Sunday, March 7, 2010

A Clockwork Orange, Resucked

"I first published the novella A Clockwork Orange in 1962, which ought to be far enough in the past for it to be erased from the world’s literary memory. It refuses to be erased, however, and for this the film version of the book made by Stanley Kubrick may be held chiefly responsible."

So begins Anthony Burgess in his illuminating introduction to the audio version of his now classic novella A Clockwork Orange, which I am currently reading (listening to) again.

Burgess lays out a number of complaints as regards his fate with this book. First, it is the work for which he is most remembered, overshadowing what he esteems to be all his other more significant work. Second, the edition most remembered is a U.S. version from which the publishers lopped off what he considers the most important 21st chapter, the denouement. This is the version which Kubrick filmed.

As a writer I know how challenging it is to find a publisher. Unfortunately, publishers do not always understand or respect what an author is striving to accomplish. Young writers, however, in the desperation to see their work in print can sometimes make compromises which they live to regret. Burgess allowed his publisher to lop off the last chapter and this became the version which Kubrick based his film on.

In his intro, titled "Clockwork Orange Resucked", Burgess writes, "What happens in that twenty-first chapter? You now have the chance to find out. Briefly, my young thuggish protagonist grows up. He grows bored with the violence and recognizes that human energy is better expended on creation than destruction."

If you are not familiar with the story, here's how describes the book:

A vicious fifteen-year-old droog is the central character of this 1963 classic. In Anthony Burgess's nightmare vision of the future, where the criminals take over after dark, the story is told by the central character, Alex, who talks in a brutal invented slang that brilliantly renders his and his friends' social pathology. A Clockwork Orange is a frightening fable about good and evil, and the meaning of human freedom. And when the state undertakes to reform Alex to "redeem" him, the novel asks, "At what cost?"

When all is said and done, Burgess concludes his essay with the ironic observation that maybe the way the book originally appeared, without the last chapter, is a better version of the story than the one he intended. He leaves that judgment to the reader.

Here's a link to the origin of the term "a clockwork orange" and another link to the essay/intro by Anthony Burgess which provides insight into how this book came to be and the attitudes authors can have toward their creations.

But oh my brothers, is it really possible to speak of the book, the author and the ideas without mentioning the character whom he created, and brought to life in the performance of Malcolm McDowell? I still remember the moment when our eyes locked in the Korova Milk Bar. Tell me, droogies... is the story sweet or bitter? Or simply something monstrous?


Pedro H. Albuquerque said...

I've once written a brief review here:

ENNYMAN said...

Good summation of the main points of the movie....

LEWagner said...

I've once written a brief review here:

"Organized violence by the state represents the ultimate form of ultraviolence (the references to Nazism in the movie help to make the point)."

Yet NO one will emit even a small squeak to mention organized violence by the United States of America.
Not even after Viet Nam.
Not even after Iraq.
Let's just keep on bringing up the Nazis, forever and ever, and congratulate each other on our dislike of Nazi violence.
Anything beyond that, to attempt to bring things up to date, delete the comments immediately.
Call for a pitcher of water first, to wash your hands.
You and Pierre.

ENNYMAN said...

I totally agree with you here. There is a lot of dirty laundry. The Japanese internment camps during WWII and the imprisonment of conscientious objectors during WWI could be added to that list. A few weeks ago I addressed the attempted elimination of the unfit in this country led by eugenicists in the first half of this century.

I do not believe I condone any of these and do not believe that wrapping oneself in the flag exempts one from ethical behavior. The consolidation of state power is to be feared not praised. The past century has seen such consolidation happening no matter which party is in power.

Pedro H. Albuquerque said...

As I said in my post:
"organized violence by the state represents the ultimate form of ultraviolence."
This applies to all states.