A Long, Black, Black Gap Of What Might Have Been A Million Years

In the Dallas Morning News, the great Theodore Dalymple looks back on A Clockwork Orange, 35 years after Stanley Kubrick’s still-controversial movie, and almost 45 years after Anthony Burgess’ novel:


And of Britain, at least, Mr. Burgess was certainly right. He foresaw a future in which self-control had shrunk to vanishing, and he realized that the result could only be a Hobbesian world, in which personal and childish whim was the only authority to guide action. A brief residence in a British slum should persuade anyone that he was not altogether wide of the mark.

A Clockwork Orange is not completely coherent. If youth is violent because the young are like machines who cannot help themselves, what becomes of the free will that Mr. Burgess otherwise saw as the precondition of morality? Do people grow into free will from a state of automatism, and, if so, how and when? And if violence is only a passing phase, why should the youth of one age be much more violent than the youth of another? How do we achieve goodness, both on an individual and social level, without resorting to the crude behaviorism of the Ludovico Method or any other form of cruelty? Can we bypass consciousness and reflection in our struggle to behave well?

There are no schematic answers in the book. One cannot condemn a novel of 150 pages for failing to answer some of the most difficult and puzzling questions of human existence, but one can praise it for raising them in a peculiarly profound manner and forcing us to think about them.

To have combined this with acute social prophecy (to say nothing of entertainment) is genius.


Burgess was rather uncomfortable with Kubrick’s film version of his book, but its timing was exquisite: in terms of England’s youth, the peace and love of the late 1960s was over, and the anarchic punk rock of the mid-1970s was about to begin. If anything, Kubrick’s film may have sped up the process, which is why Kubrick banned its showing in Great Britain until he passed away in 1999.



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