Friday, May 14, 2010

Notes For May 14th, 2010

This Day In Writing History

On May 14th, 1962, A Clockwork Orange, the legendary novel by the famous British writer Anthony Burgess, was published in London, England. A Clockwork Orange (the title comes from the British slang expression, "queer as a clockwork orange.") is an antifascist parable set in a dystopic England of the future. The novel is narrated by its main character, Alex - a highly intelligent but psychopathic teenager who leads a violent street gang comprised of his friends Pete, Georgie, and Dim. Alex introduces everyone and sets the scene in this unforgettable opening paragraph:

There was me, that is Alex, and my three Droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim, Dim being really Dim, and we sat in the Korova Milkbar making up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening, a flip dark chill winter bastard though dry. The Korova Milkbar was a milk-plus mesto, and you may, O my brothers, have forgotten what these mestos are like, things changing so skorry these days and everybody very quick to forget, newspapers not being read much, neither. Well, what they sold there was milk plus something else. They had no licence for selling liquor, but there was no law yet against prodding some of the new veshches which they used to put into the old moloko, so you could peet it with vellocet or synthmesc or drencrom or one or two other veshches which would give you a nice quiet horrorshow fifteen minutes admiring Bog and All His Holy Angels And Saints in your left shoe with lights bursting all over your mozg. Or you could peet milk with knives in it, as we used to say, this would sharpen you up and make you ready for a bit of dirty twenty-to-one, and that was what we were peeting this evening I'm starting off the story with.

The story begins with Alex and his gang at a milk bar, where they drink drugged milk to get themselves ready for committing random acts of violence. They gleefully beat an old, homeless drunkard. One night, while joyriding in a stolen car, the gang breaks into an isolated cottage, where they terrorize the couple that lives there, beating the husband and raping his wife. When he's not out with his gang, Alex passes the time in his dreary home, escaping his poor excuse for parents by blasting the works of his favorite composer, "Ludwig Van," (Beethoven) and masturbating to violent sexual fantasies.

When Georgie challenges Alex for leadership of the gang, he puts down the rebellion by beating Georgie in a fight and slashing open Dim's hand. Then he takes them out for drinks at the milk bar. Georgie and Dim have had enough, but Alex demands that the gang follow through with Georgie's plan for a "man-sized" job and rob a rich old woman who lives alone. The robbery is botched when the old woman calls the police - but not before she is assaulted and knocked unconscious. The gang then turns on Alex, attacking him and leaving him to take the fall when the police arrive. The old woman later dies of her injuries and Alex is accused of murder.

After spending a couple of years in prison, Alex becomes an involuntary participant in an experimental rehabilitation procedure called the Ludovico Technique, which, in two weeks, is supposed to remove all violent and criminal impulses from the human psyche. The prison chaplain is opposed to the Ludovico Technique, arguing that conscious, willing moral choice is a necessary component of humanity. Nevertheless, Alex undergoes the procedure.

For two weeks, Alex's eyes are wired open and he is forced to watch violent images on a screen while being given a drug that induces extreme nausea. It's a horrific form of aversion therapy. Unfortunately, the soundtrack to the violent film presentation includes the works of Beethoven, and Alex begs the doctors to turn off the sound, telling them that's a sin to take away his love of music, and Beethoven never did anything wrong. They refuse.

After the procedure is completed, Alex is brought before an audience of prison and government officials and declared successfully rehabilitated. To demonstrate this, they show how Alex is unable to react with violence even in self defense, and is crippled by nausea when he becomes sexually aroused. The outraged prison chaplain again protests the Ludovico Technique, accusing the state of taking away Alex's God-given ability to choose good over evil. "Padre," a government official replies, "There are subtleties. The point is that it works."

Alex is released from prison, but his life plunges into a downward spiral. He finds that the Ludovico Technique has rendered him physically unable to listen to his Beethoven and he cannot defend himself from attack. First, he is beaten by a former victim, then when the police arrive, they turn out to be Alex's former gang member Dim and former rival gang leader Billyboy. They beat him, too. Later, Alex is befriended by a political activist who turns out to be the man whose wife Alex had raped during the home invasion. When he finally recognizes Alex as the gang leader, he tortures him with the classical music he once loved.

After Alex attempts suicide, the government agrees to reverse the Ludovico Technique in order to quell all the bad publicity. They offer Alex a cushy job at a high salary, but he looks forward to returning to his life of ultra-violence. He forms a new gang, but after watching them beat a stranger, he finds that he has tired of violence. Alex contemplates giving up gang life, becoming a productive citizen, and doing what he secretly always wanted to do - start a family of his own. He wonders if his children would inherit the violent tendencies he once had.

In the U.S. edition of the novel, the last chapter was omitted by the publisher, who wanted the story to end on a dark note (with Alex looking forward to resuming his violent ways) because he believed that the original UK edition ending (with Alex realizing the errors of his ways) was unrealistic. When legendary British filmmaker Stanley Kubrick adapted the novel as an acclaimed feature film in 1971, he felt the same way, and based his screenplay on the U.S. edition of the novel. I myself prefer the U.S. edition because its ending really brings home the main theme of the novel - that fascism is an evil far worse than the societal ills it seeks to cure.

Today, both editions of A Clockwork Orange are available in the U.S., and it remains a classic work of literature, famous for its dazzling experimental narrative, wherein Alex speaks a lyrical dialect that combines English with modified Slavic and Russian slang and words specifically invented by the author.

Quote Of The Day

"The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and and try another. But above all, try something." - Anthony Burgess

Vanguard Video

Today's video features the original theatrical trailer for the classic 1971 film adaptation of A Clockwork Orange, directed by the legendary Stanley Kubrick. Enjoy!

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