February 10, 1972 [A Clockwork Orange]

Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange made me sit too close--my peripheral vision gone; and I grew dizzy from all that Nadsat, bolshy and gloopy and oozhassny, a pain in the gulliver. And worse: the intimacy of first-person, Alex so chummy, as charming as Hitler at tea, beaming at us with all the good will he can muster without tearing us to pieces. And worst of all: the moral weight, the grinding insistence that Alex as-is is better than Alex as-we’d-like--better for Alex, of course, but also for us. More or less: Alex, after all, has to live inside himself--while we have to live with him, and his busy hands.

The book is so exhausting--and I was so taken with it, and so debilitated, that I was almost afraid to see what the hard man, Stanley Kubrick, would do with such an enthusiastically savage thing. At home, I could always drop the book and see what the happy little birds outside were doing, or watch the night fall picture-perfectly, or listen to the cars out there move on the road, without mishap. But I always stay until the end of a movie.

Kubrick understands what nasty fun the book is, with a kid’s smug grin, daring us--and he loads us up with Beethoven and synthesizers, glaring whites and reds--like 2001 on bad drugs--and harsh shadows, all of it somehow built on the cheap--a future I do not look forward to--but maybe the only one we’re getting. And the only pity we are allowed to have is for Alex--until he stares down at his victims, and we viddy well just what he’s up to. Then it’s all disgust--my sister walked out, angry with me for insisting that she see it. And I didn’t follow her, but left her in the lobby and myself in the theater, “cured, all right,” with the Ninth Symphony among the casualties, music for the end of the world, as it collapses under the moral conundrums--carted along like scrap iron--of freedom and dignity.


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