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.