Theodore Dalrymple on A Clockwork Orange, Burgess’s “Prophetic and Violent Masterpiece:”
And of Britain, at least, Burgess was certainly right. He extrapolated from what he saw in the prime manifestation of the emerging youth culture, pop music, to 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. Like all prophets, he extrapolated to the nth degree; but 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 “malenky machines” who cannot help themselves, what becomes of the free will that 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 resort 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.
Of course, as with Orwell’s earlier dystopian 1984, A Clockwork Orange, both Burgess’s book and Kubrick’s eye-popping film version, were intended as warnings of potential future horrors to be avoided, not how-to guides to mak
— Peter Davis (@PeterDavisNYC) January 21, 2014