necesary to let go of literary terms and just go with the flow. But next time someone says your writing, or anyone else’s writing is clichéd, think about the definition (same thing applies for trope, of course).
I wish I could call myself a Tolkien expert because I love the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, but other than that and The Hobbit, my Tolkien knowledge ends. The Silmarillion has been on my to-read shelf for as long as I can remember. The rest of the Tolkien oeuvre, including all those edited by J.R.R Tolkien’s son Christopher, have piqued my interest at one point or another. However, they are difficult to come by and, frankly, I am worried they will not have the same impact as LOTR, and that they may tarnish my experience of my next rereading of it.
So, on hearing that yet again, a new Tolkien book will be published by HarperCollins on Thursday titled Beren andLúthien,I find myself gawking at the power of the gods of marketing. Of course, it is not a coincidence that they decided to publish it on the 10th anniversary since the last Tolkien book was published, The Children of Húrin? And of course, like many of the other books revolving around LOTR, this is in someway the pre-material that made up another book, in this case The Silmarillion, according to the publishers, it is a story in its own right. How authentic is it to desperately fish out every snippet of text written by Tolkien and say it is a book on its own right?
Perhaps it is, what do I know. I suppose I am just weary of all these marketing gimmicks, the way publishers sell and time their releases to maximise profits. All at the expense of other writers out there striving to make it—especially those with really, really good manuscripts, which never get published because there just might not be a large enough audience to buy the books.
Yet here we are, reading on a mainstream news site like the BBC, reading about the anticipated publication of a book by an author who has been long dead. At least Tolkien fans will have something to look forward to this week.
While reading Bearing Witness: Reading, Writers, and the Novel in Nigeria by Wendy Griswold, I came across this awesome sentence that she says the famous (and late) American anthropologist Clifford Geertz also made a strong case for:
All culture is local culture, in the sense that culture exists through the interpretations of human minds and the practices of human actors, and this is the case for such concrete cultural objects as novels.
Snob me once, shame on me… oh, who am I kidding, writers have no shame.
But I do.
Shame on me!
This has been many years in the making. I have not written much in give or take 3 years. I did not leave writing; I just found that after a rather tough patch in my life, I didn’t really feel like saying much. Or maybe I didn’t have anything important to say. I tried occasionally, but most of what I wrote fizzled. So, I tried another approach since just working at my writer’s block didn’t prove fruitful. I would let it sit, and sit and sit. Once in awhile I’d try again. After two years I thought I was never going to write again.
But I’m jumping the gun, before any of that happened, about 3 months into my writer’s block, I had tried getting on the saddle again. I always had a ‘cure’ for even most stubborn of blocks. Everything I tried brought up this inner voice, which would go something like: “I should take a writing course, this usually helps, especially the ones where you have writing prompts.” But I would respond to this voice: “writing prompts are for amateurs, real writers don’t need prompts, real writers write from…. from wherever it is they write from.” Eventually I ignored the voice and I started using prompts as usual. I just Googled prompts and came upon the Writer’s Digest prompts. And I loved them.
The prompts got me going, and I went and went and then it was just too much, and I staggered and slowed to a crawl, behind the Duracell bunny. They no longer worked, the writing lacked sparkle, it lacked that je ne sais quoi that all writers have when they read back their own words. The one readers also get when they pick up a book and read a couple of sentences and then buy the book. That was simply not there.
It was hard, because I thought the block was over, but it wasn’t. Certainly not in the way I had expected. It turns out when you actually have a writer’s block it isn’t that easy to climb out of the gaping blank page.
So, what happened?
Well, one day at a time, the block started to go away on its own.
Writing just is (and some days it is not), but the muses are still there, waiting and whispering, and I hear them calling.
Sofia Borgstein is half Dutch and half Mexican, although she was born in Malawi. She has been writing since she was 13 years old. She has been published in magazines in Mexico and the Netherlands. She currently lives in the Netherlands with her husband and two children, where she is working on several projects.
On a dry and windy day in January 2012, Cecile, Samir, Sofia and Vanessa walked out of the notary’s office in Rotterdam, nervous and excited at having registered officially as a foundation. Now more than five years later, we are still up and running and barely managing to cope with the influx of submissions.
We are privileged to meet writers from all over the world with such varied backgrounds. This edition is long overdue, since our special poetry edition in October. In these pages you will find, for the first time, poetry intermingled with flash fiction, stories and essays.
Originally I planned to start the article talking about ebooks. Talking about the Internet. I was going to quote Calvino’s Six Memos for the Next Millennium. I was going to say that more people are reading on screens than ever before, and that bloated, antiquated conceptions about “the novel” would have to change to meet the new ways in which we read. This isn’t that article. That one is still rattling around in my head somewhere, and I think it would’ve turned out pretty alright in the end. But that’s not the article I’m writing right now.
This is going to be something else entirely, because, as of this writing, Donald Trump has been President Elect of the United States of America for five days. In the first 72 hours alone there have been an alarming spike in incidents of hate across the U.S. Protesters pour into the streets. The tension is like nothing I’ve seen before, and I’m watching at a distance, seeing it all unfold from an ocean away. It’s got me scared. It’s got me angry. And it’s got me—once I finally managed to shut the news and close Facebook and sat down to write this article—thinking about how truly irrelevant literary fiction has become in American culture at large. Read More