Monday, July 28, 2008

Speaking of monsters.....

Any responses to the other crazy murderers depicted in our summer reading? The Misfit? Alex? I'm still waiting for one of you to tell me why A Clockwork Orange deserves a place in the literary canon...

9 comments:

Esbee D.B. said...

I found myself unsure how to feel about Alex. He seems so much more a product of his times than someone who's genuinely evil - the last chapter serves as proof of the book's belief in a core of goodness in all people and that the problem lies more with being young and thus brought up to behave like beasts. He also has a habit of hiding the true horror of what he does, I think - at least, that's the effect the slang and general imagery he uses had on me as a reader. I felt separated from the events, and didn't really understand the extent of some of what he did until I watched the film and could see it with my own eyes.

As for why the book deserves a place in the literary canon, I think it embodies an age of being afraid of the youth and the trends of violence in society. The slang, while it can be confusing and make a slow read (I know I had to sit down and translate a lot of it), is complex and intricate, revealing a lot about the culture. And, lastly, I think its idea of free will being most important, even if one misuses that free will, is universal even if the book uses it in only the one context. For example, while we don't have the technology to force people to be good, we as a country are currently facing the issue of whether torture (which Alex certainly underwent to some extent) should be used to achieve peace, whether forcing someone to reveal possible truths is a good end outweighing the evil means. Clockwork serves a good example of not only the immorality of that act, but an example of how torture can't change a person. It'll make him do whatever we want - be good and peaceful, or reveal knowledge that we want - but it can't make a person truly good or turn against his country, making the legitimacy of what he gives us questionable.

- Sarah

Me, Myself, and I said...

I kind of agree with the first part of what Sarah said. Part of the point of the book seems to be a distopia where the young are violent hoodlums. All of the teenagers are the same, in gangs. It's not that Alex is a horrible person, but that he's a typical teenager of the times. The book isn't about a single horrible person but how all the teenagers are going to roam around doing horrible things to people (which the people will remember and try to enact revenge for later if they get a chance, like the writer and the old people in the library) for a couple years. Then they grow up, get real jobs, get married, settle down, become a part of the 'real' society. There's still an element of evil in people (shown by the revenge-getters), but overall the 'mature' people suppress their evil tenancies/habits. Everybody goes through an evil phase with occasional good, then finishes their lives in the good phase with occasional evil.

And for the literary canon part I think I'll pull a Spencer and say "yeah, what she said."

martitr said...

Does Spencer know you're dissing him on-line!? I'd better email him and tell him to defend himself....

I have to admit, I'm just starting to reread OC so I'll see if my opinion changes from what it was 15 years ago (probably will).

It's funny because I don't like Alex particularly. I find his extreme violence combined with an obvious appreciation for music kind of grotesque. But I don't hate him either (probably because of his final redemption and ability to change). What I guess I don't particularly like about the novel is its failure to present a viable explanation for how Alex became an ultra-violent criminal in the first place. We can fill in the blanks and attribute it to environment but that's too easy. Maybe because I've worked with teenagers who've committed violent crimes and those who lived in sinilar environments and did NOT commit violent crimes. Environment is a factor but not the whole package.
And I didn't generally DISLIKE the kids I worked with who were violent. In fact, I found them very interesting exactly because I had a hard time picturing them doing the things they were accused/convicted of doing. So again, there's a lot of complexity involved in choices of good/evil and that's what I find lacking in the character development of this novel. It's more of a treatise on free will but again, I don't find a lot of depth to the treatment of that theme either. But I've just started re-reading so I may find it!

I do think the development of his slang language is interesting in and of itself and the effect it has on the novel is, to me, the novel's greatest artistic merit (see esbee's comment).

We could have some fun debating the torture issue with Spencer! Good essay topic...

Spence said...

hey how many times have you guys seen the dark knight?

Esbee D.B. said...

Only once, quite sadly, Spencer.

Plato said...

O.k.--I admit that I acquired some of this material from the evil (yet much-more-reliable-than-anyone gives-it-credit-for)wikipedia, Ms. Tassi-Richardson, but I think the brain and its parts must enter into any discussion on A Clockwork Orange. The Reptilian Complex, (or R-complex, for short) is purportedly "the most ancient part of a successful brain scheme". Alex is an ultra-violent criminal because his adolescent brain hasn't matured; he is driven largely by his reptilian brain, which finds stimulation in violence. We all have this part; it's one of the reasons why we see The Dark Knight multiple times (or watch Kubrick's film adaptation of A Clockwork Orange ten times in one month when we're fourteen). He "recovers" because parts of his brain finally mature, making him a safer but considerably less interesting Alex. It is the youthful Alex who
stimulates/fascinates/disgusts (what a fine line!) us with his aggression, deviance and violence.
I also think that you can't discuss Clockwork without discussing transgressive fiction in general, but that's another post. . . .

martitr said...

Perhaps I have issues with the extremity because I was a repressed teenager (: Anyway, in our class discussion, the consensus seemed to be that I needed to relax and look at it a little more symbolically. I guess Burgess had some insight into the teenage brain before we had the science to back it up. I still say though that lacking environmental factors which may encourage such behavior, Alex is not an immature teen but a psychopath. The environment is implied but I don't think adequately developed.

jeremy said...

so here is my connection of Dark Knight and CLockwork. the joker (heath ledger)and alex are similar characters in that they have no rules nor any boundaries. they see the world in a nihilistic manner. it is a world which they wish to be master of. they see authority as pathetic and wish to assert their own where they have no right. the joker and alex have no regard for any harm they inflict on the innocent. in fact, the two of them take great pleasure in committing violent acts. the two characters are themselves naive. the joker "just does things"...."like a dog chasing cars, i wouldn't know what to do with one if i caught it." Alfred the butler warns bruce wayne "some men just want to watch the world burn." Alex is the same because it is hard to find and solid motivation for his horrible crimes. instead alex just does things because he enjoys the thrill.

so there you have it, two very similar and very fascinating characters.

martitr said...

Jeremy/Spencer -- I see the parallel but I think the Joker is a little more nihilistic in that he repeatedly states that anyone who believes he can control his or anyone else's destiny is deluded.
Alex on the other hand is almost guilty of hubris -- I think we talked about this a little bit -- he naively believes he's in control of his droogs, the people they attack and even his own "reformation."