Skip to comments.A Prophetic and Violent Masterpiece
Posted on 01/17/2006 5:27:46 PM PST by skandalon
When, as a medical student, I emerged from the cinema having watched Stanley Kubricks controversial film of A Clockwork Orange, I was astonished and horrified to see a group of young men outside dressed up as droogs, the storys adolescent thugs who delighted in what they called ultra-violence.
The film had been controversial in Britain; its detractors, who wanted it banned, charged that it glamorized and thereby promoted violence. The young men dressed as droogs seemed to confirm the charge, though of course it is one thing to imitate a form of dress and quite another to imitate behavior. Still, even a merely sartorial identification with psychopathic violence shocked me, for it implied an imaginative sympathy with such violence; and seeing those young men outside the theater was my first intimation that art, literature, and ideas might have profoundand not necessarily favorablesocial consequences. A year later, a group of young men raped a 17-year-old girl in Britain as they sang Singing in the Rain, a real-life replay of one of the films most notorious scenes.
The author of the book, Anthony Burgess, a polymath who once wrote five novels in a year, came to dislike this particular work intensely, not because of any practical harm to society that the film version of it might have caused but because he did not want to go down in literary history as the author of a book made famous, or notorious, by a movie. Irrespective of the value of his other work, however, A Clockwork Orange remains a novel of immense power. Linguistically inventive, socially prophetic, and philosophically profound, it comes very close to being a work of genius.
(Excerpt) Read more at city-journal.org ...
The book is great; the movie so-so.
I discovered the postwar British novel back in the 60s. There were a lot of very interesting books, many of them made into movies. But the books are always better than the movies.
With Burgess, there's A Clockwork Orange, The Doctor is Sick, Enderby Inside, and a host of other good books.
Then there's Kingsley Amis, Lucky Jim.
John Wain, Hurry on Down.
John Braine, Room at the Top.
Allan Sillitoe, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.
Iris Murdoch, also a host of good novels, notably A Severed Head.
L. P. Hartley, The Go-Between.
Evelyn Waugh, A Handful of Dust and Brideshead Revisited.
There's actually quite a few more.
Funny, I don't remember the movie ending as he says.
As I remember it his conditioning held and he was nonviolent
but was then brutally killed by his former droogies who
had become coppers for the state.
"The book is great; the movie so-so."
Actually, I found the book nearly impossible to read due to the new language. I do badly with languages. As I remember, my response to the movie was mixed.
I think this essay, however, is quite superb.
After Alex' old violent persona is restored by the state doctors, he imagines all the nasty things he will do and says mockingly, "I was cured alright."
Bump for an old post that deserved more reading than it got.
Another equally disturbing book that employs a made-up language is Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban. He posits a post-nuclear Britain in which society has reverted to semi-savagery on the half-remembered ruins of history and language.
The first-person narration is told entirely in post-apocalyptic English. The first chapter is almost impossible to decipher, then you get the hang of it and read on to the end.
Sir Kingsley's son Martin, also a prominent novelist, got off a good line (which, of course, didn't go over well in literary circes) last fall:
"When I come back to Britain I see a pretty good multicultural society. The only element that is not fitting in is Islam." -- Martin Amis
Lucky Jim is still my favorite. I've always liked Amis pere better than fils. It's a brilliant comic novel.
Of all those writers, my favorite remains Evelyn Waugh, although his first books go back earlier than the others. Decline and Fall, Vile Bodies, A Handful of Dust, The Loved One, and most especially Brideshead Revisited. Anyone who saw the TV series of Brideshead should read the book, which is one of the major works of the twentieth century, IMHO. The Oxford part, which dominates the TV series, is only a small part of the whole book.
Also of intererest are Waugh's trilogy, Sword of Honour, set in the Second World War. The books are Men at Arms (1952), Officers and Gentlemen (1955) and Unconditional Surrender (1961). They reflect some of Waugh's own experiences during the war, including time spent in Yugoslavia under Tito, and the military activities of some of his friends. It's a brilliant picture of the heroism and the compromises of that war--notably the compromises that came from allying ourselves with the likes of Stalin and Tito in the war against Hitler.
Some critics think it's Waugh's greatest work, but needless to say it doesn't please most critics because of it's anti-Communist, and the great majority of literary critics remain leftists. It's a wonder they can stand Waugh at all, but he's too brilliant and penetrating to ignore.
What has changed, I think, is the glorification of youth that has taken place since the late 60's that does not take into effect its shallowness or unjustified self-assurance. That change may be what Burgess was sensing; it already was well in place by 1962. Whether it was a manifestation of a generation whose youth was lost in a world war attempting to reclaim that through its Boomer progeny is a topic too large for this particular venue but it was undeniable. It is reflected in Hollywood - contrast Breakfast at Tiffany's with, say, Pulp Fiction - popular music - the callow innocence of Teenager in Love with Whole Lotta Love - and other instances of popular culture such as comics and popular literature. Burgess had caught the edge of a tidal wave.
Having glorified youth with all its blemishes it behooves the adult to follow Alex's path and release those things in favor of something deeper and more lasting, but that is precisely what too many adults besotted with popular culture fail to do. One lusts, I suppose, after past glories even if they be false ones. In doing so one misses the present.
For the violence itself there is the remedy of law enforcement and, in the U.S. at least, the prospect that the victim, although less physically capable, may be armed. The biggest motivator for continued violence is getting away with it in the first place and like other addictions one needs stronger and stronger doses to effect the same rush. That's bad news for the fellow on the receiving end.
Great stuff and I'll bump this for further comment. Thanks for finding it.
Many have said that Waugh was an unpleasant man personally. I think he once said that if not for God's grace he would have been a lot worse. But his novels are, in fact, brilliantly moral. I read the whole article you linked, and I can only say that the author doesn't understand or sympathize with Catholicism, or he's have a completely different take on "Brideshead Revisited."
The novel, like all of Waugh's novels, is full of sinners, but in point of fact if you read it with understanding, it turns upon a miracle of grace when the old man dies, and the conversion of the central character years after the main action took place. That is when Brideshead is "revisited." Most critics simply don't get it. It's one of those novels that demands to be read several times.
Fake but accurate?
Fake but accurate?
IIRC, the tale first appeared in a memoir written by his son. Methinks it's accurate.