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Critical Essay by Robert Bowie
SOURCE: "Freedom and Art in A Clockwork Orange: Anthony Burgess and the Christian Premises of Dostoevsky," in Thought, Vol. LVI, No. 223, December, 1981, pp. 402-16.
In the following essay, Bowie compares the thematic treatment of freedom and beauty in A Clockwork Orange and in works by Fyodor Dostoevsky.
In 1961 Anthony Burgess interrupted his work on A Clockwork Orange and made a trip to the Soviet Union. Later he wrote a different novel, Honey for the Bears, based in part on his experiences in Leningrad, a novel that surely would never have been written if he had not made the trip. But there is also reason for asserting that without his knowledge of Russian language and literature Burgess would not have written A Clockwork Orange in the form it appeared. What comes to mind immediately is the "nadsat" language, based largely on Russian. But in this novel Burgess also develops a Christian theme that recalls one of the most important of nineteenth-century Russian philosophical writers, Fyodor Dostoevsky. Even certain scenes appear to be taken directly from Crime and Punishment or The Brothers Karamazov. Burgess does not choose to play upon Dostoevsky's style or attempt to draw exact parallels with numerous events in his works; but he does treat one of Dostoevsky's favorite themes, the theme of free choice, and he does use episodes that mirror important episodes in the great novels of the famous Russian. Burgess often suggests different answers to profound philosophical questions. While agreeing with Dostoevksy's Christian view of free choice, he seems also to be asking, "What is the standing of the Judaeo-Christian tradition in the modern world?" Indeed, Burgess has taken Dostoevksy's conclusions about the revolutionary possibilities of Christian doctrines and has submitted these conclusions to the test in a contemporary (or soon to be contemporary) society. My article attempts to explain Burgess' position on important moral, philosophical, and aesthetic issues by discussing what is simultaneously his agreement and disagreement with the most prominent Christian artist of nineteenth-century Russia.
God is precisely because there is evil and suffering on earth; the existence of evil is proof that God exists. If the world were exclusively good and beneficent, then God would not be necessary, the world itself would already be god. God is because evil is. That means that God is because freedom is.
The Weltanschauung of Dostoevsky
Anthony Burgess has written that "ultimately, it is very doubtful whether any novel, however trivial, can possess any vitality without an implied set of values derived from religion" [Times Literary Supplement, March 3, 1966]. Although the author apparently has abandoned some of the beliefs of his Catholic upbringing, there is no doubt that at least one of the religious messages expressed in A Clockwork Orange is Christian, expressly the Christian insistence that if man is to retain his humanity, he must be allowed to choose good or evil:
… the central theme is one that is very important, to me anyway. The idea of free will. This is not just half-baked existentialism, it's an old Catholic theme. Choice, choice is all that matters, and to impose the good is evil, to act evil is better than to have good imposed. [Anthony Burgess with Thomas Churchill, The Malahat Review, Vol. XVII, 1971].
Perhaps no writer in world literature has given a broader and more profound treatment to free will and its implications in regard to religion, crime, and social reform than Fyodor Dostoevsky. Beginning with Notes from the Underground and continuing throughout the famous novels of his mature period (Crime and Punishment, The Devils, The Adolescent, The Idiot, The Brothers Karamazov), he repeatedly emphasizes the necessity of choice. His argument refutes the most popular philosophical conceptions of his time (for the most part, ideas that still dominate our twentieth-century world)—positivism, utilitarianism, materialism, socialism. He argues with conviction that reliance on the scientific method leads nowhere since science depends on reason and people are perversely irrational creatures. He insists that the imposition of a supposedly rational order in which all men are to be made equal and to be brothers (socialism) is doomed to failure (because man will rebel against any artificial order that he has no choice in establishing) and is, in fact, the incarnation of the evil principle (since forcing man to be good rather than allowing him to choose good or evil leads to dehumanization). Above all, Dostoevsky sees the duality of the human spirit, the disturbing truth that man is good and evil simultaneously; he often dwells upon human perversity and irrationality:
… just what can one expect from man, a creature endowed with such strange qualities?… It's precisely his fantastical dreams, his horribly vulgar stupidity that he wishes to retain, simply to affirm to his very own self (as if that were so necessary) that people are still people, and not piano keys…. [Notes from the Underground, 1961; in a footnote, Bowie adds: "I have revised the MacAndrew translation based on examination of the Russian original."]
An examination of Burgess' philosophical position (as expressed in interviews, articles, works) reveals that his opinions are often identical to Dostoevsky's. Dostoevsky sees socialism and (rather unfairly, it seems) the Catholic Church as the greatest enemies of freedom—his Grand Inquisitor is a Catholic socialist. [In a footnote, Bowie adds: "Dostoevsky's hatred of Roman Catholicism is a complex issue, closely related to his nationalism, his veneration of Russian Orthodox Christianity, and his hatred and distrust of Western ideas. Attracted to ideals of utopian socialism in his youth, he rejected socialism completely after his prison experience; the great works of his mature years (beginning with Notes from the Underground) are full of vehement ridicule of all socialist principles."] While defending, in part, the spirit of Catholicism, Burgess suggests that the ancient heresy of Pelagius is the source of both gross materialism (represented by America) and a dehumanizing collectivism (represented by the Soviet Union). [In a footnote, Bowie elaborates: "The polemic carried on by St. Augustine against Pelagianism is at the heart of Burgess' literary art. It is an issue that he returns to almost obsessively in his treatment of human duality, free choice, and aesthetics."] The "ant-hill" or "Crystal Palace" (see Notes from the Underground) of socialism, so feared by Dostoevsky, is much closer to realization in the twentieth century. In his Clockwork Orange Burgess reveals that in the twenty-first century (or is it the late twentieth?) this ant-hill has spread to encompass all of the world. The only trace of the great Russian humanist tradition, of which Dostoevsky was a part, appears in the names of pop singers like "Jonny Zhivago" and "Goggly Gogol." The ideas against which much of Burgess' novel is aimed are, for the most part, the same ideas that Dostoevsky vehemently opposed a century ago. But perhaps the viewpoint expressed by the following question is even more pronounced in our time:
Is it not … a trifle absurd to ponder tortuous issues of mind and soul when daily it grows impossible to cope with external realities like pollution, famine, and overpopulation? Can we even talk of freedom or free will to states that have written them off as mere philosophical aberrations? [Robert Morris, The Consolations of Ambiguity, 1971]
The critic who wrote the above concludes that we must, nonetheless, continue to speak of freedom and free will, but many behavioral psychologists think not. B. F. Skinner has stated convincingly that it is about time we started doing something about saving our world, and that since this means changing the behavior of human beings, it's about time we started changing it. Burgess disagrees:
I recognize that the lesson is already becoming an old-fashioned one. B. F. Skinner, with his ability to believe that there is something beyond freedom and dignity, wants to see the death of autonomous man. He may or may not be right, but in terms of the Judaeo-Christian ethic that A Clockwork Orange tries to express, he is perpetrating a gross heresy. It seems to me in accordance with the tradition that Western man is not yet ready to jettison, that the area in which human choice is a possibility should be extended, even if one comes up against new angels with swords and banners emblazoned No. The wish to diminish free will is, I should think, the sin against the Holy Ghost. [The Listener, February 17, 1972]
Note the equivocation in the admission that Skinner "may or may not be right." In Burgess' Clockwork Testament (Ch. 7), however, all equivocation is absent in the portrayal of a behaviorist professor who is a travesty of Skinner. Here Burgess stands arms akimbo and spits in Skinner's direction (as Dostoevsky's Underground Man stands and spits in the direction of the Man of Reason). Just as the Underground Man compares man without free will to a piano key or organ stop, so Anthony Burgess considers man without free will a clockwork mechanism. But despite similarities in the viewpoints of Dostoevsky and Burgess, their conclusions are by no means identical; it is possible to interpret Clockwork Orange not only as a polemic with Skinner, but also as a polemic with Dostoevsky himself. As N. Berdyaev has written, there are two types of freedom for Dostoevsky, initial freedom and ultimate freedom; this conception of libertas minor and libertas major was posited by St. Augustine in his struggle against Pelagianism. The lower order of freedom involves man's freedom of choice on earth; the higher is a freedom in God that is not irrational like the lower order of freedom—it represents the ultimate rational freedom that transcends earthly irrationality [Nikolai Berdyaev, Mirosozertsanie Dostoevskogo, 1923]. The difference seems to be that while Dostoevsky believes this ultimate freedom may be attained through Christ, Burgess has his doubts. Both men are aware of a split in the human psyche, but Dostoevsky believes man's duality may be overcome through Christianity. Burgess, on the other hand, has professed a kind of Manichaeism, a belief that the world is temporarily controlled by "the wrong god," who prohibits man from resolving his duality. In The Wanting Seed he posits a cyclic theory of history; Pelagianism alternates with Augustinism. But probably what is most important is that both the "Pelphase" and the "Gusphase" are Manichean—the basic split remains, and no matter which phase is ascendant in The Wanting Seed, people are still being killed and eaten.
What is most difficult for Burgess to accept in Dostoevsky is the conviction that Christianity is the answer to problems that Burgess sees as having no ultimate earthly answer. Since the issue of free will and crime is treated most extensively in Crime and Punishment, Burgess has written a crime novel that in many ways is a modern retelling of that novel; he adds touches from other Dostoevsky works and treats ideas that run through all of Dostoevsky's mature literary production. Throughout A Clockwork Orange subtle hints of Dostoevsky are provided. [In a footnote, Bowie adds: "There are similar hints in the book that is a kind of companion work or introduction to Clockwork Orange, Honey for the Bears. In this novel one of Burgess' Russian characters remarks: 'As for Crime and Punishment, it was a crime to write it and it is a punishment to read it.'"] For example, the Russian word for criminal (prestupnik) is used several times (spelled "prestoopnik" in "nadsat" language); this recalls the Russian title of Crime and Punishment (Prestuplenie i nakazanie). The title is also suggested in a phrase mouthed by the Minister of the Interior, a phrase that alludes to what is about to be done to Alex (the brainwashing): "crime in the midst of punishment." Alex meets his "Marmeladov" ("a burbling old pyahnitsa or drunkie") in Part I, Ch. 2 just as Raskolnikov comes upon the original Marmeladov in Part I, Ch. 2 of Crime and Punishment, but the old drunk in Burgess' novel has none of the faith in God and the radiant vision of Christ's forgiveness that the original Marmeladov preaches. Note also that Sonya, the glorious symbol of true Christianity, Raskolnikov's guardian angel and salvation, has no counterpart in Clockwork Orange (but one of the girls whom Alex rapes in Part I is called Sonietta). The heroes' responses to their Marmeladovs are also instructive. Guided by the idealistic, compassionate side of his split personality, Raskolnikov helps out a man in distress, while Alex responds to his "Marmeladov" in the same way that he responds to many of his earthly "brothers"—with malicious violence.
The murder of the old woman also suggests a famous scene from Crime and Punishment. Raskolnikov, who feels as if he is on the way to his own execution as he walks toward the scene of the crime, must ascend a long staircase before reaching the apartment of his victim. Paradoxically, his crime comes immediately after a kind of ascent since it is the first step in his long struggle for salvation (the decisive step is taken when he finally repents at the end of the novel). Alex, on the other hand, descends a staircase to reach his victim, possibly since the murder he commits represents the decisive step in his descent toward loss of free will. On the way downstairs he sees a painting of Christ, who for him is simply "the holy bearded veck all nagoy hanging on a cross." Christ means nothing to Alex, whose most important idol, Beethoven ("Ludvig van"), is represented by a bust in the old woman's room below. The murder weapon is not an ax, as in Dostoevsky's novel, but a small statue of a thin girl. [In a footnote, Bowie adds: "One could conjecture that this statue, like Dostoevsky's Sonya, represents a kind of eternal feminine divine principle; it, like the bust of Beethoven, is related to the theme of art and beauty in connection with baseness and perversity."] Of central importance is the reaction of each protagonist to the crime he has committed, a reaction predictable from the character of each. Raskolnikov is always good and bad simultaneously—one side of his inner nature (reinforced by Sonya) is always drawing him toward Christ and repentance; his other side (represented by Svidrigailov) draws him toward pride and willful self-assertion, which represents a kind of death-in-life for Dostoevsky. One must keep in mind that Crime and Punishment, above all, is a novel about crime and contrition—Raskolnikov seems to have begun repenting even before he has committed the murder (see the famous dream about the mare being beaten to death in Part I, Ch. 5), and the "punishment" of the title is primarily the result of his guilt, a punishment from within. Alex, however, is most notable in that he is absolutely without guilt—in his contemporary retelling of the famous work Burgess has chosen a Svidrigailov for his hero, a perverted human being who is almost inhuman since he is incapable of feeling pity for anyone but himself. In a way Clockwork Orange is a book about crime without punishment, at least without the kind of inner moral suffering that Dostoevsky considers a prerequisite for salvation.
Like Dostoevsky, Burgess criticizes (obliquely) some of the most fashionable sociological ideas of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Like Dostoevsky he believes that evil (and crime) is not the result of environment, of faulty social or political systems. Evil comes from within human beings, and blaming evil on society or on the inadequacies of politics simply furnishes rationalizations for criminals like Alex:
"… it was the adult world that could take the responsibility for this with their wars and bombs and nonsense … So we young innocent malchicks could take no blame. Right right right."
Dostoevsky would agree with Burgess that "the self," the essential humanity of man contains both good and evil and that the self must not be destroyed by social engineering in an attempt to program out the evil. As Alex says:
"… badness is of the self, the one, the you or me on our oddy knockies, and that self is made by old Bog or God and is his great pride and radosty."
Burgess' disagreement with Dostoevsky develops out of his belief that badness is inseparable from self—Dostoevsky spent his whole life forcing himself to believe that badness could be separated from self if human beings achieved libertas major through Christianity.
The triumph of evil is only potential in Dostoevsky since there are always characters like Sonya who demonstrate that people are capable of resisting evil. Dostoevsky sees reason as a delusion and advocates abandoning one's reason, as does Sonya, to accept the irrational truth of Christ. A century later Burgess reveals the triumph of evil in a world where human reason has been developed to such a degree that it has put men on the moon. Reason is ascendant but the human psyche is ruled by the beast, and Christianity no longer even seems relevant. A recurrent theme in Dostoevsky is what he saw as possibly life's most horrible perversity: torture of children, including sexual abuse of little girls. In Clockwork Orange this theme is given explicit treatment. Billyboy and his gang are raping a little girl when Alex appears, and Alex himself rapes two girls who "couldn't have been more than ten." Even more horrifying is the implication that episodes like these appear to be an everyday occurrence in the world of this novel. Christ might never have appeared on earth for all the evidence of his teachings in A Clockwork Orange. Raskolnikov ends up believing in Christ, but Alex's "Bog" is the God of wrath who appears, e.g., in the Old Testament book of Joshua. Raskolnikov finally accepts Christ; little Alex says he would have liked to have been in on the crucifixion ("I said I would like to have the old hammer and nails"). Nor is there any evidence of a Christian anywhere else in the book. Nearly everyone seems to live by the Old Testament aphorism "An eye for an eye" (the prison governor even quotes this aphorism). "You've made others suffer" [says Joe, the surrogate son, to Alex]. "It's only right you should suffer proper." The police are hardly distinguishable from criminals—they believe above all in punishment and vengeance, as do Alex's victims ("old Jack" and his consort, F. Alexander). No one turns the other cheek.
The principal spokesman for the Christian message of freedom is the prison chaplain ("charlie"):
"Goodness comes from within, 6655321. Goodness is something chosen. When a man cannot choose he ceases to be a man."
"What does God want? Does God want goodness or the choice of goodness? Is a man who chooses the bad perhaps in some way better than a man who has the good imposed upon him? Deep and hard questions, little 6655321."
But as the humor of the above passages suggests (i. e., the use of a number as the vocative for Alex), this is no Father Zossima of The Brothers Karamazov, no spiritual guide who leads his young disciple toward heavenly salvation. The prison charlie, who is usually under the influence of alcohol, says he would protest against the reclamation treatment "were it expedient" and rationalizes what is about to happen: "And yet, in a sense, in choosing to be deprived of the ability to make an ethical choice, you have in a sense really chosen the good." Other "defenders of freedom" (F. Alexander and his political allies) do not even pretend to uphold Judaeo-Christian ethics. They resemble the atheistic revolutionaries of Dostoevsky's Devils in that they are willing to crush freedom in the name of freedom. F. Alexander goes from lofty thoughts on liberty to repression of the individual in one paragraph:
"There are great traditions of liberty to defend. I am no partisan man. Where I see the infamy I seek to erase it. Party names mean nothing. The tradition of liberty means all. The common people will let it go, oh yes. They will sell liberty for a quieter life. That is why they must be prodded, prodded—"
There is a pun here in the word "prod," which means "sell" in nadsat (from Russ. prodat'). The common people will sell liberty, but what F. Alexander is really doing is selling out the common man in the name of an abstract political freedom. Note that many different nationalities and ethnic groups seem to be represented in his political circle: Z. Dolin (Russian?), Something Something Rubenstein (Jewish?), D. B. da Silva (Italian or Portuguese?). This suggests that the suppression of real freedom in the name of freedom is in common practice throughout Western civilization.
The idea that most people will sell liberty for a quieter life recalls Ivan Karamazov's tale of the Grand Inquisitor in The Brothers Karamazov (Part II, Book 5, Ch. 5). The Grand Inquisitor has decided to correct the work of Christ, to relieve the masses of their freedom since most men cannot bear the responsibility that goes with freedom. Christ, who craved faith freely given, refused to attract believers through miracle, mystery, and authority, but the Grand Inquisitor asserts that the great majority of people are too weak and base to live by the horribly difficult teachings of Christ. They are glad to sell their freedom since it means so much suffering. All they really want is to be led like sheep. The Grand Inquisitor reveals that in correcting Christ's work he is working for Satan but that this is justified since he has relieved the great majority of people of the unbearable responsibility Christ's teachings entail and has brought them earthly happiness. F. Alexander, that "defender of men," is a kind of Grand Inquisitor himself. [In a footnote, Bowie notes that "'Alexander' comes from the Greek alexandros—'defender of men,'" and adds: "The only defender of human freedom in A Clockwork Orange is, paradoxically, the perverted little Alex."] The other figure who may be based on Dostoevsky's Grand Inquisitor is the brainwasher Dr. Brodsky. Each of these men is interested in "correcting" the work of Christ in the name of the greater good for society. Therefore, neither the party of the government in power (for whom Brodsky works) nor the party of the opposition (for whom Alexander works) has any interest in preserving human freedom of choice, which Burgess and Dostoevsky consider paramount.
There are no true defenders of freedom or of Judaeo-Christian ethics in Clockwork Orange, and Burgess sometimes seems to be suggesting that there are few among the readers of his book. In his article on the film version Burgess challenges real Christians to observe the teachings of Christ by loving Alex, who is a human being like us all:
… his evil is a human evil, and we recognise in his deeds of aggression potentialities of our own—worked out for the noncriminal citizen in war, sectional injustice, domestic unkindness, armchair dreams. In three ways Alex is an exemplar of humanity: he is aggressive, he loves beauty, he is a language-user…. The point is that, if we are going to love mankind, we will have to love Alex as a not unrepresentative member of it. [The Listener, February 17, 1972]
If one assumes (as does S. E. Hyman) that "Alex always was a clockwork orange, a machine for mechanical violence far below the level of choice," one makes quite a strong argument but underemphasizes the Judaeo-Christian message of the book. [Stanley Edgar Hyman, "Afterword," to A Clockwork Orange, 1963; in a footnote, Bowie adds: "Hyman's argument is strong especially since a subtle conditioning is demonstrated in the behavior of Alex and nearly everyone else in his society even before he becomes totally conditioned by the 'reclamation treatment.' Behind all of Burgess' insistence on allowing free choice there lurks constantly the question: How much free choice do we really have?"] Burgess would say that the true believer in the Judaeo-Christian tradition must love even Dim. [In a footnote, Bowie explains: "There are hints that even the beastly Dim retains traces of humanity. See, e.g., his attitude of wonder as he contemplates the stars and universe."] But how many of us are capable of loving and forgiving Alex and Dim? If we assume, in accord with Judaeo-Christian principles, that Alex is not below the level of choice, how many of us would prefer to leave him with his free choice when we know that there is a good possibility he would freely choose to smash our skulls? "Deep and hard questions," as the prison charlie would say. Burgess makes it much more difficult for us than Dostoevsky, who at least shows the possibility of a solution to the problem. Burgess presents the dilemma and says we must accept it if human beings are to remain human. If we deny Alex's humanity, we deny the humanity of all persons. Alex is our brother, as his incessant "O my brothers" (addressed to the readers of the book) implies.
But then there is the question of just how much free choice man really has. One cannot help noticing how events occur with almost a predetermined inevitability in a book emphasizing free will. In the second and third parts of the novel Alex is fated to repeat nearly all of the events of the first part (but as victim rather than victimizer). Even the rape at "HOME" is mirrored by the symbolic rape of Alex through the reclamation treatment. (Note that Alex says "Bog help us all" just before the rape, and the prison charlie says "God help us all" just before the treatment begins.) There is another replay of the rape scene (with Alex on the receiving end) in this forced inoculation:
"What they did was to get four or five real bolshy white-coated bastards of under-vecks to hold me down on the bed, tolchocking me with grinny litsos close to mine, and then this nurse ptitsa said: 'You wicked naughty little devil, you,' while she jabbed my rooker with another syringe and squirted this stuff in real brutal and nasty."
Alex is beaten by the police and vomits just as earlier his "Marmeladov" had been beaten and vomited. "Old Jack" and his friends at the liberty take their vengeance upon him, and almost inevitably he returns HOME near the end of the book. The same discrepancy is there in Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment. Even before his crime it seems that Raskolnikov is almost destined to commit it and to escape so that he can spend the rest of the book on an inevitable path toward confession and redemption. (Note how one circumstance after another seems to be provided precisely so as to allow him to commit the murder and escape, despite a series of blunders that would normally mean the downfall of a criminal.) It seems paradoxical that God Himself could have a hand in murder, but events are arranged so as to suggest that the Spirit of the Universe leads Raskolnikov to commit the act as the first step toward suffering and eventual salvation. It is inevitable that the "free" Raskolnikov will confess—some transcendental force is guiding him in the right direction as he suffers through to expiation. It also seems as if Alex is destined to suffer the same pain that he has inflicted upon others—but his suffering, unlike Raskolnikov's, does not lead to contrition. It never occurs to Alex that perhaps he deserves what he is getting. Suffering does not lead to salvation; but maybe the charlie was right after all in his banal rationalization just before Alex's treatment began: "All may be well, who knows? God works in a mysterious way." It appears that the Deity may love little Alex in spite of his sins. At the height of his misery Alex calls out, "Oh, Bog in Heaven help me," and soon after this he recovers his ability to choose right or wrong. As God guides Raskolnikov to salvation so He guides little Alex back to free will.
If the artistic pattern of both these novels suggests an order that is too consistent to be anything but predetermined, where does this leave free will? Burgess would probably say that it leaves a free will that is limited, nonetheless extant. He is fond of quoting Hans Sachs from Wagner's Die Meistersinger: "Wir sind ein wenig frei" ("We are a little free"). Despite the difficulty of the whole question of free will vs. determinism, one must take a stand somewhere. Burgess decides that even if it is impossible to say exactly how much free will man possesses, "what little he seems to have is too precious to encroach on, however good the intentions of the encroacher may be" [The Listener, February 17, 1972]. Surely Dostoevsky would agree.
The notion of beauty not only does not coincide with goodness, but rather is contrary to it; for the good most often coincides with victory over the passions, while beauty is at the root of our passions.
What Is Art?
And what of the other god of Alex's life, "Ludvig van"? Is Burgess suggesting that the quandary resulting from free choice may be transcended by an apotheosis of the beautiful, of art? He is, but the transcendence cannot be overrated since beauty as perceived by man is ultimately dualistic. In suggesting this apotheosis of art Burgess is arguing against a viewpoint long held in Western culture, against the idea that virtue and beauty can be equated, that upon contact with the beautiful (art) one is imbued with the proper ethical attitudes. A comparison with Dostoevsky's Christian views on aesthetic experience is instructive. [In a footnote, Bowie comments: "I do not mean to imply that treatment of this issue in Clockwork Orange amounts to a direct polemic with Dostoevsky. It is an issue long debated in Western culture (e.g., in the Germanic tradition of Schiller, Kant, Goethe, Mann), but treatment of all the sources for the philosophic debate lies beyond the scope of my article."] Dostoevsky is well aware of the profound implications that a dualistic view of beauty holds, but, unlike Burgess, he prefers to seek a solution to the problem by narrowing his own definition of beauty while letting a character such as Dmitry Karamazov express the dualistic view. In a famous passage from The Brothers Karamazov Dmitry says:
"Beauty! I cannot bear the thought that a man who possesses even loftiness of spirit and great intelligence begins with the ideal of the Madonna and ends up with the ideal of Sodom. What's still more terrible is that one with the ideal of Sodom already in his soul does not deny the ideal of the Madonna, and his heart is aflame with that ideal, verily, verily aflame, as in that time when he was young and innocent. No, man is broad, even too broad; I'd have him narrower. The devil himself doesn't even know what to make of it! What the mind sees as shameful is sheer beauty to the heart. Is it in Sodom that beauty is found? Believe me, Sodom is where it is found for the immense majority of people—did you know that secret or not? It's horrible that beauty is not only a terrible but also a mysterious thing. Satan and God are battling there and the field of battle is the hearts of men." [The Brothers Karamazov; in a footnote, Bowie notes that he has "revised the translation somewhat."]
In Dostoevsky's view the fact that man finds a kind of beauty in the ideal of Sodom (which is the ideal of sensuality) points to the tragic division between man's spiritual and carnal nature. For Dostoevsky there is only one true beauty, the absolute beauty of an ideal harmony to be found in acceptance of Christ: "to Dostoevsky it is not beauty that is ambivalent, but man who experiences two kinds of beauty"—not only the true, higher beauty, but also a low order of aesthetic sensation ('beauty in Sodom') which he calls beauty. Dostoevsky once viewed Hans Holbein's painting of the dead Christ and declared it devoid of beauty since it depicts an all-too-human corpse that looks as if it has already begun decomposing. Not only is it ugly, but it does not produce the right feelings in one who views it. "One's faith could be smashed by such a picture," he told his wife, but she also reports that the painting "so deeply impressed Fedya [Dostoevsky] that he pronounced Holbein a remarkable artist and poet" and was filled with "ecstasy" as he gazed at the painting [R. L. Jackson, Dostoevsky's Quest for Form, 1966]. Surely the artist in Dostoevsky knew intuitively that the question of whether there could be beauty in ugliness, in the evil and the monstrous, could not be answered so easily. But he preferred to make art and beauty a concomitant to ethics as do most other Russian (and not only Russian) writers. While agreeing with Dostoevsky that it is not beauty (art) itself that is ambivalent, but the very nature of man, Burgess, in A Clockwork Orange, takes the issue farther.
Brahms is said to have remarked in regard to Alex's god "Ludvig van": "Beethoven would have been a master criminal had he not possessed his genius for composing." This calls into question the view that art has an inherent connection with lofty civilizing principles. Indeed, little Alex demolishes the argument of art as civilizer:
"I had to have a smeck, though, thinking of what I've viddied once in one of these like articles on Modern Youth, about how Modern Youth would be better off if A Lively Appreciation Of The Arts could be like encouraged. Great Music, it said, and Great Poetry would like quieten Modern Youth down and make Modern Youth more Civilized. Civilized my syphilised yarbles. Music always sort of sharpened me up, O my brothers, and made me like feel like old Bog himself, ready to make with the old donner and blitzen and have vecks and ptitsas creeching away in my ha ha power."
Alex, a great lover of classical music, has nothing but contempt for the trashy pop music enjoyed by most of his peers. But the joy that beautiful music arouses in him is akin not to any lofty joy connected with love and brotherhood; it is the animal joy of primal chaos connected with mindless sensuality and violence. Alex uses Beethoven's Ninth as an accompaniment to rape; in a state of ecstasy inspired by music he has visions of "vecks and ptitsas, both young and starry, lying on the ground screaming for mercy" as he grinds his boot in their faces. Music is all "gorgeousness and gorgeosity made flesh," and surely that is the key word—"flesh." For in Burgess' Manichean vision our world is a world in which the beautiful is inextricably bound to the fleshy, the sensual, to the animal side of human nature. As interpreted by human beings, the very essence of music is linked to sensuality and violence, and as long as man's nature is dual it must remain so linked. As Dr. Brodsky says: "Delimitation is always difficult. The world is one, life is one. The sweetest and most heavenly of activities partake in some measure of violence—the act of love, for instance; music, for instance." Dostoevsky would say that "delimitation" is excruciatingly difficult, but possible if human beings choose the way of Christ.
Can there be art and grace in violence itself? Alex loves the beauty of flowing blood (not his own, of course, but that of others) and sees his razor almost as an object of art: "… I for my own part had a fine starry horrorshow cutthroat britva which, at that time, I could flash and shine artistic." Dostoevsky would hold that this is a perversion of true beauty, but Burgess takes the always dangerous step of divorcing beauty from ethics. Although he would not agree with Skinner that there is something of value "beyond freedom and dignity," he seems close to agreeing with Nietzsche that there is something of value "beyond good and evil." Here is his Enderby's commentary on ethical and aesthetic good.
"Well, there are some stupid bastards who can't understand how the commandant of a Nazi concentration camp could go home after torturing Jews all day and then weep tears of joy at a Schubert symphony on the radio. They say: here's a man dedicated to evil capable of enjoying the good. But what the imbecilic sods don't realize is that there are two kinds of good—one is neutral, outside ethics, purely aesthetic. You get it in music or in a sunset if you like that sort of thing or in a grilled steak or in an apple. If God's good, if God exists that is, God's probably good in that way." [The Clockwork Testament]
Like the Nazi commandant little Alex seems to have experienced that higher, aesthetic good while simultaneously violating moral law. This is a controversial position for an author to take, not any more likely to be accepted by most people than the implication that little Alex must be left with his free will despite the likelihood that he will freely choose to subject his society to mayhem. Burgess makes an amoral divinity of art itself since art can provide "the rarest and most desirable of all human experiences," "the sense of direct contact with God, or the Ground of All Being, or whatever we wish to call Ultimate Reality" [Times Literary Supplement, March 3, 1966]. He goes on to say in the article containing this quotation that "if we require some foretaste of Ultimate Reality, and if we are neither specially favoured of God nor given to asceticism or narcotics, we had better see what we can get out of art." These views are related to Burgess' Manichean premise, his idea of life's discordant concord, with good and evil inextricably intertwined:
… there is something in the novelist's vocation which predisposes him to a kind of Manicheeism. What the religious novelist often seems to be saying is that evil is a kind of good, since it is an aspect of Ultimate Reality; though what he is really saying is that evil is more interesting to write about than good.
If one sees Alex's ecstasy through music as a prevision of Ultimate Reality, then the dubious triumph with which the American edition of the book ends is a double triumph—Alex is cured of the cure; he has regained not only his free will but also his ability to experience Ultimate Reality through art. But what about ethics? "Beethoven just wrote music," says Alex. "He did no harm to anyone." It is instructive to compare this statement to several lines from Burgess' "Epistle to the Reader," which concludes Napoleon Symphony. Alex, like Napoleon, "robs and rapes and lies and kills in fun," but the next line surely must be taken as grimly ironic: "And does no lasting harm to anyone." Behind both Alex and Napoleon "Another, bigger, hero is implied, Not comic and not tragic but divine,…" In both works the bigger hero is Beethoven, who represents a kind of artistic divinity, art as god. But does not his music do lasting harm if it inspires the violence of little Alex? Surely the sound similarity in the words "Ludvig van" and "Ludovico's Technique" is not coincidental—it suggests that Beethoven's music, which embodies lofty beauty, may also be the source of cruelty and suppression of freedom. Art, therefore, is dangerous; it inspires anti-social behavior and the most horrible perversity; it should be suppressed. Burgess answers this argument by burlesquing it in The Clockwork Testament. His Enderby denies obstreperously that art is to blame for any reprehensible human conduct. Original sin is the culprit, man's own duality. "You never take art for what it is," fulminates Enderby—"beauty, ultimate meaning, form for its own sake, self-subsisting, oh no. It's always got to be either sneered at or attacked as evil." It is difficult to argue with Enderby's position; but here, as in many of the controversial philosophical issues that Burgess treats, there seems to be some room for argument. Surely art is not to blame for evil, but if one begins by accepting original sin, by assuming that evil is inherent in at least one side of human nature, would it not be wise to suppress materials that stimulate the evil side? Of course the question is: After the suppression starts, where does it stop? Enderby is right in saying that once one assumes art leads to crime, nothing is safe. "Not even Shakespeare. Not even the Bible. Though the Bible's a lot of bloodthirsty balder-dash that ought to be kept out of people's hands." With the humorous contradiction of the last line the matter becomes somewhat clouded again, and we are left with a dilemma.
This dilemma is, in fact, characteristic since the essence of Burgess' art consists of contradiction, dissonance. Like Nietzsche, whose re-evaluation of values and morals seems to have influenced his treatment of beauty, Burgess asks, What is man if not "an incarnation of dissonance"? [Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy, 1872]. The dissonance is there again in the profound contradiction between philosophical ideas expressed in A Clockwork Orange. What appears to be a novel based on Christian premises (the defense of free will) simultaneously is a novel that (in its treatment of beauty) is thoroughly anti-Christian. When Beethoven is returned to Alex he not only begins enjoying once more his vision of Ultimate Reality—he also returns to his violent ways. Nothing is resolved. Unlike Dostoevsky, Burgess concludes that an irresolvable duality pervades human perception of the beautiful (art), but that, nonetheless, art, since it affords the only possible glimpse of Ultimate Reality, transcends earthly moral issues. The taint associated both with man's free choice and with his perception of the beautiful must be tolerated if we are to remain human and if we are to continue to seek ultimate answers. [In a final footnote, Bowie adds: "In this article I have confined myself to discussion of the American edition of A Clockwork Orange. The first British edition contains an extra chapter, never printed in any American edition. I prefer the book without this extra chapter, but a discussion of how the chapter changes the main focus of the novel would be the subject of a separate article."]
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