20 March 2011

A Clockwork Orange

Came across this quote by Anthony Burgess, on the last chapter of "A Clockwork Orange" (from his publisher's tumblr):
…But my New York publisher [W.W. Norton] believed that my twenty-first chapter was a sellout. It was veddy veddy British, don’t you know. It was bland and showed a Pelagian unwillingness to accept that a human being could be a model of unregenerable evil. The Americans, he said in effect, were tougher than the British and could face up to reality. Soon they would be facing up to it in Vietnam. My book was Kennedyan and accepted the notion of moral progress. What was really wanted was a Nixonian book with no shred of optimism in it. Let us have evil prancing on the page and, up to the very last line, sneering in the face of all the inherited beliefs, Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Holy Roller, about people being able to make themselves better. Such a book would be sensational, and so it is. But I do not think it is a fair picture of human life.
To me the last chapter was far from optimistic: it was a last horrific twist to the whole book.   The idea that Alex had something deeply and fundamentally wrong with him to do all those things is a comforting one, and is also the justification of the extreme "corrective" methods that the establishment in the book attempt.  

The last chapter tells us that both the reader and the authorities got it completely wrong; that normal people can behave like that if they are not guided through youth not to.  That the guy in the pub on the next table might have tortured people to death for kicks when he was a kid, and later grown out of it.

Now I'm sure Burgess knew what he meant.  But I don't think my interpretation contradicts his quote — they are two sides of the same coin.  The Christians believe that anyone can be saved because they believe that everyone is a sinner.  The belief that only a few born-evil people are capable of behaving that evilly is the comforting one, but as Burgess says it contradicts all our inherited beliefs.  It is also, coincidentally, wrong.

1 comment:

A Nonny Mouse said...

Have not read Clockwork all the way through- I saw the film which I suspect distorts the meaning, possibly in the American direction you indicate.

I don’t think I believe in good and evil: evil seems to be just a term of abuse for someone who is higher up in the food chain than you are.

But in terms of the ordinary running of our society where serious crime, particularly murder is concerned, I would say that most individuals are functioning correctly and only a tiny number who are (brain) damaged and mal-programmed by childhood abuse, or alternatively have worked their way up into increasingly serious criminality, slip easily into the habit of criminal killing.

This is a very important fact which previous generations of police knew instinctively, but seems to have become blurred due to the input of fiction. Criminal fiction is at variance with reality, because the demands of the medium are that the least likely person should turn out to be the killer, in order to prolong the suspense. There is also an element of political correctness creeping in, with women being portrayed as perpetrators more often than is justified by statistics, and ethnic groups such as Blacks and Muslims who do have a higher than average murder rate being left out altogether.

When the police investigator has been corrupted by excessive fictional input, some very daft results will be produced. The person in charge of the Meredith Kercher murder in Italy seemed to be building a scenario which plagiarised “Friday the 13th”, and posited a cabal of Satanists.