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June 17, 2006

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

Posted by barry

A Clockwork Orange

A Clockwork Orange (Amazon.com)

A Clockwork Orange (Amazon.co.uk)

A Clockwork Orange (Powell's Books - new or secondhand)

Burgess (real name Anthony Wilson, 1917-93), influenced by Finnegans Wake, invented for this semi-futuristic novel an extensive system of 'futuristic' slang to be poured forth by the narrator, a violent young street thug called Alex. The title of the book comes from some real slang, the cockney phrase *as queer as a clockwork orange*, meaning very strange indeed, guv'nor.

The first time the phrase appears in the book is as the title of *another* book, one that a character has written. This is F. Alexander, a professional writer, who is attacked at random by Alex. This other *A Clockwork Orange* is a polemic against the imposition of mechanical laws (symbolized by clockwork) on human nature (symbolized by the orange, i.e. a product of nature).

The young Alex does whatever he likes (rape, beat, steal). He laughs at the question of what causes evil, pointing out that no-one bothers to discover what causes good. He believes that the establishment (the government, the justice system, the schools) are only against evil because they are against the self. He believes in freedom of the self and that people are good or evil because they want to be.

Alex is arrested for his crimes and goes to prison, where free will is also the concern of the prison chaplain. Alex is interested in the Ludovico Technique which is said to *cure* criminals but the chaplain warns that goodness has to be chosen, not imposed by this extreme technique. He says *When a man cannot choose he ceases to be a man*. Regardless, Alex is put forward for the Ludovico Technique, which will remove his ability to make ethical choices.

After Alex is subjected to this bizarre drug-and-film Technique, he cannot act violently or think about violence without becoming ill, experiencing great physical pain. Alex's urges towards evil are still present but he is powerless to think or act on them. The prison chaplain is appalled. In his opinion Alex is now a non-human creature. Alex subconsciously realizes this himself, when he suddenly compares himself to a clockwork orange.

Alex had been a classical music afficionado, adoring in particular some of the more *violent*, powerful work of Beethoven. When he underwent the Ludovico procedures, there was musical accompaniment and now he finds himself feeling as much revulsion for music as he does for violence. The doctors recognised that there could be no *delimitation*, that *the world is one, life is one*. Feelings of violence overlap with feelings involved in the sexual act and feelings produced by art, music and literature. Alex is no longer capable of enjoying these things. F. Alexander calls Alex a machine, only capable of *good* and of what the government deems to be socially acceptable.

The Ludovico Technique is only an example of the extreme that the government is moving to. Under the auspices of defeating crime, the State is limiting the freedom of all its citizens. Soon those who suffer are the same people who were originally suffering at the hands of the street criminals: the weak, the easily bullied, writers and freethinkers. Street thugs find new employment as policemen.

In this nightmare scenario we are left with the question of whether it is better to have evil chosen by free will or good enforced at the expense of free will. And how good is *good* when there is no freedom, when the State is the new aggressor and when *results* are deemed more important than ethical intentions?

- Barry Kavanagh



Posted by barry at June 17, 2006 9:24 PM



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