A Clockwork Orange

18 Mar

OK, this is my opinion on the significance of the 21st chapter of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, which was excluded from earlier American editions of the novel and the film adaptation by Stanley Kubrick (fucking. awesome.).  I’m certain a bazillion people have written about it and it’s probably all over the web, but the same could be said for pretty much everything else in the world, so what am I supposed to do, not speak at all? Ha ha.

Needless to say, but saying it anyway, if you haven’t read the book or seen the movie (WHY?), this will be a super duper spoiler.

I think a reading of the book without the 21st chapter is a deliberate disregard for the central message and debate that Burgess brought to the table. The sadist in us all – that devilish side we so often repress – rejoices in a story that unapologetically affirms: “I’m naturally inclined to ravage you and fuck you for thinking you could ever change me.” Maybe it’s a direct result of America’s persistent Puritanism – the more righteous you try to be, the more obsessed you become with fucked up tendencies (see: Priests with little boys; Mormons and the similarly-crazed; Japanese porn). I feel a lot of people see a villainous hero in the mischievous Alex, the guy you don’t fuck with, who has threesomes with teenagers, the fearless ring leader – and they want to see him wreak havoc.  I feel that way about Freddy Kruger, not Alex DeLarge. Alex is a much more interesting character; he’s charming, cunning, humorous, a mature thinker, and is surprisingly discerning of, and has a passion for, real beauty.  All the while being youthful and carefree (there’s an understatement). I think we forget that Alex is fifteen, sixteen years old at the height of his ‘evil’ – not that age is an excuse for his actions, but to ignore this fact, and his environment, is to reject the effects of nurture and notions of cause and effect. And that is simply naïve and detrimental to the process of understanding oneself and human behavior at large. I can’t know for sure, but I’m willing to bet that, if Burgess wanted readers to extract any one thing from his novel, that it’d be this kind of introspective discussion. That’s what the best literary pieces do.

So he gave us a brilliant set up; a bright and youthful male, in a colorless, hellish, survivalist, brooding environment with absolutely no genuine parental or pedagogic involvement. Add to the mix completely daft, easily manipulated minions and a bit of the hallucinogens… it’s like fucking Candy Land and it’s easy to see – not justify – why Alex turns out the way he does. And what Burgess thrusts upon us at the height of the novel is such a gift; a real picture of the UGLY in people – I’m referring to the government officials and doctors involved in the Ludovico treatment (during and after). The ugly is the enjoyment derived from stripping humanity off another for personal material gains; it’s the incessant desire to oppress and manipulate. These guys are the real monsters in the story, not Alex.

What I love about that 21st chapter is its audacity to proclaim faith in human nature. I’m not talking about Charles Manson types here (though I’m sure someone would be willing to make an argument in his defense) – I’m excluding the people who are actually really fucked up in the head because that requires an understanding, that I don’t have, of repercussions of chemical imbalances and such. But everyone else; I think we all have within us what we need to see life – all life – for what it is: all we have, and equally deserving of existence in all its forms. Once this insanely basic concept is practiced by any one person, the idea of right and wrong takes a waaaaay back seat to simply living decently with yourself and everything else around you. It’s that fantastic concept of self-governance; where there is mutual respect and empathy, there isn’t need for dictation and punishment.  The final chapter alludes to this concept as Alex undergoes genuine self reassessment – maturity, if you will. Do I like the idea of Alex dreaming of a government job and raising a family as the manifestation of this very enlightening personal journey? Not particularly, but it’s a reflection of the middle class dream, and that’s very graspable and relatable, so we’ll leave it be.  It’s probably very smart of Burgess, actually. Or totally ironic?

So yeah. The 21st chapter rocks and that first American editor/publisher was just looking to maximize profits by maximizing shock value at the cost of truth and art.

[mmm… gee  wiz, I can’t think of anything or any one like that *cough* tabloids *cough* Fox News *cough* Lady GaGa]

But then again, I love the movie as it is, it’s brilliant, it’s beautiful, it’s perfect, it stands on its own, and it is so because of how the book was published in the US. So… it is what it is. Didn’t I just say that? What?

If anyone has any thoughts, other than on what I’m wearing right now, I’d love to hear (read) them. Even if you think I make no sense and should shut the fuck up. Just tell me why, at least.

For instance, my friends L.E.O. (that’s his DJing name-acronym that stands for nothing.. except good music) and Dmitriy had the following to contribute:

Leo: Juliana, leave philosophy to men. You were OK being funny. I’m pumping out quotes here.

Dmitriy: I wanna say something funny! I did it. It’s a self-referencing funny statement. It’s an infinite loop.

Then my boss walked in with no shoes or shirt on. True story.

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7 Responses to “A Clockwork Orange”

  1. Martin March 19, 2010 at 11:34 #

    “Leave Philosophy to men”

    Hahahah, that’s hilarious! I can’t wait to tell someone that.

    *searches for a victim*

  2. Mike March 19, 2010 at 12:51 #

    I believe Alex’s threesome partners were merely 13 and 10 years old. Barely a teenager and a prepubescent.

    Anyway, I’ve debated Burgess’s aims here. I can’t help but constantly recall the fact that he pretty much hated the novel after writing it (based on what I’ve read), and maybe just wanted some closure to it. But that’s a bit too simple. And while the Ludovico people are certainly inhumane, their aims are probably more righteous than young Alex’s. To rid the world of crime, as opposed to setting it into chaos. It was tough for me to accept that Alex was simply _changed_. Coming from what he was, that’s a long way to go, and after what he did, I wonder about his ability to self-govern.

    • Juliana March 19, 2010 at 14:39 #

      hey mike, i don’t see a link. please post, i’d love to read it.

      they used torture to force a change of behavior. the ‘treatment’ took away his ability to make choices. we are the most “aware” creatures on Earth (that we know.. unless there’s like invisible super-intelligent snails going around) and the ones capable of comprehensive analysis and deciding one way or another. they took that away from him. honestly, the part where he’s locked in the attic and forced to listen to classical music (which is a symbol of real man-made beauty and something he LOVED) and then tries to kill himself… i imagined a cornered animal. he tried to kill himself because the MUSIC made him feel THAT sick. and this is a direct result of the ‘treatment.’

      we have incarceration and rehabilitation for people who commit crimes.

      alex in real life may or may not have “changed” but this being a work of fiction, what burgess was trying to imply is that he did – because it is possible.

      to use torture on civilians as a means to control them is to govern in a fascist manner. even if it were morally acceptable to do such a thing, who decides who gets the treatment? you know what i’m getting at? if something is inhumane, i don’t believe there is a distinction between being “more righteous” than something else. it’s unacceptable and an alternative should be found.

      • Mike March 21, 2010 at 09:59 #

        Yeah yeah of course about all that, but incarceration and rehabilitation don’t FIX the people. That was the aim of the Ludovico treatment. and while it has plenty of moral dilemmas, their aim was righteous–to an extent–in the society they aimed to improve. I’m all for the fact that there is no standard for good and bad and that everything is arbitrary, but within the bounds of the novel, Alex was a fucked up dude. And regardless of good and evil simply being different perspectives, he had no filter on what he was doing. And that’s why I question his authenticity. I don’t know, I tend to get lost when these discussions are in writing…sometime in person, perhaps.

  3. Amanda West March 19, 2010 at 19:30 #

    Never read it… So I only made it through a couple of paragraphs.

    Guess I need to check it out.

  4. Duke Fandango March 20, 2010 at 07:42 #

    Could you not be seeing how our moral distinction of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ is merely an arbitrary construct formed by our predisposition to accept authority?

    Indeed, the break of societies norms are the ‘evil’ that Alex performs. These actions have at various times in history been accepted or encouraged – to our modern eyes they seem repugnant.

    If so then Burgess seems to be suggesting that the insistence on a moralistic code that must be rigidly enforced through the forced ‘re-education’ of a person is the logical conclusion of a society that is increasingly becoming legally more prescriptive.

    Consider that over the last hundred years (and in particular the last twenty or thirty) governments have passed more and more laws illegalising more and more things. We then have a system that creates criminals from normal behaviour.

    I’m not suggesting that Alex’s behaviour should be considered normal but his acts are ‘wrong’ as deemed by the society that views them, not by the act itself.

    As such I’ve always read it as a warning against allowing those in power to try to recreate man it their own, moralistic, image. If we do we run the risk of losing the ability appreciate that which is truly beautiful in society. That is Alex’s – and by extension society’s – dichotomy.

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