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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol 35 no. 20. 1972

Books — A Clock Orange Peeler

page 12


A Clock Orange Peeler

A Clockwork Orange cover

When first published in 1962, A Clockwork Orange was topical. Before the law and order hysteria became hysterical, Burgess predicted the decline and fall of law-and-order politics. Before the first outburst of generational pseudo-radicalism. Burgess was prophesying that adolescence would soon begin at 12 instead of 15. In 1962. this counted as foresight. Now, when the trends Burgess forcast are already at work. A Clockwork Orange seems naive, even Patricia Bart-left-ish.

To take the most damning point first, Burgess explicitly attributes the delinquency he is writing about to Communist influence Dr. Branom, one of the doctors who "treats" the novels anti-hero little Alex describes the delinquent slang Burgess uses by saying. "Most of the roots are Slav, Propaganda, Subliminal penetration" And although the publishers blurb informs one that most English reviewers were fascinated by the "incredible teenage argot that Mr Burgess invents to tell the story in (Punch) the roots of little Alex's conversation are Slav, and it has required very little invention to transcribe most of the words from the original Cyrillic. According to Burgess increased delinquency at third and fourth form age levels is due entirely to Communist propaganda, or the only alternative explanation the novel offers is that old non-starter "human nature". Our own true blue Kiwi 12 year old gangs, the Polynesian gangs Brian Edwards talked to in milk bars just before he was despatched by the NZBC, cannot be explained by either rationalisation The police, our old friends did try the 'Communist influence' one to counteract the effect of the Edwards interviews, not very credibly. Perhaps they had been reading A Clockwork Orange.

The novels diagnosis of the sickness it describes is idiotic and the cure it prescribes is pure quack. The 'dilemma' allegedly facing the state, of whether to force delinquents to be moral by aversion therapy, or respect their free will at the expense of perpetuating their delinquency is the kind of pseudo-theological non-problem one imagined had died with Duns Scotus. In spite of A Clock Work Orange pretensions as a social novel, the one possibility it never examines is that delinquency is socially caused and is therefore curable by an alternative society. The best thing about the novel is that it does not make the mistake of assuming any course of Government action it describes could make any difference to its narrator's troubled advance to maturity, so that the novel in the end contemptuously disregards its own plot.

It is poetic justice that a novel whose portrayal of violence seems intended to incite the bourgeoisie to the worst extremes of anti-Communist law enforcement should now be attacked by the morality lobby because its cardboard images of brutality may seduce the young into Mongrel Mob bottle fights. The strange view that violence is seductive, surely taken seriously only be repressed sadists, would have to be accepted by Burgess, since there is little point to the novel unless one assumes that the appetite for violence grows on the young like the appetite for chocolates. Those who write books about the tide of youthful anarchy threatening society find their ideas will have succeeded only when their own books are banned. As Patricia Bartlett would say, the more realistically anarchism is portrayed, the more attractive it becomes.

— Owen Gager