September 2, 2012

WHICH IS TO MISS THE POINT OF THE NOVEL:

The Shock of the New (MARTIN AMIS, 9/01/12, NY Times)

In the official version, though, Alex is afforded full redemption. He simply -- and bathetically -- "outgrows" the atavisms of youth, and starts itching to get married and settle down; and he carries around with him a photo of "a baby gurgling goo goo goo." We are asked to accept that Alex has turned all soft and broody -- at the age of 18.

It feels like a startling loss of nerve on Burgess' part, or a recrudescence (we recall that he was an Augustinian Catholic) of self-punitive guilt. Horrified by its own transgressive energy, the novel submits to a Reclamation Treatment sternly supplied by its author. Burgess knew something was wrong: "a work too didactic to be artistic," he half-conceded, "pure art dragged into the arena of morality." And he shouldn't have worried: Alex may be a teenager, but readers are grown-ups, and are perfectly at peace with the unregenerate. Besides, "A Clockwork Orange" is in essence a black comedy. Confronted by evil, comedy feels no need to punish or correct. It answers with corrosive laughter.

In his 1973 book on Joyce, "Joysprick," Burgess made a provocative distinction between what he calls the "A" novelist and the "B" novelist: the A novelist is interested in plot, character and psychological insight, whereas the B novelist is interested, above all, in the play of words. The most famous B novel is "Finnegans Wake," which Nabokov aptly described as "a cold pudding of a book, a persistent snore in the next room." The B novel, as a genre, is now utterly defunct; and "A Clockwork Orange" may be its only long-term survivor. It is a book that can still be read with steady pleasure, continuous amusement and -- at times -- incredulous admiration. Anthony Burgess, then, is not "a minor B novelist," as he described himself; he is the only B novelist. I think he would have settled for that.

Except, of course, that if Ludovico's Technique doesn't work then the central philosophical question of the entire novel is removed and all that remains is some violence and obscure dialect.



Posted by at September 2, 2012 7:03 AM
  

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