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.

ode to joy-ludwig van beethoven
firestarter-the prodigy

nostradamus or chicken little?

two words: depressing as


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 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,


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.

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


would you like that brain scrambled or fried?


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.


Here’s what I know about 1984: Absolutely nothing!

How is this possible? It boggles the mind.

I know so many memes derived from the text; Animal Farm is an old favourite; I read front and back flaps…  So, how? I don’t listen to enough metal; it’s sci-fi dystopian and I haven’t been properly initiated; I mistook the title for randomness; mind control?

Whatever it is, this is one gap I’m eager to fill.

content v. context


I have to find a way to enhance my experience with An American Tragedy or this is going to be my first fail in completing a novel on the list. So I do a quick revision of the form -afterall, ‘tragedy’ is in the title- and who knew!, Aristotelian (The Poetics) and modern theories are my portals to appreciating Dreiser’s work.

Prior to this, I’ve been resolute that books, like wine, should have intrinsic value, should not rely on ‘context’, but I’m wavering: Context helps. While I hope to never get to the point where context becomes ‘everything’, this now obvious revelation is liberating, to say the least.

There is no way I can finish An American Tragedy today, so I’m reading 1984. It is dense, but it is short and I can finish it in a night or two and get back on track.


Though still a work in progress, here are the novels that I’ll be reading in 2011.

Struck through titles have been completed.
Bold titles are presently being read.
* indicates reread.

  1. 1984-1948-George Orwell
  2. The Adventures of Augie March-1953-Saul Bellow
  3. All The King’s Men-1946-Robert Penn Warren
  4. American Pastoral-1997-Philip Roth
  5. An American Tragedy-1925-Theodore Dreiser
  6. Animal Farm-1946-George Orwell*
  7. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret-1970-Judy Blume
  8. At Swim-Two-Birds-1938-Flann O’Brien
  9. Atonement-2002-Ian McEwan
  10. Beloved-1987-Toni Morrison*
  11. The Big Sleep-1939-Raymond Chandler
  12. The Blind Assassin-2000-Margaret Atwood
  13. Blood Meridian-1986-Cormac McCarthy
  14. Catch-22-1961-Joseph Heller
  15. The Catcher in the Rye-1951-J.D. Salinger*
  16. A Clockwork Orange-1963-Anthony Burgess
  17. The Corrections-2001-Jonathan Franzen
  18. The Death of the Heart-1958-Elizabeth Bowen
  19. The French Lieutenant’s Woman-1969-John Fowles
  20. Go Tell it on the Mountain-1953-James Baldwin
  21. The Grapes of Wrath-1939-John Steinbeck
  22. The Great Gatsby-1925-F. Scott Fitzgerald
  23. A Handful of Dust-1934-Evelyn Waugh
  24. The Heart is A Lonely Hunter-1940-Carson McCullers
  25. The Heart of the Matter-1948-Graham Greene
  26. Herzog-1964-Saul Bellow
  27. Housekeeping-1981-Marilynne Robinson
  28. I, Claudius-1934-Robert Graves
  29. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe-1950-C. S. Lewis
  30. Lolita-1955-Vladimir Nabokov*
  31. Lord of the Flies-1955-William Golding
  32. Lucky Jim-1954-Kingsley Amis
  33. The Man Who Loved Children-1940-Christina Stead
  34. Midnight’s Children-1981-Salman Rushdie
  35. Mrs. Dalloway-1925-Virginia Woolf
  36. Naked Lunch-1959-William Burroughs
  37. Never Let Me Go-2005-Kazuo Ishiguro
  38. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest-1962-Ken Kesey
  39. The Painted Bird-1965-Jerzy Kosinski
  40. A Passage to India-1924-E. M. Forster
  41. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie-1961-Muriel Sparks
  42. Snow Crash-1992-Neal Stephenson
  43. The Sound and the Fury-1929-William Faulkner
  44. The Sun Also Rises-1926-Ernest Hemingway
  45. Super Sad True Love Story-2010-Gary Shteyngart
  46. Things Fall Apart-1959-Chinua Achebe*
  47. To the Lighthouse-1927-Virginia Woolf
  48. Ubik-1969-Phillip Dick
  49. Ulysses-1922-James Joyce
  50. Under The Net-1954-Iris Murdoch
  51. Under The Volcano-1947-Malcolm Lowry
  52. Watchmen-1986-Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons*
  53. White Teeth-2000-Zadie Smith*
  54. Wide Sargasso Sea-1966-Jean Rhys*