A Tolchok in the Keeshkas
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Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange, which celebrates a half-century this year, and Stanley Kubrick's 1971 film adaptation were distinct creations. But it is too easy to pin down the author's dismissal of the book as "peripheral" and "minor" to the popularity the film brought it. Burgess may not have been keen on the bestseller list and the reading hordes, Anglophone or otherwise, who came to his ninth novel via Kubrick. For a man who prided himself as a defender of individual freedom — to the extent of fleeing England to avoid the 90 per cent tax by which he believed the government was bent on stealing the money he had made (with some help from Kubrick) — but whose Englishness was conservative and monarchist, who believed in the power of education but found the idea of curing people of their natural (and Catholic) sense of "guilt" and inherent flaws more criminal than the criminality born of the self-same human faultlines, his life and art may have been a pose.
Yet, now that Burgess's place has been incontestably settled as minor — unlike his most famous book, which has turned 50 – it is only when we accept him, unabashedly, for the dandy he was that we can begin to appreciate and preserve his import for another generation or two. There had to be something more intrinsically revolting about Malcolm McDowell's Alex DeLarge simulacrum than the charges of "immorality" and copycat violence that the Kubrick adaptation attracted for Burgess's self-distancing. Kubrick's stylisation rightfully created a new work, exploiting a different medium to demonstrate how the "violence of the image" can indeed alter perceptions of reality and in fact, destroy reality for the audience. But that sense of violence, being violated or wishing to perpetrate violence, doesn't strike the reader of the novel.