A Clockwork Orange Revisited, or Doh! Now I Get It!

5.22.07 | | 38 comments

Very serious warning: this post discusses a book that some readers might find — I take it back, that they will find — offensive.  In no way am I recommending everybody read this book, nor am I endorsing the movie, which for years sported an X rating and now wears proudly a very hard R.  I’ve never seen the movie and never will.  The book, however, has method in its madness and has been part of a personal journey I’ve undertaken. Also, it has prompted me to rethink some of my ideas about art.  But gentle-minded souls might want to skip this post.  Really.   

I’ve experienced very litte actual violence.  Oppression: I know it exists, but what of it I’ve faced is hardly worth mentioning.  My attitude toward works of art that set up violence and oppression as centerpieces of their design has always run along these lines: We know violence and oppression exist — enough about them already!  O Artist, bring us, in image, word, or music, your most finely spun yarn to guide us through labyrinths in whose passages prowl those twin Minotaurs.  Don’t distract us by describing the monsters or their unpleasant acts, though.

This attitude worked for me — until recently.  Last fall, I began teaching at a school with a student population made up of about one-half Native Americans.  Another segment contains whites that have suffered significant challenges in life.  I’ve read essays and listened to stories about divorce; alcoholism; drug addiction; tragic death, including suicide; poverty; child abuse and other forms of domestic violence; teenage pregnancy; child abandonment, etc. and have come to realize how privileged a life I’ve lived and how easy it has been for me to care about the people and things I care about.  Ask my husband how many times over the last six months I’ve come home from school crying over New Truths about humanity, which are actually Old Truths I awakened to suddenly, heart in hands.

Slowly, I’ve caught on to what to others is painfully obvious: Those of us who have been able to avoid violence, either in life or in the art we seek out for enjoyment and enlightenment, are living lives of extraordinary luxury.  For great swaths of the world, violence and oppression overshadow peoples’ meals, their sleep, their loves, their births, their deaths.  Intellectually, I knew this.  I knew that American media and American audiences toy with violence like it’s a gun they’ve found in their parents’ closet.  I knew it but I didn’t feel it. 

So for most of my life, books like Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange seemed to teeter upon the heights of artistic carelessness.  I read ACO for the first time years ago at the urging of a co-worker, a seemingly mild-mannered computer geek I shared an office with at BYU.  He even lent me his copy.  Knowing something of the book’s reputation for violence, I looked askance at my friend, whose other reading seemed to orbit such fare as Douglas Adams’s A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. 

Back then, ACO’s violence distracted me mightily because, being a WASP girl who’d led a sheltered life, I failed to see through its vaudevillian excesses and found it threatening.  The book’s linguistic fireworks dazed me further.  Coupled with the violence, the narrator’s nadsat vocabulary seemed way too much trouble for what meaning I could extract from it.  Eh! I thought.  So what’s the point?

Fast forward twenty-odd years.  Once more, somebody — a student — brings the book to my attention.  He appears to think ACO is a treatise on society’s oppression of the true nature and will of the individual, as witnessed in the brutal tortures inflicted on the book’s narrator, little Alex, in attempt to reform or, heh, help him (read: use him — no true attempt to help monstrous little Alex ever occurs in this book, only government and anti-government efforts to pin him up as a poster boy for their soulless political platforms). 

I’m in a different place from where I was when I first read the book.  Furthermore, I want to understand my students better in order to spread before them the appropriate gifts and charms the English language has to offer, which is my job.  Prompted by this student’s interest, I figured it was about time I reread A Clockwork Orange

So I did.  My acquired interest in language and in human consciousness provided me a very different perspective for understanding it.  Surprise, surprise: I liked A Clockwork Orange.  Its violence is admittedly nightmarish — at times, cartoonishly so, which may, in fact, be part of its point.  But during this second reading, the brutality failed to distract me from the important story buried like plunder in a scary cavern guarded by disgusting ghosts.

First off, I did not see ACO as any kind of treatise on how society oppresses the true nature of the individual.  When the curtain rises on little Alex’s sordid tale, he is already a product of a society that has gone terribly wrong.  In fact, there is no true little Alex, only a sarcastic and flamboyant adolescent extension of the overall violent and abusive society he’s a member of.  True nature of the individual?  Uh-uh.  ACO has bigger fish to fry.

Alex stays with his parents in their flat, a two-bedroom affair like thousands of others that provide the citizenship landing pads after they spend their day in service to the near-totalitarian state.  These digs exert uniformity and offer their inhabitants little comfort beyond what a stall offers a cow after it has been milked.

Alex’s parents provide him meager meals but little else.  He feels no human connection to his “pee and em,” and they are at a complete loss for what to do about him.  His father’s backbone has been stripped clean out of him, and while he is the more articulate of Alex’s parents, he never looks at his son more closely than he has to and exerts no influence over … well, anything.  Little Alex’s mother is an ugly creature, coming off as barely conscious, her speech in the book being limited to bursts of “oooowwww,” ala Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady.

Alex’s roots to the family flat, such as they are, are sunk in his bedroom, furnished with ill-gotten, high-quality stereo equipment  he uses to fully immerse himself in his beloved classical music.  Before you say, “Classical music!  Well, the lad can’t be all bad, then,” know this: Classical music provides Alex the exalted soundtrack for acts of extraordinary violence he fantasizes perfoming, and sometimes actually does perform, while being borne upward upon its heavenly strains.

Our fifteen-year-old hoodlum spends his night and sometimes days victimizing hapless citizens, such as two truant but otherwise innocent ten-year-old girls he lures to his room.  There, he injects himself with drugs, puts on Beethoven’s Ninth, and viciously assaults the girls, scoffing at their innocence:

When the last movement had gone round for the second time with all the banging and creeching about Joy Joy Joy Joy, these two young ptitsas were not acting the big lady sophisto no more.  They were like waking up to what was being done to their malenky persons and saying that they wanted to go home and like I was a wild beast.  They looked like they had been in some big bitva, as indeed they had, and were all bruised and pouty.  Well, if they would not go to school they must still have their education.  And education they had had.

So the irony is hard to miss, when, in a similar blaze of innocence, little Alex walks into the “room” of what we might call “big Alex,” or the state and is jabbed in the arm with another needle and subjected to a Pavlovian-type education that does unto him as he has done unto others.  Is it a coincidence that the violent images he’s shown while he’s pumped full of nausea-inducing drugs, strapped down, eyelids taped open so he can’t turn away, are set to a soundtrack that features his favorite classical pieces?  No.  Little Alex hijacks classical music to heighten and glorify his crimes the way dangerous regimes like the Nazis hijacked it to heighten and glorify theirs.  The practice of dressing savagery up in fine art or noble intention is a time-honored tradition.  Being himself a composer of classical-type music, Burgess would have been hip to this.

There is not a single, honest, faithful, admirable character to be found in this whole novel.  And forget about forgiveness.  Once the state renders Alex the perfect helpless victim, all his previous victims as well as comrades in crime fall upon him in fits of revenge. At one point, Alex’s oldest and feeblest prey incites other doddering senior citizens to mob him.  Does that mean that the world Burgess creates in ACO has no upstanding citizens?  I think it simply means that there are no admirable people in this book just as there are no intelligent fools onstage during a vaudeville skit (cynical fools, maybe, but not intelligent) or sharp dressers among the aliens in Killer Klowns from Outer Space. 

A Clockwork Orange is a good, albeit grotesque portrait (think Mel Brooks’ farces, or, if you’ve stooped to see it, think Rocky Horror Picture Show) of governmental (emphasis on mental) and societal excesses.  In this way, little Alex’s cold-blooded psycho-theatrics in ACO aren’t so different from the government’s unfeeling imperative to destroy Arthur Dent’s house in A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to make way for a freeway bypass.  Just as ACO’s Alex thinks he’s in total, scheming control of his life only to discover he’s no match for the bigger, badder thugs of the government, so do the smug public works people in AHGTTG find themselves upstaged when the Vogons arrive to off-handedly destroy Earth to make way for a hyperspace express route.  Call it the “There’s always a bigger fish” theme of dark satire.

The value of satire — even dark, grimy, blue-with-bruises satire — lies in how it unmasks the impotence that lies beneath the intimidating, grandiose exterior.  Thus it acts as a powerful weapon against totalitarianism and fanaticism.  For example, like a lot of curious, budding, pseudo-intellectuals, I read Hitler’s propaganda piece, Mein Kampf.  But I’m darned if the images that pop into my mind when I ponder the Third Reich don’t come mostly from The Producers, a Jewish comedian’s satire on, among other things, Nazi Germany.  Such images completely deflate the grand rhetoric that shored up Nazi philosophy. 

Since satires like ACO seem to trade in gross absurdities, seeing the levels of sophistication at work in them might pose something of a challenge for people like … well, me.  And truly, such literature isn’t for everybody.  Though Burgess filters the horrific scenes he serves up through Alex’s odd (and fascinating) slang, enough of it gets through that the violence might, in fact, violate some readers, especially those who are recovering victims of actual violence or those who have lived in pretty bubbles all their lives and whose minds remain tender and fair.

So what does all this have to do with how I will teach my students, many of whom seem to have lived with varying degrees of violence and oppression all their lives?  And what lessons does A Clockwork Orange have for Mormon artists?

I don’t know.  Yet.  But it’s clear that if I want to be a useful teacher, I need to face the stories my students tell head on.  I need to grow enough imagination to help them find the language they need to make something of their experiences.

But also, my thinking about violence in literature has shifted.  Not all violence that’s portrayed in the arts is meaningless.  A lot of it is, but not all of it.  I’ll never write pieces of bruising satire or violent burlesque myself, but I can see the extraordinary value of having artists who can.  Such caricaturing used to be a vital part of the American tradition in literature and political lampooning.  Like an x-ray machine, it helped us see the scrawny chicken frantically working the levers inside the towering robot.  It vaccinated us against ideological poxes and specious plagues to which we might otherwise have been susceptible.  When it turned on the lights, the cockroach philosophers froze, then scattered.

38 comments: “A Clockwork Orange Revisited, or Doh! Now I Get It!

  1. R.W. Rasband

    You are of course aware of the “missing” 21st chapter of “A Clockwork Orange” that was published in the UK but was deleted from American versions for years. It’s an epilogue that shows Alex as a mature man with a family and a job who has grown out of all the ultra-violence. The reasons why it was never published in the US are murky, but it could be the American publishers thought a “happy” ending wasn’t cool or nihilistic enough. When Kubrick’s movie appeared in the UK, the absence of the epilogue was widely commented on, and Kubrick explained he had based his screenplay on the American edition. (But it’s not hard to see it also fit in with his dark vision.) In any case, the British “happy” ending is congruent with Burgess’ vision of Christian free will, and even a little SOB like Alex deserves a chance to sincerely, really repent.

  2. Dan

    Interesting. I never expected A Clockwork Orange and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to ever be compared. :)

    I’m on the other side of this, I’ve never read the book but I have seen the movie. Let me tell you, if you still want to enjoy Beethoven’s Ninth, don’t ever watch the movie. It took a long time for me to forget Kubrick’s electronic version being played through some pretty disturbing scenes.

    You make a great point about violence in art. For the most part it is quite unnecessary and over done. Far too often it is used as glitter, something to draw our eyes and imagination to the book. But there are stories out there where violence is the subject.

  3. Patricia Karamesines Post author

    R. W., My version had the last chapter and I did my homework (interesting experience in itself) and did read that the last chapter was omitted in the American version and that the film didn’t acknowledge Burgess’s ending. Funny, but after everything I read in that book, that last chapter surprised me the most. Didn’t see Alex’s change of heart coming.I don’t completely buy his explanation for the change, though–something like, “Maybe all that was wrong with me was that I was young.” Sure, that was all!

    I think it’s reasonable to suppose that going a few rounds in his victims’ shoes contributed at least a little to his appetite for violence going off. At the end of the book, Alex is only 18. Would he be completely conscious that his experiences had had such a side-effect upon his malenky person? Some silly idea like, maybe all that was wrong with me was that I was young, might be about as high as we can expect his social consciousness can fly at that point.

  4. Patricia Karamesines Post author

    Dan said, “I’m on the other side of this, I’ve never read the book but I have seen the movie.”

    Yikes! I wouldn’t want to come at this piece that other side. If I’d seen the movie first (hardly likely, but if somehow I had,like I was strapped down and had my eyes were taped open), I probably wouldn’t have gone anywhere near the book.

    “Let me tell you, if you still want to enjoy Beethoven’s Ninth, don’t ever watch the movie. It took a long time for me to forget Kubrick’s electronic version being played through some pretty disturbing scenes.”

    My reading on the movie remarked on how that cute and exuberant song “Singin’ in the Rain” is similarly abused. Personally, I wouldn’t want to have to deal with that kind of re-contextualization.

    So I’m curious: How long did it take for you to be able to hear Beethoven’s 9th without feeling that jerk in your stomach?

  5. Dan

    Patricia,

    Well I was at a point in my life where I gorged on critically acclaimed or controversial movies. I didn’t know at that point of the book, and probably would still never have read it if I did (though maybe I would have in my “New World Order” “1984” days).

    My reading on the movie remarked on how that cute and exuberant song “Singin’ in the Rain” is similarly abused. Personally, I wouldn’t want to have to deal with that kind of re-contextualization.

    Ah, forgot that Singing in the Rain was also used.

    So I’m curious: How long did it take for you to be able to hear Beethoven’s 9th without feeling that jerk in your stomach?

    Well, I watched the movie in 1994, and I think it was well after my mission (1995-1997) that I finally was able to think of Beethoven’s Ninth without Wendy Carlos’ electronic rendition. The thing is that Kubrick is a master of mixing classical music to certain scenes that make that combination both frightening and disturbing. His use of Bartok’s “Music for Strings Percussion and Celestia” in The Shinning, well, I can’t think of a more sinister sounding piece to match with the scenes of Jack going crazy and of Daniel riding his little tricycle around the eerie empty, but haunted halls. It’s a shame, really. I had watched The Shinning so frequently (I used to love that film) that I cannot listen to Bartok’s piece without referencing it to The Shinning. Thankfully I only watched A Clockwork Orange that one time, so I was able to save Beethoven’s Ninth. :)

  6. Patricia Karamesines Post author

    Dan, it’s probably a good sign that you could forget “Singing in the Rain” was used. You’re on your way to recovery :)

    I wonder what it means when filmmakers co-opt classical pieces in the ways we’ve been discussing. That is, is there something about the history and meaning of Bartok’s “Music for Strings Percussion and Celestia” that justifies its being used as mood music in a horror piece, or are the filmmakers using this music w/out regard for the music’s meaning and context, thus changing the piece’s meaning for some people? Is the re-contextualization, or the scoring of a piece of music with unrelated or distantly related visual images important?
    As I said in the post, dangerous regimes have used classical music to glorify and heighten crimes against humanity. So then what are filmmaker’s doing? I don’t watch many violent or scary movies, so it’s hard for me to know what’s going on here.

  7. Patricia Karamesines Post author

    Now that I think about it, R.W., my book is structured differently. The print version I have is Penguin’s 49th, which I think covers the “missing” 21st chapter, but it’s divided differently, having only 7 “chapters.”

    In mine, Alex at the end is out of prison and tries going back to his old ways but finds he’s lost the taste for it. His droogs discover he’s carrying around a picture of a baby in his wallet and make fun of him. He tells them to go off and have their fun without him and he drops into a diner, where he meets his old droog Pete, who is now married and settled. Seeing Pete and his wife, Alex realizes what he really wants a mate and a son. He philosophizes on the nature of youth and then the book ends with him saying, “But where I itty now, O my brothers, is all on my oddy knocky, where you cannot go. Tomorrow is all like sweet flowers and the turning vonny earth and the stars and the old Luna up there and your old droog Alex all on his oddy knocky seeking like a mate.” Etc. A few lines later, end of book.

  8. Patricia Karamesines Post author

    By the way, does anybody know who writes this kind of literary social criticism anymore and does it as well as this book does? Seems to me that the tradition is dying out, but I’d be interested to know who AMV’s readers think is writing comparable material.

  9. Dan

    heh, well I will never forget some of the images from the movie. Those are permanently seared.

    I don’t know how it is overall, but for Kubrick, he didn’t use the piece as originally designed and intended by the original composer (except perhaps for when he used Symphonie Fantastique’s fifth movement at the beginning of The Shinning, Berlioz intended that haunting trombone line to introduce the witches, and it certainly fits with the tone of The Shining). Certainly Bartok did not intend for his Music for Strings, Percussion and Celestia to be tied to a madman envisioning the death of his family. Unfortunately for a modern composer like Bartok who used more esoteric eclectic sounds, they are too easy to apply to other settings and events.

    I don’t watch modern scary movies (and have actually written off the genre completely at this point in my life)—the last scary movie I saw was 28 Days Later. Modern horror flicks now use hard rock, a very conventional pick. I don’t know if modern horror directors realize the power of mixing classical music with disturbing scenes. You don’t have to be loud and bombastic to scare the living daylights out of your audience. (The scene from The Shining where Danny, riding through the empty halls, turns a corner to see images of twin girls chopped up to death is still the scariest thing I’ve ever seen in a movie—though I haven’t seen The Exorcist yet–and never will).

  10. Patricia Karamesines Post author

    “Certainly Bartok did not intend for his Music for Strings, Percussion and Celestia to be tied to a madman envisioning the death of his family. Unfortunately for a modern composer like Bartok who used more esoteric eclectic sounds, they are too easy to apply to other settings and events.”

    That’s what I’m wondering — what are filmmakers doing when they take a piece from its original context and force it into an alien and perhaps inappropriate one? Seems to me that such acts could be seen as approaching aesthetic vandalism.

  11. Tatiana

    I read the book when I was in my teens, and though I went to a rough school where beatings and fights were quite the normal order of things, the violence in the book still shocked and brutalized me. I read it somewhat differently, and didn’t really notice the parallels between Alex and the state. I read it more as a study of free will and compulsion. That no matter how bad the choices are that someone makes, the attempt by the state to subvert his ability to choose is far worse. That society can be more brutal in its attempts to do right than thugs and criminals are when they’re deliberately brutal.

    It definitely felt like a triumph at the end when Alex got back his ability to be violent. A sick triumph, but a very real one.

    I don’t know of anyone in the U.S. today who writes this sort of literary social commentary but 20th c. Russia has Bulgakov who is quite applicable to the world in general. Have you read The Master and Margarita?

  12. Patricia Karamesines Post author

    “It definitely felt like a triumph at the end when Alex got back his ability to be violent. A sick triumph, but a very real one.”

    This is interesting, Tatiana, because at the end of the version of the book I have, Alex loses his passion for violence all on his oddy knocky. He’s “cured” of the Lodovico treatment and is able to fantasize about committing violent acts to classical music again, but he doesn’t go back to actually committing violent crimes with full gusto.

    I wonder if you read one of the American-published versions that omitted the chapter describing Alex’s dissatisfaction with his old ways and desire to find a woman and have a child. He describes himself as “growing up.” What do you think? Did you have one of the “altered” copies that ended with “When it came to the Scherzo I could viddy myself very clear running and running on like very light and mysterious nogas, carving the whole litso of the creeching world with my cut-throat britza… I was cured all right”?

    “I don’t know of anyone in the U.S. today who writes this sort of literary social commentary but 20th c. Russia has Bulgakov who is quite applicable to the world in general. Have you read The Master and Margarita?”

    No I haven’t. Thanks for the recommend! But I wonder — why doesn’t anybody write this kind of social commentary anymore?

  13. Tatiana

    Yes, I think my copy must have omitted the last chapter, because mine ended with Alex regaining his ability to be violent. (That’s my 30+ year old memory from having read the book once, so take that as you will.) I also saw the movie one time, and it ended similarly, so that I never knew there was more to the story until I read it here today.

    I think a whole lot of fiction is social commentary of one sort or another, although the peculiar twist of this type seems rare lately. I’m actually not a fan of social commentary as literature. I’m like Tolkien in that I cordially dislike the sort of fiction that has too much allegorical content. I like to feel free to think what I think about stories, and if the author tries to lead me to any sort of predetermined conclusion, I resist. (Lately I’ve been especially wary of characters the authors dislike, because I feel like authors should love ALL their characters. I mean, if even your AUTHOR hates you, what chance did you ever have? Authors are gods of their little worlds and if they’re good they’ll love all their characters with a divine love.)

    That’s one aside that popped into my mind about social commentary. Another is that it reminds me of a thought I had recently when listening to the speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I wonder where are those voices now, the voices of morality and justice and honesty standing up for what’s right. I wonder why we hear them so much less often now on the national scene.

    Perhaps the two issues are related in some way.

  14. Tatiana

    I think I hear pointed social commentary more often in music than in literature lately. Most Nine Inch Nails cds are filled with it. I just listened to the most recent one tonight for the first time (Year Zero), and it seems to be no exception. I highly recommend that band, by the way, though there also is much that’s disturbing there. Similar warnings about violence and language apply to them as ACO.

    What music are your students listening to? That might be another interesting source of information about their social milieu and culture.

  15. R.W. Rasband

    Here is Wikipedia:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clockwork_orange#Part_3:_After_prison

    “Differences in U.S. editions

    Although the book is divided into three parts, each containing seven chapters (21 being a symbolic reference to the British age of majority at the time the book was written[1]), the 21st chapter was omitted from the versions published in the United States until 1986. The film adaptation, which was directed by Stanley Kubrick, follows the American version of the book, ending prior to the events of the 21st chapter. Kubrick claimed[citation needed] that he had not read the original version until he had virtually finished the screenplay, but that he certainly never gave any serious consideration to using it.”

    This fits with my memory of the book, although I was mistaken about Alex actually having a family; he just expresses a desire for one.

  16. R.W. Rasband

    I forgot to add that it was Kubrick’s perverse genius to first discover, as someone else put it, “the war whoops in Beethoven’s Hymn to brotherly love.” I’m pretty sure Burgess admired Kubrick’s movie, but I wonder how he felt about its twisting of the novel’s unmistakable Christian message.

  17. Dan

    Patricia,

    As far as social commentary these days, one name that comes to mind is Michael Moore. I know he is very divisive, but that tends to happen with gadflies. His new movie, Sicko, delves into some of the ridiculousness of health insurance. I can’t think of anyone else that does something similar these days.

  18. Patricia Karamesines Post author

    “Yes, I think my copy must have omitted the last chapter, because mine ended with Alex regaining his ability to be violent. (That’s my 30+ year old memory from having read the book once, so take that as you will.) I also saw the movie one time, and it ended similarly, so that I never knew there was more to the story until I read it here today.”

    Does your finding out that a chapter, and to my thinking a very important chapter, was missing from your copy change your impression of the book?

    In my background reading before I posted this I read that one of the reasons the American publisher left the last chapter off was because they thought it was a “sell out.” Like leaving the last chapter out wasn’t some kind of sell out itself.

    Alex doesn’t “get back” his ability to act and think in ultra-violent tones on his own. The state restores it to him in an effort to repair the bad press they received from his attempt to commit suicide. Which makes it look like another government-sponsored manipulation. The only time Alex seems to me to be making human choices is in that final chapter.

    “(Lately I’ve been especially wary of characters the authors dislike, because I feel like authors should love ALL their characters. I mean, if even your AUTHOR hates you, what chance did you ever have? Authors are gods of their little worlds and if they’re good they’ll love all their characters with a divine love.)”

    I have similar feelings about this. A character that his/her creator doesn’t love is probably some kind of a set-up, a straw man or woman, a rant.

    “I wonder where are those voices now, the voices of morality and justice and honesty standing up for what’s right. I wonder why we hear them so much less often now on the national scene.”

    Me, too.

  19. Patricia Karamesines Post author

    Oh, about this:

    “I think I hear pointed social commentary more often in music than in literature lately. Most Nine Inch Nails cds are filled with it. I just listened to the most recent one tonight for the first time (Year Zero), and it seems to be no exception. I highly recommend that band, by the way, though there also is much that’s disturbing there. Similar warnings about violence and language apply to them as ACO.”

    If you could give me some song titles, I’ll look up their lyrics. Don’t have speakers on my computer right now.

    My students listen to rap, R&B, some to Nine Inch Nails, whatever category that falls into, and a lot of contemporary stuff I have no clue about.

  20. Patricia Karamesines Post author

    “I forgot to add that it was Kubrick’s perverse genius to first discover, as someone else put it, “the war whoops in Beethoven’s Hymn to brotherly love.” I’m pretty sure Burgess admired Kubrick’s movie, but I wonder how he felt about its twisting of the novel’s unmistakable Christian message.”

    I read some information on Burgess’s take on Kubrick’s take on his ACO. Burgess seemed to appreciate it overall, though apparently both Burgess and Malcolm McDowell had some kind of fall out with Kubrick over Kubrick’s “ego.”

    Has anybody else heard Alice Cooper’s claims that Burgess borrowed heavily from his stage shows”(Alex = Alice)?

  21. Patricia Karamesines Post author

    “As far as social commentary these days, one name that comes to mind is Michael Moore. I know he is very divisive, but that tends to happen with gadflies. His new movie, Sicko, delves into some of the ridiculousness of health insurance. I can’t think of anyone else that does something similar these days.”

    I’ll try giving MM a second look. Overall I’ve had a hard time listening to/watching him, not because of his ideas but because he appears to me to tend toward rant rather than satire. But I’ve seen very litte. I guess I think that not all insight = convincing insight. Some insight is fashioned into weaponry and loses meaning in hails of gunfire. It becomes fodder for satire itself.

  22. Dan

    The point of good social commentary is to point out some of the obviously ridiculous things we would otherwise not note. The fact that individuals who HAVE health insurance here in America get better treatment by visiting Cuba, for example, is a withering critique of our system.

    I think otherwise it is very tough to be a social commentator for all of America, because America is also changing quite rapidly. America today is certainly not the America of the 1950s, and most certainly not the America of the 1800s.

    Our rapid advances in technology are making it very hard to pin down exactly what America is today.

  23. Tatiana

    Patricia, I can’t fathom nor countenance reading the lyrics by themselves. =) You really have to listen to the songs. Lyrics alone will just shortchange you, as they are something other than the song, that actually stands in opposition to the song. I never read lyrics until I’ve listened to music for a fair amount of time, so that I eventually hear the words in the correct context of the music. Taking it in the wrong order (words first) can really spoil the experience, or so I’ve seen. I don’t want to encourage you to do that.

  24. Patricia Karamesines Post author

    Dan, Rhetorically we’re very different as well. I think that the irony and rhetorical timing (that is to say, the sudden humor satire often hits us with, like a firecracker some prankster sets off behind a pompous public speaker) is too complicated for a lot of people; they don’t know how to read it. Maybe in some ways we’re less sophisticated than we were in the 50s or 1800s, less able to judge for meaning.

    I took Mark Twain’s “Advice to Youth” to my class yesterday and we read it. I could barely suppress chuckles over even the seemingly plain-spoken lines because of how their placement among very satirical ones charged their tone. But I could see question marks appear over the students’ heads as they followed the reading. They did have some trouble with the older rhetorical style, but it wasn’t THAT different and in the end they were clearly puzzled by the inside-out logic. Back when Twain gave this speech to a group of boys they would have got the tone right quick, but it looked to me like most of my students had never heard the term, “social satire,” when I wrote it on the board. Perhaps rant and derision — which are easier to read emotionally and logically — have shouted down the classier, more effective voices of social satire. Or maybe good social satire is too effective to be PC or respectful enough to its indended targets? Maybe, maybe, maybe.

    I think Mormons ought to be able to produce a good social satirist or two. I don’t mean of the Mormon culture, though that’s good, too. I mean we ought to be able to produce a satirist who can take on the absurdities of the U.S. social environment, maybe even produce one sophisticated enough to do commentary on foolishness in the world at large. But if such a person did emerge, from the Mormon culture or elsewhere, it looks to me like he or she would have to train the audience to some degree, get them used to the irony.

  25. Patricia Karamesines Post author

    Tatiana, Yes, I can see how just reading a song’s lyrics is something like looking out the window at the weathervane to see which way the wind is blowing rather than getting out there to experience the full effect of running into the gusts, flying kites, and getting grit blown in your eyes and teeth. But it’s too late! I am a full-blown, unrepentant lyrics-reader. It’s a decadent habit that has caused me no end of trouble in life, but alas, I can’t stop! :)

  26. Anneke Majors

    Wow. This discussion gives me an ideological headache. I’m torn on so many levels here. (I’ve intentionally never read the book or seen the movie)

    More than anything else, it makes me wonder if those of us raised in postmodernism (no one before the 20th century would even dream of entertaining Burgess’s work as serious literature) can ever really escape it. It seems to be the influence to drown out all influences. Is this because of deconstructivism? Hmm…

  27. Tatiana

    Ah, you’ve made me very sad! Reading poetry is great, of course, where the words ARE the music. But reading the lyrics to songs instead of listening to the song itself???? I urge you with all the energy of my soul to repent of this terrible habit and find your way back to the light. :)

  28. Patricia Karamesines Post author

    \”This discussion gives me an ideological headache. I’m torn on so many levels here.\”

    Wow. To quote Yoda: \”Read or read not. There is no torn.\”

    \”… no one before the 20th century would even dream of entertaining Burgess’s work as serious literature…\”

    Maybe you could explain what you believe qualifies as serious literature so I can tell if what we\’re doing here is entertaining ACO as serious literature or if ACO is entertaining us as un-serious literature.

    Anneke, I can understand you intentionally never reading the book or seeing the movie. It\’s a hard read and I wouldn\’t recommend the book to most people. I myself intend never to see the movie (though I read up on it before writing this post). But if you haven\’t read the book, on what basis are you making assertions about postmodernism, deconstructionism, and all that jazz? How do your remarks apply to the book or to this discussion?

  29. Dan

    Patricia,

    I have another good example of modern social commentary:

    The Truman Show, a movie ahead of its time, but as we see from today’s TV, quite prophetic.

  30. Patricia Karamesines Post author

    Haven’t seen that one, but my DH might have. I’ll ask him if he did and what he thought.

    Movies — I can’t sit still long enough to get through a movie’s entire two or two plus hours unless it’s a truly outstanding movie or the screenplay’s language intrigues me. If DH thinks I might like The Truman Show, I’m willing to sit down and give it a try.

    Written satire, though — I will always try to make time for the well-turned phrases.

  31. Dan

    Patricia,

    I highly recommend The Truman Show. It was ahead of its time, and truly worth the 1:40 length of time. It’s with Jim Carrey but not like you’ve seen him before. There is no raunchy comedy involved.

  32. Anneke Majors

    Patricia, I’m sorry. I wrote that last little odd comment on a very sleep-deprived and emotionally strung-out evening, and I’M not even sure how it’s relevant. I’ll come back when I have something productive to say. :)

  33. Patricia Karamesines Post author

    Anneke, S’aright. A friend once got me up at midnight to drag me off to a late showing of _Apocalypse Now_, which he thought was a terribly significant movie. Back then, being up at midnight put me into a state of total vulnerability. I’m still recovering from that little half-awake adventure.

  34. Patricia Karamesines Post author

    Before I let this thread die, I want to put up some of Mark Twain’s “Advice to Youth.” I would like to see some Mormon writer wield satire this well. If anybody knows of a Mormon writer who does, please let me know.

    From Mark Twain’s “Advice to Youth”

    Now as to the matter of lying. You want to be very careful about lying; otherwise you are nearly sure to get caught. Once caught, you can never again be, in the eyes of the good and pure, what you were before. Many a young person has injured himself permanently through a single clumsy and illfinished lie, the result of carelessness born of incomplete training. Some authorities hold that the young ought not to lie at all. That, of course, is putting it rather stronger than necessary; still while I cannot go quite so far as that, I do maintain, and I believe I am right, that the young ought to be temperate in the use of this great art until practice and experience shall give them that confidence, elegance, and precision which alone can make the accomplishment graceful and profitable. Patience, didligence, painstaking attention to detail — these are the requirements; these, in time, will make the student perfect; upon these, and upon these only, may be rely as the sure foundation for future eminence. Think what tedious years of study, thought, practice, experience, went to the equipment of that peerless old master who was able to impose upon the whole world the lofty and sounding maxim that “truth is mighty and will prevail” — the most majestic compound fracture of fact which any of woman born has yet achieved. For the history of our race, and each individual’s experience, are sown thick with evidence that a truth is not hard to kill and that a lie told well is immortal. There is in Boston a monument of the man who discovered anaesthesia; many people are aware, in these latter days, that that man didn’t disvocer it at all, but stole the discovery from another man. Is this truth mighty, and will it prevail? Ah no, my hearers, the monument is made of hardy material, but the lie it tells will outlast it a million years. An awkward, feeble, leaky lie is a thing which you ought to make it your unceasing study to avoid; such a lie as that has no more real permanence than an average truth. Why you might as well tell the truth at once and be done with it. A feeble stupid, preposterous lie will not live two years — except it be a slander upon somebody. It is indestructible, th en, of course, but that is no merit of yours. A final word: being your practice of this gracious and beautiful art early — begin now. If I had begun earlier, I could have learned how.

  35. Anon

    You should watch the movie,
    its a very well made film despite the grotesque-ness of it all.
    The acting is amazing and its so well shot.
    And like someone mentioned, grab a UK version and read the last chapter, you may just change your mind.
    :]

  36. Patricia Karamesines

    Anon, thanks for dropping in.

    In his autobiography, You’ve Had Your Time, Burgess says of his novel, “It was divided into three sections of seven chapters each, the total figure being, in traditional arithmology, the symbol of human maturity. My young narrator, the music loving thug Alex, ends the story by growing up and renouncing violence as a childish toy. This was the subject of the final chapter, and made the work a genuine if brief novel. But Swenson [Burgess' editor for the American version] wanted only the reversible artificial change imposed by state conditioning. He wished Alex to be a figure in a fable, not a novel. Alex ends chapter 20 saying: ‘I was cured all right,’ and he resumes joy in evil.”

    The British version Burgess describes is the one I read, where Alex renounces “violence as a childish toy.” So I’m not sure what you’re saying. Is there something you think I’m missing?

    And while I am something of a closet Malcolm McDowell fan, having watched in bemusement his acting in some very odd movies, I think I’ll pass on A Clockwork Orange, The Movie. It’s a simple matter of priorities.

    But you never know. Maybe when the kids are grown up and out of the house. Or maybe when one of them comes home one day and says, “Mom, you’ve gotta watch this movie with me…”

    But I kinda hope not.

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