A Clockwork Orange

2019-06-08T15:25:35-04:00

A Clockwork Orange, written by Anthony Burgess: a dystopian where the youth run wild, physical and sexual violence flood the streets, and the government will go to any length to stop the anarchy. I read it because it shows up on best books of all time lists, so I figured it couldn't be that bad.

One of this book's key features is that it's completely written in it's own dialect—Nadsat—which is loosely based on Russian. At first I was worried that this would stop me from enjoying the book. After years of grueling French classes I've developed a negative disposition towards learning different languages. I was afraid that I would be stuck constantly checking glossaries instead of taking in the story. To combat my anxiety I chose to do the complete opposite. Never once did I look at the glossary in the back of the book and I think I made out more than fine. It takes a few chapters to really get a feel for the new vocabulary, but once I got past the initial discomfort, everything started to click.

I think this experience alone—aside from any of the actual content—makes reading this book a worthwhile venture. Coming to understand Nadsat is a fine blend of using your intuition and letting go of trying to find the meaning of everything. There's just enough English to make connections between the new vocabulary and the events of the story. In fact, the story itself truly defines what each word means. The blunt imagery and primitive descriptions result in quite a visceral experience.

All of this is backed by a first person narrative which traps you inside the deranged mind of Alex, who commits and experiences all kinds of obscenities. And despite everything, by the end of the book I am forced to mourn for Alex's loss of autonomy, as the narrative forces these experiences onto me in a way I can't distance myself from.

Because this book is older and I bought a "Restored Edition", my copy gives copious amounts of insight about the author and how the novel came to be. One of the most interesting things I found out was that the last chapter in the US edition of the book was only put in due to pressure from editors to make the story more "socially acceptable". This type of censorship of artistic expression is upsetting to me. One of the greatest strengths of today's age is that creatives can publish their work in their own name and build an audience online without conforming to any corporation's agenda. At the same time, there's still lots to improve upon in terms of censorship and companies deciding what we can and cannot say.

Something else mentioned in the prologue: this book was and still is culturally significant, having been cited as inspiration by many and referenced in various other works. A modern example of this influence is Lana Del Ray's Ultraviolence, which is a phrase coined by Burgess in A Clockwork Orange. Another, which is more near and dear to my heart is the use of Ludovico's Technique in the popular videogame The Binding of Isaac—a game I put hundreds of hours into during my high school years. Admittedly, I never sought out the origin of this Technique while playing the game; a hard rule when playing TBoI is never google the item names unless you have a stomach of steel.

A more abstract relevancy appeared during the following weeks of reading this book. I was marathoning the Hunger Games movies and couldn't help but notice the similarities between A Clockwork Orange and the later installations of the movies; psychological restructuring plays a role in both. Being able to make this connection between the two stories enhanced my movie watching experience; I was able to fill in the gaps with what I had read in A Clockwork Orange. I also found myself comparing the revolution in The Hunger Games series to A Tale of Two Cities. If I ever return to the Hunger Games books I plan to make a more in-depth analysis of these similarities.

I find it interesting how certain stories tend to reappear across different media. Books don't live in isolation, each one bleeds into the next. Across a library one could find millions of patterns, and with those patterns: make conclusions across a range of stories; across life. This was something Charlie's teacher made him do in The Perks of Being a Wallflower; when Charlie was asked to read Shakespeare's Hamlet, he was told to read it from the perspective of the other books he'd read. His teacher was focused on helping Charlie create this network of knowledge where he could make connections between seemingly different stories. Similarly, this book starts with a Shakespeare quote that didn't make much sense at the start, but by the end the book had given it meaning:

SHEPHERD: I would that there were no age between ten and three-and-twenty, or that youth would sleep out rest; for there is nothing in the between but getting wenches with child, wronging the ancientry, stealing, fighting—

Shakespeare, The Winter's Tale, Act III, Scence 3

My final note on this book is about the title. At first, I thought A Clockwork Orange was a rather strange name, but now I think it's close to perfect; it manages to encapsulate the entire moral of the story into just a few words. Whenever I read the title I'm reminded of exactly what the book was trying to say.