Tag Archives: Anthony Burgess

New purchases

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I was actually going to have put this post up yesterday, but if I had, then I’d have had to post another today, as I got the last 5 of these books this afternoon. In all, these are:

  • Three Victorian Poets (containing poems by Tennyson, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and Robert Browning)     50p
  • Timothy Donnelly –  The Cloud Corporation (poetry)     50p
  • Anthony Burgess –  The Devil’s Mode     50p
  • Daphne Du Maurier –  The Birds & other stories     £1.49
  • Ernest Hemingway –  A Farewell to Arms     50p
  • Jane Austen –  Pride and Prejudice     50p
  • Jeanette Winterson –  Written on the Body     50p
  • Virginia Woolf –  Mrs Dalloway     99p
  • Jack Kerouac –  Maggie Cassidy     99p

The first book of poems is actually a student book, with activities and questions in, and has been annotated, but I got it simply because there are two of Robert Browning’s poems in it (‘My Last Duchess’ and ‘The Laboratory’) that both my partner and I studied at high school.

Also, I do already own a Wordsworth Classics edition of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ (which I have read), but this one is an Oxford University Press edition (always a bonus) and matches the copy of ‘Sense and Sensibility’ that I got a few weeks ago (see my previous post). Similarly, the copy of ‘Mrs Dalloway’ that I bought today is also an Oxford University Press edition, and makes up somewhat for the fact that I missed out on a copy of this about a month ago. Annoyingly, that one was ony 25p. Ho-hum.

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Thoughts on George Orwell’s ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’

1984 eyes

This post has been a long time in mental gestation, as I’ve been mulling over for some time how quite to sum up what has to be one of the best books I have ever read. I can’t even say why I particularly like the novel. However, I did build the book up quite a lot in my expectations prior to reading it, as I put it off and put it off in order to wait until I felt ready to engage fully with the text; I didn’t want to approach it half-heartedly. Despite this build-up, I think that the book managed to work on me on its own merit, rather than on my assumptions of what it would be, in part because the book is actually so much more than I had ever expected.  For one, ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ is a love story, albeit one with no happy, fairytale ending. Also, on a political level, it is not so much of a commentary upon what could happen if a political party gained too much power or a nation became an extreme police state, but it is more an exercise in how far the human mind can be stretched before it can too be controlled. In a recent song, Lady Gaga sings that “You won’t use my mind but / Do what you want with my body”, but here, in Orwell’s future, they will use your mind and make you believe whatever they want you to, whether this be that two allies are suddenly at war and have forever been in such a state, or that 2 + 2 = 5.  I think that it is this message about the mind that we are presented with here that sticks with me, personally, and which makes the book so much more than mere dystopian fiction or political warning. We know that political regimes can control the information that its subjects receive and the way in which it is presented- Hitler and Stalin did it in the past, and in the present we have Russian government suppressing the voice of those who disagree, the Chinese blocking the internet to stop certain materials reaching into the country, North Korea banning almost everything that speaks of the outside world, and countless other nations that control and censor in order to remain in power. However, it is beyond the reach of any leader to actually control the way in which its people think on a truly base level. Sure, propaganda can brainwash to an extent, but not in the way that we see Winston’s mind turned at the end of this novel, and it is this that is truly frightening- the idea that people may be able to be reprogrammed in such a way as they carry out ‘double-think’ on a daily and continuous basis, and indeed believe that 2 + 2 = 5, despite also being able to see that it logically and mathematically can never be the case. (I’m sure that there are many ways in which it could be argued that people can be made to think exactly what someone else wants them to, and examples that can be given such as Nazis carrying out the atrocities of WWII, but no example can be given where the way that someone thinks is overridden to such an extent as it is here. There were several times during Winston’s torture and interrogation by O’Brien that I gasped aloud due to the latter’s ignorance and frightening acceptance of party lies, such as those detailing Big Brother’s role in science and the works of nature. However, such scenes also work well to show the party and the entire concept of double-think and thought control to be preposterous and something of a hyperbolised distortion of what really goes on.)

Another aspect of the novel that I found frightening was the concept behind ‘Newspeak’- if the langauge is reduced to its barest form and the words for ‘thought-crimes’ are removed, then people will not carry out ‘thought-crimes’, as the words to express the thought will no longer exist. The concept and idea makes sense- for example, I am limited in the amount of French that I can speak, and so if I do not know the word or words for something in French, then I cannot discuss it in that language. However, for a lover of literature and language, such a destruction and reduction of an entire lexicon is a terrifying thought, with the translation of existing works such as Shakespeare and Dickens into ‘Newspeak’ tantamount to sacrilege. Here we can see the way in which the Party attempts to control thought, by changing the very vocabulary that people use to think and therefore the way in which thoughts present themselves and can be ordered in the mind.

I was also surprised and impressed by the way in which the Ministry of Love was made out to be a place where political dissidents were killed, when in actuality it was a place where people were re-educated and taught how to think afresh, with those who were believed to have disappeared simply being reintroduced into society as a different person. This for me managed to place the Party on a different level to actual regimes that are fuelled by oppression, and showed a fate that is almost worse than death. However, the torture scenes were surprisingly effective, and shocking in just quite how graphic they were, considering that the novel was published in 1949. It was also in these torture scenes that I was reminded of Anthony Burgess’s ‘A Clockwork Orange’ (see here for my ‘Thoughts on…’ regarding this novella), and only at this point that I realised quite how much Burgess was influenced in the writing of his book by Orwell and ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’. Burgess’s debt to Orwell can be seen clearly in the former’s book ‘1985’, which uses his ideas and style to produce a more modern echo of the novel, and which begins with an extended interview with Burgess talking about ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’. However, this book and ‘A Clockwork Orange’ don’t just share torture scenes in common, but both stories are ultimately concerned with the nature of human agency and free will, and the ability of the individual to be in control of their own thoughts. It is this shared theme that I think makes these both such fantastic and thought-provoking works, but for me ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ triumphs over ‘A Clockwork Orange’ for several reasons. Whereas the latter concerns itself with the re-education of a teenager who is seen to need altering and correcting before he becomes an adult, Orwell’s story is more frightening, as it does not take an individual susceptible to influence (i.e. the teenager), but a middle-aged adult who is already educated, and so should be already able to think for himself. It also takes the idea of individual control, and extends this to an entire world (or at least an entire country. It is my personal theory that ‘Airstrip One’ is actually the only such controlled nation in the world, and that the rest of the world is actually as we know it to be. All ideas of ‘Eurasia’ and ‘Oceania’ and the endless wars are actually fabrications of the Party, and the world continues as usual beyond the country’s shores). There were many occasions whilst reading the novel that I was genuinely frightened by what I read, and was fearful for the world that was envisaged and the similarities that can be seen between the novel and our world, as well as the potentials that the story offers. To see the book as simply one commentating upon the surveillance and spying of governments is to not get under the skin of the text, and it holds messages and ideas that run deeper than this. I haven’t really touched here upon the love story between Winston and Julia, which forms the axis around which the novel revolves and around which Winston is finally destroyed, but this too should be seen as a further key to understanding the novel. It is love that helps to hold Winston together, as well as the weapon with which he is ultimately defeated.

These ‘Thoughts on…’ have been difficult for me to write, as I have been unsure quite how to explain this novel, its themes and the reasons why I like it so much, but I hope that I have gone someway to explaining my ideas and thoughts. I would not hesitate to recommend this book, and think- as with ‘Animal Farm’- that it should be required reading for everyone; I will certainly be re-reading it, but don’t think that I could cope with it too soon due to the sense of deflation and mental exhaustion that I felt upon completing it.

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Bowie’s top 100 books

Bowie books

Image: George Underwood

I don’t know if anyone has come across this, but a list has been published of David Bowie’s top 100 favourite books, in no particular order  (although some aren’t technically books i.e. ‘The Beano’ and ‘Private Eye’), and I thought that I’d include it on here incase anyone is interested, and so as I can point out how many of them I’ve read. Spoiler alert: It’s not many. Those that I’ve read are preceded by an *; those that I own a copy of but haven’t read yet, are marked ^, and those which I hope to buy a copy of, are preceded by ^^. I haven’t reformatted this list to match the lists of my new purchases, as- well. There’s too many to individually alter around, frankly. Sorry!

Interviews With Francis Bacon by David Sylvester
Billy Liar by Keith Waterhouse
Room At The Top by John Braine
On Having No Head by Douglass Harding
Kafka Was The Rage by Anatole Broyard
*A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
City Of Night by John Rechy
The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
*Iliad by Homer
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
Tadanori Yokoo by Tadanori Yokoo
Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Döblin
Inside The Whale And Other Essays by George Orwell
Mr. Norris Changes Trains by Christopher Isherwood
Halls Dictionary Of Subjects And Symbols In Art by James A. Hall
David Bomberg by Richard Cork
Blast by Wyndham Lewis
Passing by Nella Larson
Beyond The Brillo Box by Arthur C. Danto
The Origin Of Consciousness In The Breakdown Of The Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes
In Bluebeard’s Castle by George Steiner
Hawksmoor by Peter Ackroyd
The Divided Self by R. D. Laing
The Stranger by Albert Camus
Infants Of The Spring by Wallace Thurman
The Quest For Christa T by Christa Wolf
The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin
Nights At The Circus by Angela Carter
^^The Master And Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Herzog by Saul Bellow
Puckoon by Spike Milligan
Black Boy by Richard Wright
*The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea by Yukio Mishima
Darkness At Noon by Arthur Koestler
*The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot
McTeague by Frank Norris
^Money by Martin Amis
The Outsider by Colin Wilson
Strange People by Frank Edwards
English Journey by J.B. Priestley
A Confederacy Of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
The Day Of The Locust by Nathanael West
^1984 by George Orwell
The Life And Times Of Little Richard by Charles White
Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom: The Golden Age of Rock by Nik Cohn
Mystery Train by Greil Marcus
*Beano (comic, ’50s)
Raw (comic, ’80s)
White Noise by Don DeLillo
Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm And Blues And The Southern Dream Of Freedom by Peter Guralnick
Silence: Lectures And Writing by John Cage
Writers At Work: The Paris Review Interviews edited by Malcolm Cowley
The Sound Of The City: The Rise Of Rock And Roll by Charlie Gillete
Octobriana And The Russian Underground by Peter Sadecky
The Street by Ann Petry
Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon
Last Exit To Brooklyn By Hubert Selby, Jr.
A People’s History Of The United States by Howard Zinn
The Age Of American Unreason by Susan Jacoby
Metropolitan Life by Fran Lebowitz
The Coast Of Utopia by Tom Stoppard
The Bridge by Hart Crane
All The Emperor’s Horses by David Kidd
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
^^Earthly Powers by Anthony Burgess
The 42nd Parallel by John Dos Passos
Tales Of Beatnik Glory by Ed Saunders
The Bird Artist by Howard Norman
Nowhere To Run The Story Of Soul Music by Gerri Hirshey
Before The Deluge by Otto Friedrich
Sexual Personae: Art And Decadence From Nefertiti To Emily Dickinson by Camille Paglia
The American Way Of Death by Jessica Mitford
*In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
^^Lady Chatterly’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence
Teenage by Jon Savage
Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh
The Hidden Persuaders by Vance Packard
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
Viz (comic, early ’80s)
*Private Eye (satirical magazine, ’60s – ’80s)
Selected Poems by Frank O’Hara
The Trial Of Henry Kissinger by Christopher Hitchens
Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes
Maldodor by Comte de Lautréamont
Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonders by Lawrence Weschler
Zanoni by Edward Bulwer-Lytton
Transcendental Magic, Its Doctine and Ritual by Eliphas Lévi
The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels
The Leopard by Giusseppe Di Lampedusa
^^Inferno by Dante Alighieri
A Grave For A Dolphin by Alberto Denti di Pirajno
The Insult by Rupert Thomson
In Between The Sheets by Ian McEwan
A People’s Tragedy by Orlando Figes
Journey Into The Whirlwind by Eugenia Ginzburg

^^On The Road by Jack Kerouac

As you can see, there aren’t many of The Dame’s top 100 that I’ve read, but I have to say that the vast majority of these I’ve never heard of, to be honest. I will endeavour to look quite a few of them up, though, to see if they are worth pursuing at all. I’ve separated the last book on the list, as I’ve been reading up on this recently and am very intrigued by the ‘scroll’ manuscript of this that was produced- just for the sheer unusual nature of the document and the strange beauty that it possesses. Also, this is on my list of books to try and get a copy of soon; I don’t know why- I just fancy reading it.

Anyhoo- feel free to comment with your thoughts on any of these books, and if you can tell me more about what some of them are about, this would be greatly appreciated!

 

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Thoughts on ‘A Clockwork Orange’

clockwork orange

I posted a number of days ago my thoughts upon reading the first few chapters of Anthony Burgess’s ‘A Clockwork Orange’, and have taken longer reading this than I originally intended and imagined. However, I literally have just finished it, and felt that I should get some ideas down while they are still fresh- even if it is 3:35 AM!

Originally, the violence bothered me in both the sheer brutality of it and the way in which it is told with cold excitement and pleasure. However, I can now see that the violence enacted by Alex and his friends is but a narrative device on which to hang the central theme of the book. The idiosyncratic language used allows much of the violence to be covered up (or at least veiled), and after initially finding this daunting and inapproachable (due to having spent too long trying to decipher ‘Ulysses’), I soon read past this. Indeed, the use of the slang draws the reader in and makes them feel as though they are a part of the story, as they can understand what the narrator is saying and the words he uses, when many of the characters cannot break this code.

I was surprised to find myself as shocked by the violence depicted in the “cinny” as by that carried out in the first part of the book, and irritated that I begun to feel for Alex during his corrective treatment due to the way in which the supposedly ‘good’ State was treating him and abusing him phycholigically. I say irritated, as I begun the book wanting to hate Alex, and  convinced myself that I would be detached from his character. Also, after hearing of the rapes and attacks, I was shocked by the slow revelation that the characters carrying out these acts were so young, with gradual references to school, living with parents, and the use of milk-bars to suggest the adult pub, but with a more childish edge.

The central theme of the novel (novella?) is summed up initially by the charlie (prison chaplain) when he says:

“It may not be nice to be good, little 6655321. It may be horrible to be good. … 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?”

It can be seen that the enforced good is so rigorously and violently imposed that it ceases to be good, and becomes a form of evil and ‘bad’ in itself; whereas the bad commited under one’s own free will becomes more ‘good’ in comparison due to the retention of human free will. Interestingly, the US market received the book upon its original publication in 1962 (and subsequent publications until 1986) without the final chapter, leaving Alex to return to his own ways. It is this ominous and defeatest ending that Kubrick used to close his film on, making the story a cyclical one that becomes not so much about a singular character named Alex, but about an everyman character named Alex, whose tale is to be echoed on and on and on. However, the original book in its UK edition contains a further chapter which I feel actually reveals the true message of the book. Burgess gave ‘A Clockwork Orange’ 21 chapters to relate to the age at which people are seen to become full adults, and in this final, 21st chapter, the 18-year-old Alex realises that even though he has regained the free will to commit acts of violence, it is actually the love of a wife and the role of a father that he wishes to choose for himself. Yes, we can see that the narrator is finally choosing to be good rather than having it imposed upon him, but we also become aware that the entire book has been an (albeit very exaggerated) alegory for a person’s teenage years and their path to maturity and adulthood: He rebels against his parents and society; he is punished for this and adults attempt to mould him into a better person (or the person that society wishes them to be); this works for a time, but then the child has to work out for themselves that this adult life is what they want, not what they are told they want; finally, the rebellion is put behind them and they become an adult. Personally, for me this is the bigger message of the book, and one that turns this book from an exploration of a philosphical conundrum to a coming-of-age story with a more powerful and applicable message.

All-in-all- not what I expected, but a lot better and a book I would thoughroughy recommend.

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First thoughts on ‘A Clockwork Orange’

Image

Before starting this blog, I managed to finally finish reading ‘Ulysses’, which I begun in the summer of 2012 before going to uni. Subsequently, I managed to read Truman Capote’s ‘Summer Crossing’, George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ and Kurt Vonnegut’s ‘Slaughterhouse 5’ in a week, and I will post my thoughts on some of these in due course. However, I have now begun to read ‘A Clockwork Orange’ in the edition shown above, and thought that I’d put down a few thoughts upon finishing the first few chapters.

I knew from the reputation of the film version by Stanley Kubrick that the book might be shocking and a tad violent, but I was slightly surprised by just how violent and coldly so it seems to be. Despite the acts being disguised through the interesting Joycean use of language, the rape scene in chapter 2 comes across as shocking to say the least, partly in the level of enjoyment seen to have been gained from it by Alex and the electrified retelling of it as though it were a playful and exciting act. I will read the rest of the novel with some trepidation, but also intregue, as I want to see how far Burgess takes the shock factor, and how much further he stretches language- a technique I did not expect him to employ, but much prefer in this case than I did in ‘Ulysses’.

I will post my further thoughts as I progress with the book.

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