Category Archives: Burgess, Anthony

A state of petrified adolescence

Dalrymple writes that Anthony Burgess, in his 1962 novel A Clockwork Orange, showed that he foresaw

the importance that the youth culture would attach to sexual precocity and a kind of disabused knowingness.

In a rape scene, Alex

meets two 10-year-old girls who, like him, are skipping school, in a record shop, where they are listening to pop music with suggestive titles such as Night after Day after Night.

Their education that afternoon

consists of repeated rape by an already experienced 15-year-old.

Anthony Burgess

Dalrymple notes that it would not have surprised Burgess

that magazines for 10- or 11-year-old girls are now full of advice about how to make themselves sexually attractive, that girls of six or seven are dressed by their single mothers in costumes redolent of prostitution, or that there has been a compression of generations, so that friendships are possible between 14- and 26-year-olds.

The precocity necessary to avoid humiliation by peers

prevents young people from maturing further and leaves them in a state of petrified adolescence. Persuaded that they already know all that is necessary, they are disabused about everything, for fear of appearing naïve. With no deeper interests, they are prey to gusts of hysterical and childish enthusiasm; only increasingly extreme sensation can arouse them from their mental torpor.

Hence

the epidemic of self-destructiveness that has followed in the wake of the youth culture.

The two endings of A Clockwork Orange

Getting wenches with child: Shakespeare, The Winter’s Tale: Act 3, Scene 3

In the American version of Anthony Burgess’s 1962 novel, Alex resumes his life as gang leader after his head injury undoes the influence of the Ludovico Method. He returns, Dalrymple notes,

to what he was before, once more able to listen to classical music (Beethoven’s Ninth) and fantasise violence without any conditioned nausea. An authentic psychopath rather than a conditioned, and therefore inauthentic, goody-goody. Authenticity and self-direction are thus made to be the highest goods, regardless of how they are expressed.

This,

at least in Britain, has become a prevailing orthodoxy among the young. If, as I have done, you ask the aggressive young drunks who congregate by the thousand in every British town or city on a Saturday night why they do so, or British soccer fans why they conduct themselves so menacingly, they will reply that they are expressing themselves, as if there were nothing further to be said on the matter.

Anthony Burgess

In the British version, Alex

begins to lose his taste for violence spontaneously, when he sees a happy, normal couple in a café, one of whom is a former associate. Thereafter, Alex begins to imagine a different life for himself and to fantasise a life that includes tenderness.

Burgess

obviously prefers a reformation that comes spontaneously from within, as it does in the last chapter, to one that comes from without, by application of the Ludovico Method.

The novelist also suggests

the somewhat comforting message, at odds with all that has gone before, that Alex’s violence is nothing new in the world and that the transformation of immature, violent, and solipsistic young men into mature, peaceful, and considerate older men will continue forever, as it has done in the past, because deep inside there is a well of goodness, man having been born with original virtue rather than original sin (this is the Pelagian heresy, to which Burgess admitted that he was attracted). This, surely, is partly right. Criminality, statistically speaking, is an activity of the young, and there were few prisoners in the prison in which I worked who had been incarcerated for a crime committed after age 35. There seems to be a biological dimension to common-or-garden wrongdoing.

But, says Dalrymple,

a quietistic message—cheerful insofar as it implies that violence among young men is but a passing phase of their life and that the current era is no worse in this respect than any past age, and pessimistic in the sense that a reduction of the overall level of violence is impossible—is greatly at odds with the socially prophetic aspect of A Clockwork Orange, which repeatedly warns that the coming new youth culture, shallow and worthless, will be unprecedentedly violent and antisocial. And of Britain, at least, Burgess was certainly right.

Different endings: the UK and US editions

Glamour of ultra-violence

Dalrymple writes that when, as a medical student, he emerged from the cinema having seen the 1971 film of the Anthony Burgess novel A Clockwork Orange (1962),

I was astonished and horrified to see a group of young men outside dressed up as droogs.

He explains that in England, the film’s detractors

wanted it banned, charging that it glamourised and thereby promoted violence.

Anthony Burgess: his A Clockwork Orange (1962) remains a novel of immense power. Linguistically inventive, socially prophetic, and philosophically profound, it comes very close to being a work of genius.

The young men dressed as droogs

seemed to confirm the charge, though of course it is one thing to imitate a form of dress and quite another to imitate behaviour.

Still,

even a merely sartorial identification with psychopathic violence shocked me, for it implied an imaginative sympathy with such violence; and seeing those young men outside the cinema was my first intimation that art, literature, and ideas might have profound—and not necessarily favourable—social consequences.

Dalrymple notes that Burgess came to dislike the novel

because he did not want to go down in literary history as the author of a book made famous, or notorious, by a film.

Anthony Burgess drank deep…

…at the well of resentment as well as of spirituous liquors

Dalrymple points out that the great novelist had been a schoolteacher and

evidently sensed a stirring of revolt among the youth of his country and elsewhere in the West, a revolt with which—as a deeply unconventional man who felt himself to be an outsider however wealthy or famous he became—he felt some sympathy and might even have helped in a small way to foment.

Yet, as one who

was steeped in literary culture and tradition, he understood the importance of the shift of cultural authority from the old to the young, and was very far from sanguine about its effects. He thought that the shift would lead to a hell on earth and the destruction of all that he valued.

Schubert can help murderers unwind

Dalrymple observes that Anthony Burgess, in his 1962 novel A Clockwork Orange, demonstrated that he had foreseen many aspects of the youth culture to come — to take one of many examples,

the importance that industrialised pop music would play in it.

Dalrymple notes, however, that Burgess

did not suggest that high culture was necessarily ennobling in itself.

The character Alex,

much superior in intelligence to his followers, is a devotee of classical music, listening to which, however, increases his urge to commit violence. No doubt Burgess had in mind those Nazis who could listen with emotion to Schubert lieder after a hard day’s genocide.

Lawyers’ employment scheme

Prison, English-style

Prison, English-style

The revolving door of the criminal justice system

Dalrymple says (from 0:45) that he disagrees with the idea that prison should be, as he puts it,

a kind of hospital for criminals. That means you are saying criminals are ill.

The purpose of prison should be

the reduction of crime in the population, and the protection of the rest of the population.

A little cannabis resin helps this British prisoner relax

A little cannabis resin helps this British prisoner relax

The humanitarian theory of punishment is

very cruel. It is compatible both with ridiculous leniency and with revolting cruelty. If your theory is that punishment should be effective, it places no limits on what you can do to people.

Dalrymple points to the error

in thinking that prisons are there to reform people. It’s very good if they do — I have no objection — but that is not their purpose.

Most criminals, Dalrymple explains,

  • stop being criminal at the age of 35 to 39. In a sense they reform themselves
  • have done between five and 20 times as much as they have ever been accused of doing
A pair of English convicts in high spirits during one of the occasional recreational riots

A pair of English convicts in high spirits during one of the occasional recreational riots

If you put these two things together, Dalrymple says,

it would be an argument for longer prison sentences rather than shorter ones. In the end this would reduce the number of prisoners rather than increase them, because often it’s a revolving door: they come out, they commit another crime. It’s a very good scheme of employment for lawyers.

Prisoners take control of a wing of a British prison

Prisoners take control of a wing of a British jail

HMP Birmingham

HMP Birmingham, site of a recent especially exuberant riot

screen-shot-2017-01-03-at-19-17-46

A convict lets off steam by smashing up the prison

The Anthony Burgess novel A Clockwork Orange

The Anthony Burgess novel A Clockwork Orange: if your theory is that punishment should be effective, it places no limits on what you can do to people

Sinister side of Harley Street

Waste of everyone's time

Waste of everyone’s time

In 1960, the doctor-barrister John Havard’s The Detection of Secret Homicide came out, while in 1962 the schoolteacher-novelist Anthony Burgess published A Clockwork Orange, about adolescent violence.

The two themes are combined, Dalrymple writes, in Pamela Hansford Johnson’s An Error of Judgement (1962), in which the patient-narrator consults William Setter, a Harley Street specialist, about

simultaneous pain in his right shoulder and the back of his left knee. Setter tells him he could have a cardiograph if he wanted but this would be a waste of everybody’s time. Having paid his four guineas, the patient-narrator is reassured and feels better. Payment is a wonderful placebo.

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Get over it

Setter

starts a club in Soho where he acts in a Mephistophelean manner to bring strangely assorted people together in a discussion group. He decides to give up medicine in the middle of his career, which was certain to have ended in a knighthood.

Johnson’s novel

casts light on the prescribing habits of the time. When the narrator’s mother-in-law dies, Setter prescribes Dexedrine for the narrator’s wife to help her get over her grief quicker than the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association can say depression.

Setter prescribes phenobarbitone three times a day for a young man called Sammy Underwood,

That'll quieten him down

That’ll quieten him down

presumably to quieten him down, for Sammy is not epileptic.

Setter

suspects Sammy of being responsible for the kicking to death of an old inebriate woman.

Sammy is guilty and confesses to Setter,

who comes to the conclusion that Sammy is so lacking in remorse, contrition and conscience that he is likely to do it again. So for the public good and because he has always enjoyed inflicting harm (it is one of his reasons for having gone into medicine in the first place), Setter decides to kill him.

Screen Shot 2016-05-07 at 08.51.06

Just what the doctor ordered

Sammy complains of insomnia

and Setter suggests that he ask his own doctor for some sodium amytal to help. He then suggests a small bottle of brandy to be taken with the pills just to make sure he gets a good night’s sleep, though with the stern warning that Sammy should take no more, absolutely no more, than four-fifths of the bottle.

Setter’s

secret homicide goes undetected.

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