a clockwork orange notes

Here are my notes for today’s Banned Books Reading at Lincoln Land Community College:

Anthony Burgess’ classic 1962 dystopian novel A Clockwork Orange is 49th on the American Library Association’s Banned and Challenged Classics’ list.

According to the ALA website:

In 1973 a bookseller in Orem, UT was arrested for selling the novel. Charges were later dropped, but the book seller was forced to close the store and relocate to another city. Removed from Aurora, CO high school (1976) due to “objectionable” language and from high school classrooms in Westport, MA (1977) because of “objectionable” language. Removed from two Anniston, AL High school libraries (1982), but later reinstated on a restricted basis.

I was first introduced to this book, I’ll honestly say, through the film adaptation by Stanley Kubrick. I like Stanley Kubrick movies.

That led me to searching out the book in bookstores and I have to say the book is much more brutal and disturbing than the film. Alex is played by a 28 year old actor yet in the book Alex is 15. In the film the girls attacked are over 18 and in the book they are ten years old.  

Perhaps what I found in this philosophical novel and in the character of Alex, Burgess’ fifteen year old narrator and protagonist, was an intellectualization of violence in society. Our hero is a gang leader as well as a intelligent lover of classical music, he lives with his parents, and he is also a rapist and a convicted of murderer, a very unique and yet also a very contradictory character to say the least. I’m all for complication in literature.

In the course of the book Alex is sentenced to a fourteen year sentence and also volunteers for aversion therapy—only to shorten his sentence—and after this experimentation by a team of doctors he loses his choice and also loses ability to make a moral choice. He becomes good—involuntarily—with no ability to defend himself. An ingenious satire dealing with the question of youth and psychological conditioning–behaviourism (or “behavioural psychology”) of the 1940s to 1960s as propounded by the psychologists John B. Watson and B. F. Skinner. Alex is not punished but rather dehumanized. (Side note this is very similar to CIA’s Project MKULTRA of the 1950s. Yes, the US Government has invested in mind control and also chemical castration.)

As I read I was consumed with themes of morality and also free will, also flawed Christian interpretations of morality. Critiques of modern criminal justice systems.

Simply I found ideas in this book—an intellectualization of incredibly important subjects such as gang violence and crimes against women, the nature of good and evil, ethics of social engineering—I found these rather heady ideas in place of a glorification of social problems as I find in contemporary mainstream films and pulp novels. Most films really glorify violence or exploit violence rather than intellectualize the problems and systemic causes of such violence.

In short this book made me think, a thing mass media television and movies rarely ask me to do.

I’m going to read a passage from Alex’s aversion therapy—where he is shown graphic scenes of violence after being shot full of chemicals.

Also I think it is important to mention the idioms or slanguage that drives the narration, so I found the mix of Russian and British slang utilized to tell this story so unique in representing a possible future youth culture of metropolitan London.

Published by

john paul jaramillo

John Paul Jaramillo’s debut story collection The House of Order was named a 2013 Int’l Latino Book Award Finalist, and his most recent work Little Mocos is now available from Twelve Winters Press. In 2013 Latino Boom: An Anthology of U.S. Latino Literature listed Jaramillo as one of its Top 10 New Latino Authors to Watch and Read. He is currently a professor of composition and literature at Lincoln Land College-Springfield, Illinois.

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