Category Archives: self-expression

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

The English were constipated: now they’re incontinent

Screen Shot 2016-04-06 at 21.17.05Dalrymple explains that his account of Britain as a declining, broken society is

ironic in the sense that I don’t think there was a golden age in which society was whole.

But

we have to look at the problems we have. Every age looks at the problems it has, and what I’ve found in England is a refusal to face the problems: they’re just too uncomfortable.

Dalrymple says it is, to a degree, a

puzzle

as to why Britain has become more degraded than all other comparable countries. But he points to

a gestalt switch: what was regarded as good is regarded as bad, and vice-versa. Emotional constipation, once a characteristic of the British, has become emotional incontinence. People regard it as a good thing to express themselves, irrespective of whether they’ve anything to express.

For reasons of hormonal disaffection, young people are disposed to throw themselves into ideological causes. They are susceptible to ideological rot, as they are to criminality,

which is a young man’s game.

With regard to English anti-social life, Dalrymple says:

If you go to entertainment areas, there is always an element of threat in Britain.

He recounts an experience he had in Manchester, where he was staying at an hotel.

There was laughing and screaming outside at 1.30 in the morning. When I went out the next morning, I found that someone had been nearly murdered — he was in hospital, in a coma. You can’t tell the difference in England between people enjoying themselves and someone being murdered.

The English excel only in anti-social behaviour

Self-expression: Justin Carley, 12, threw dog excrement at a neighbour's van and raced his bike through a library Early promise: Justin Carley, 12, hurled dog excreta at a neighbour’s van and raced his bicycle through a public library

Hooliganism is to Britain what fraud is to Nigeria

Anti-social behaviour, writes Dalrymple,

is what the British are now principally known (and despised) for, everywhere they go.

A large proportion of British people

do not socialise when they get together; they anti-socialise. They cannot enjoy themselves without making a nuisance of themselves, without screaming, drinking to excess and creating an atmosphere of menace. Our football crowds are notorious for the vileness of their behaviour, British holidaymakers en masse make everyone else seem refined by comparison and, on Saturday night, Britain is Gin Lane with machetes and mobile phones.

The State’s proposals to deal with the problem are,

as one would expect, weak and feeble. So many of the voters, particularly the young, are anti-social that it would be electoral suicide to be too hard upon, or even about, them.

An ‘action line’ to advise local agencies on what to do about anti-social behaviour

represents a new nadir in moral cowardice, or alternatively a new apogee of pusillanimity. On the other hand, it will provide an employment opportunity for otherwise surplus bureaucrats, which is the principal purpose of the government.

It would be nice if people were socialised into behaving with reasonable consideration for others, but

our culture of self-control and restraint has been so thoroughly destroyed by the social changes since the 1950s that there is no hope of appealing to people’s better nature: they have none.

Self-expression

is regarded ideologically as an unqualified good in itself, no matter what is being expressed, and the state has made it a financially viable, or even an advantageous, way to behave.

For instance, a disinclination to eat on the street is regarded as

a weird inhibition, an utterly alien and quite unnecessary custom, bizarre and even offensive to human rights. If one is hungry, why not eat there and then, when one feels so inclined? I’m hungry, therefore I eat; I want, therefore I have; I’m inclined, therefore I do: this is the modern Cartesianism. Our streets are filthy — the worst in Europe, if not most of the world — because people eat on them.