to read or not to read…

Galactus has finally finished The Origin of Species, a book he’s been reading since November 2009. I’m desperate to give up on Dreiser’s An American Tragedy, but he won’t let me. He says Darwin’s rant in the final chapter is worth the tedium and it may be the same with this novel.

I really hope so, because Theodore Dreiser is truly testing my resolve.

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a clockwork expired

life imitates art: kubrick and burgess start off well together but eventually part ways

I watched Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, and while I’d like to dismiss it as utter shite and be done with it, the film has been studied at Cambridge and the set and costume designs are iconic, so I’ll take the time to elaborate.

Kubrick’s film ages poorly. The exaggerated cinematography and acting style may have been ‘fresh’ decades ago, but are kitsch now. That’s bad enough. What I take most exception to, however, is Kubrick not only slashes Burgess’s ending, he chops the balls off Alex.

Alex is no victim.

In the novel, there are no sexual advances made by P. R. Deltoid; Alex drugs and savagely rapes two ten-year old girls, a 180º departure from the borderline-slapstick sex scene in Kubrick’s adaptation; he ‘accidentally’ murders three strangers instead of one; and the ‘naughty, naughty’ cat-lady isn’t a pervert, just old.

not the only balls mishandled by kubrick

Kubrick’s tendency to mitigate Alex’s crimes denies the seminal question in Burgess’s novel: Alex is rotten to the core, but does he deserve to be robbed of his will? Pandering to the viewers’ sympathy by victimizing or endearing him while objectifying his victims, is as condescending as it is objectionable.

While I can abide the obvious limitations of the medium, what I find untenable is Kubrick’s low opinion of his audience. The pretentious and tortured direction (excluding the murder animation, which I dig immensely) and Alex’s overstated regression are only further insult.

a clockwork reaction

two words: infectious violence

milk-plus mesto

A Clockwork Orange is Burgess’s philosophical exposition into crime and punishment. It is the story of Alex, a vicious man-child deep in the throws of a menacing solipsism.

Badness is of the self…what I do I do because I like to do. p.33

Like his choice of drink, ‘milk with knives in it’, Alex is a potent mix of unchecked impulses and brute force. His appetite for ultra-violence, bashings or rape depending on the victim’s gender, is voracious.

the in-out-in-out for girls...

...and tolchocks for boys

Eventually, his brand of violence graduates to murder, after which he is apprehended. While in custody he encounters a barrage of sophisticated, sustained and sanctioned annihilation previously unknown to him. It involves deep hypnosis and its intent is to obscure volition. “Violence makes violence,” p.57, but this brand is beyond young Alex.

(A lurking ethical dilemma stirs…)

alex is brutalized...

He is so utterly violated in his two-week ‘treatment’ and in subsequent poetic confrontations that he jumps from a  high rise within a day of his release.

(The dilemma materializes: Is Alex’s cure worse than his crime? My gut reaction: I hate the little shit, so who cares.)

I’m disgusted to learn Alex has not perished from the fall, but is hospitalized where a sycophantic team of medics reverses his ‘treatment’, after which he receives a personal apology from the Minister. All vestige of ‘punishment’ removed, he is free to wreak havoc once more, which he does.

By now, I’m furious, which ironically facilitates insight on the destructive impulse: As with any lynching, violence is infectious, inherently human and latent. Does this mean we all at some level qualify for reconditioning?

...before a real dose of violence.

Thankfully, the novel isn’t over and the dènouement offers redemption, to all of us. I agree with Burgess in Resucked. Without his arithmological 21st chapter a terrible sacrifice is made for sensationalism. Without Burgess’s ending, Alex indefinitely wages an untouchable war with britva (knife) and pan-handle (erection). The castration is entirely of the novel. But with the 21st chapter, Alex self-castrates and compulsively joins the ranks of procreating grown-ups. The castration is entirely of the character, the way it has to be, or the novel is as arbitrary and pointless (well, not entirely) as Alex’s violence.

A Clockwork Orange is confronting, which is precisely where its appeal lies. While the linguistic maze of Burgess’s idiolect is intriguing, it is the visceral reaction to his ethical question that has left me speechless. A ferocious thirst for blood quenched, I am left to contemplate my eager acceptance of invasive ‘treatment’ as punishment and the startling similarities between A Clockwork Orange, easily in my top ten, and 1984, a novel I despise.

Two other things deserve special mention: One is Kubrick’s movie. The stills are compelling and I highly anticipate seeing the adaptation. The other is Alex’s/Burgess’s own soundtrack. His fictional concerto on p.29 is the most beautiful depiction of music I’ve ever read.

soundtrack
ode to joy-ludwig van beethoven
firestarter-the prodigy

the axed assistant

bye-bye bernard

That’s it.

I’ve given up on trying to locate Bernard Malamud’s, The Assistant. In a green/cheap bid, I use all facets of multiple libraries or buy second-hand books if I’m keen to own a copy of something special, but The Assistant is demanding a less sustainable paper-trail so it’s axed.

On the upside, voilà, Phillip Dick’s, Ubik now has a spot!

horrorshow

my second-hand $8 copy

I keep At Swim-Two-Birds on tap as without it I’d be a sniveling shell of a reader crouched piteously in a dark corner waiting for a masked author to hack me to pieces. It is my lone promise of comedy for the next ten books or so, which includes the grim reaper himself, Cormac McCarthy with Blood Meridian, Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, and Anthony Burgess’s  A Clockwork Orange.

Which, in turn, led Galactus and me to argue the prevalence of horrors and tragedies on The List. He thinks it’s because ‘critics’ are horrible tragics themselves and I’m loathe to agree. Reference first sentence in post.

A Clockwork Orange is next up because I’m still struggling with the soporific effect of An American Tragedy and I need another short book to remain on target.

I tried A Clockwork Orange many years ago and dismissed it as inaccessible after a few sentences. familialdiscontent urged otherwise and I’m grateful. While the violence is staggering, the tone is brilliant and I’m really enjoying the read. The few Slav words picked up from Galactus’s family, context and this nadsat lexicon solve the access problem.

Here are some juicy tit-bits on A Clockwork Orange:

  1. The title derives from an English adage, ‘to be as queer as a clockwork orange’, which is something appearing natural on the outside, but actually machine on the inside. It alludes to what Alex, the protagonist, will become after ‘corrective’ experimentation.
  2. U.S. publishers originally axed the dénouement to facilitate a ‘less Kennedyan/more Nixonian’ ambiguity. Burgess was not impressed, but caved for the dough. He later commented on his amputated novel, “Life is, of course, terrible,” Resucked, 1986. When I learned this I quickly flipped to the back of my copy to see if it had 20 or 21 chapters. It is, sadly, whole. A deformed novel would have been awesome.

    a clockwork orange film poster, 1971

  3. Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 film adaptation, lead by a very young Malcolm McDowell, is based on the U.S. text. It claims four Oscar nods and is highly recommended by Galactus. I’ve been warned to brace myself, but I’m very keen to see it. It looks the heighth of horrorshow.

    mcdowell as alex, 1971

I gather the novel makes the film seem tame.

nostradamus or chicken little?

two words: depressing as

1984

1984 is the chilling de-fabled sequel to Animal Farm.

The swine, obsessed with power, manufacture wars to dispose of the excess they will not share as deprivation facilitates their extreme political hold on the proletariat. They evolve into Big Brother, a fascistic menace embodied in an intrusive trick eye, a Stalin-esque mo, and severe and sinister slogans:

BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU.

Big Brother starves and oppresses the proles, vapourizes identity or ‘ownlife’ among party members, callously shreds the family unit, promotes the deterioration of language from Oldspeak to Newspeak to Duckspeak, and uses insidious propaganda to sour and divert the sex impulse into blind political zeal. He routinely violates logic, “The heresy of heresies is common sense” p.106,  and worse yet, at will alters the past with an obliterating memory hole buried deep within the bowels of the Ministry of Truth. Facts are no longer incontrovertible: two and two make five and ‘sanity is statistical’, p.361. Doublespeak is on the money,

WAR IS PEACE
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH

literally too.

“The object of power is power,” p.344, and Big Brother wants it all, including singular devotion. So an elaborate trap is set for the last two lovers, Winston and Julia, left in London.

winston, julia and the horror of being caught, in the 1984, 1984 film directed by michael radford

After a vicious series of mind-altering torture sessions, the last two beating hearts resemble the entry to the Ministry of Love, “entangled in a maze of barbed-wires, steel doors and hidden machine-gun nests,” p.11 .

Under the spreading chestnut tree
I sold you and you sold me
There lie they and here lie we
Under the spreading chestnut tree

They ultimately betray each other. There is no corner of the mind or heart sacred, no hope left, just ever-widening degrees of despair. Winston, the protagonist, is reduced to the pedantry of whither the comma goes, and even he proves unworthy of our sympathy after revealing his ‘big brother’ moment, p.212. He is only mildly redeemed by his nagging hesitation and unrelenting Victory Gin dependency in the end, if that.

orwell's optimism

While 1984 is a fine cautionary tale for aspiring politicos and media folk, and Orwell’s language is genius, as an innocent reader I feel verbally shanked. Orwell’s vision of the future is too bleak; he goes too far. He envisions himself ‘a minority of one’, a fundamental flaw in his reckoning of human nature, when in fact, most of us are not passive or dim or lacking in imagination and courage… Right? It’s why I can’t dig this book.

About the soundtrack, it’s a spontaneous backlash of 1980’s music in the face of Orwell’s morbid pessimism.

soundtrack
you dropped a bomb on me (baby)-the gap band

 

would you like that brain scrambled or fried?

trippin'

I’ve finished 1984 and it’s been two nights of trippy dreams since. I can’t repeat them because frankly, they’re too fucked-up. What I can say is, some things, like imagination and desire, must remain inalienable or we stop being human. All of us.

The running horror of Beloved, 1984 and An American Tragedy, which seems to be alternately building powerful cases for the prosecution and defence of Clyde-the textbook sociopath-Griffiths, has me frazzled…

I need a cuddle session. Stat.