On the peril of cliché: Helen Foley, Peter Levine, Hannah Arendt

My high school English teacher, Helen Foley, who helped me become who I am (at least the salutary dimensions), warned me against writing in clichés.  These are the antitheses of thinking, she said, and she was so right.  In all the years since, when I’m writing and a cliché floats to mind as an effective shortcut to convey what I am thinking, Helen Foley’s words exhort me to actually think and figure out how to write it in my own words.  And now I add to that Hannah Arendt’s observation that Eichmann failed to think what he was doing and invoked cliché instead. Peter Levine expands on the peril here.

By Noelle McAfee

I am professor of philosophy at Emory University and editor of the Kettering Review. My latest book, Fear of Breakdown: Politics and Psychoanalysis, explores what is behind the upsurge of virulent nationalism and intransigent politics across the world today. My other writings include Democracy and the Political Unconscious; Habermas, Kristeva, and Citizenship; Julia Kristeva; and numerous articles and book chapters. Edited volumes include Standing with the Public: the Humanities and Democratic Practice and a special issue of the philosophy journal Hypatia on feminist engagements in democratic theory. I am also the author of the entry on feminist political philosophy in the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and well into my next book project on democratic public life.