two words: infectious violence
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.
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…)
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?
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