Tuesday, August 05, 2008

What's it going to be then, eh?

Here are some comments from an essay in favor of omitting the 21st chapter of A Clockwork Orange as done in the original American edition.

But first, here is what Burgess had to say in his introduction to the 1986 edition:

"...Those twenty-one chapters were important to me. But they were not important to my New York publisher. The book he brought out had only twenty chapters. He insisted on cutting out the twenty first. I could, of course, have demurred at this and taken my book elewhere, but it was considered that he was being charitable in accepting the work at all, and that all other New York, or Boston, publishers would kick out the manuscript on its dog-ear. I needed money back in 1961, even the pittance I was being offered as an advance, and if the condition of the book's acceptance was also its truncation--well, so be it."

* * *

"If Burgess found the writing so painful, he had his reasons. During the Second World War, in London, a group of drunken American soldiers ("four deserters" according to Burgess) attacked him and his wife, causing her to miscarry their child. Afterward she became depressed and attempted suicide. This trauma lay dormant for more than a decade until 1959, when he was diagnosed with a fatal brain tumor and given only a year to live. Frantically he wrote five novels so that his widow would have something to live on, of which A Clockwork Orange was merely one. Crossing the incident of the soldiers with that of disenfranchised gangs he'd recently seen running rampant around England, he cast himself as the unpleasant hypocritical liberal author targeted by the first-person narrator of this sci-fi prophecy of engulfing urban lawlessness (a horrible joke played on his own experience that makes the mind reel with admiration)."

"The novel is not really the work of a "Christian humanist," as Kael thought, but the white-hot satire of an inebriated nihilist on the verge of the void. Feeling he had nothing left to lose, he cobbled together a furious "fuck you" to humanity. Only the whole thing is slightly out of balance and muddled, no doubt an effect of having written the book almost entirely under the influence of alcohol in a couple of months... In the last chapter, when Alex decides to "grow up," it's so abrupt one has the feeling Burgess suddenly thought, oh I'm not going to die after all, so I had better give all this some acceptable purpose. Not to mention that the notion that Alex could simply hit the off-button on his sociopathy is ridiculous."

"We've all thought from time to time the only good thing about people is they die, and it's fun reading a book that tests this Truth by letting it out of the box to play, as Kubrick's film version does with such spectacular fullness."

"Reading Burgess' supercilious disapproval of his publisher's desire to put out a book "sneering" at all religions and idealistic institutions, it's difficult not to think he was either putting us on or was caught in an iron state of denial, since here precisely he puts his finger on the novel's well-chiseled structure. One by one, the book pits Alex against civilization's pillars: the family, education, law, religion, science, art — and, one by one, their representatives are either impotent to stop Alex or just try to exploit him for their own ends. The whole thing has been cast as a biblical parable about doing unto others, except that Alex cheerfully refuses to learn the lesson. Unlike other works that say everything's empty, pointless and ugly, though, Burgess' book is no existential wail. Gleefully jeering, its narrator Alex enthusiastically revels in the fun of breaking things, and Burgess' attempt to reinstitute a moral compass at the end where before he had been operating quite nicely without it is more than a letdown; it's a travesty."

* * *

Link for today:

Smot this, it's good for the gulliver.


aurelio said...


...if you'd ever want to guest-blog for me, I'd be honored!!


Hectocotylus said...

Thanks for all of your comments and for this invitation! I've been enjoying your blog and your artwork (as you've obviously guessed from my link in this post).