Jack’s Naughty Bits: Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange

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Jack's Naughty Bits

Whichever way you fall on the question of nature vs. nurture, it’s hard to deny the power of a posteriori conditioning. What’s true of Pavlov’s dogs tends to be true of mammals as a whole — including humans. Nowhere are the implications of behavioral conditioning drawn out with more chilling implications than Anthony Burgess’ dystopian near-future nightmare, A Clockwork Orange. The anti-hero protagonist Alex, having murdered and raped his way through adolescence, is forced to watch similar actions on film until the very sight of violence or nudity makes him wretch. As in Brave New World, Burgess’ all-too-imaginable State exhibits a level of social control that has the power to remove the humanity of its citizens, for better and worse. A Clockwork Orange makes clear that whatever the source of our actions, choice (illusional or not) is what makes us who we are.

In the scene below, Alex is up to his usual wickedness, coercing two schoolgirls at a record store to come home with him for some Beethoven and a little of the “old in-and-out.” It’s read by Burgess himself, in the dialect that he invented for the novel. In the Middle Ages, manuscripts written by the author him- or herself (not copied by a monk) were called holographs; Burgess’ reading, taped in the months before he died (and available here courtesy of HarperAudio), is the modern equivalent.


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From A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

These two young ptitsas were much alike, though not sisters. They had the same ideas or lack of, and the same colour hair — a like dyed strawy. Well, they would grow up real today. Today I would make a day of it. No school this afterlunch, but education certain, Alex as teacher. Their names, they said, were Marty and Sonietta, bezoomny enough and in the heighth of their childish fashion, so I said:

“Righty right, Marty and Sonietta. Time for the big spin. Come.” . . .

What was actually done that afternoon there is no need to describe, brothers, as you may easily guess all. Those two were unplattied and smecking fit to crack in no time at all, and they thought it the bolshiest fun to viddy old Uncle Alex standing there all nagoy and pan-handled, squirting the hypodermic like some bare doctor, then giving myself the old jab of growling jungle-cat secretion in the rooker. Then I pulled the lovely Ninth out of its sleeve, so that Ludwig van was now nagoy too, and I set the needle hissing on to the last movement, which was all bliss. There it was then, the bass strings like govoreeting away from under my bed at the rest of the orchestra, and then the male human goloss coming in and telling them all to be joyful, and then the lovely blissful tune all about Joy being a glorious spark like of heaven and then I felt the old tigers leap in me and then I leapt on these two young ptitsas. This time they thought nothing fun and stopped creeching with high mirth, and had to submit to the strange and weird desires of Alexander the Large which, what with the Ninth and the hypo jab, were choodessny and zammechat and very demanding, O my brothers. But they were both very very drunken and could hardly feel very much.

When the last movement had gone round for the second time with all the banging and creeching about Joy Joy Joy Joy, then these two young ptitsas were not acting the big lady sophisto no more. They were like waking up to what was being done to their malenky persons and saying that they wanted to go home and like I was a wild beast. They looked like they had been in some big bitva, as indeed they had, and were all bruised and pouty. Well, if they would not go to school they must still have their education. And education they had had. They were creeching and going ow ow ow as they put their platties on, and they were like punchipunching me with their teeny fists as I lay there dirty and nagoy and fair shagged and fagged on the bed. This young Sonietta was creeching: “Beast and hateful animal. Filthy horror.” So I let them get their things together and get out, which they did, talking about how the rozzes should be got on to me and all that cal. Then they were going down the stairs and I dropped off to sleep, still with the old Joy Joy Joy Joy crashing and howling away.

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Jack Murnighan‘s stories appeared in the Best American Erotica editions of 1999, 2000 and 2001. His weekly column for Nerve, Jack’s Naughty Bits, was collected and released as two books. He was the editor-in-chief of Nerve from 1999 to 2001, before retiring to write full time and take seriously the quest for love.

Introduction ©2000 Jack Murnighan and, Inc.