Anthony Burgess Explains the Meaning of ‘A Clockwork Orange’ in This Week’s ‘New Yorker’


We recently took issue with the sizable, baffling group of A Clockwork Orange cultists who seem to think the novel’s “ultraviolent” protagonist, Alex, is the height of cool. To idolize this character is to seriously misunderstand the story Anthony Burgess is telling — but what did the author actually want readers to get out of the book? In this week’s science fiction issue, which also includes the much-buzzed-about Jennifer Egan story that premiered via Twitter, The New Yorker has printed a previously unpublished 1973 essay by the late Burgess that tackles precisely this question.

“The Clockwork Condition” explains everything from how he settled on the book’s title and subject to why he chose the name “Alex,” and, most fascinatingly, illuminates the intentions behind A Clockwork Orange. “What I was trying to say was that it is better to be bad of one’s own free will than to be good through scientific brainwashing,” Burgess writes. “When Alex has the power of choice, he chooses only violence. But, as his love of music shows, there are other areas of choice.” If you’re a New Yorker subscriber, you can read the entire piece here; if you’re not, the sci-fi issue promises to be worth dropping a few dollars at the newsstand, with fiction by Junot Díaz, Jonathan Lethem, and Sam Lipsyte in addition to Egan, as well as essays by Colson Whitehead and Laura Miller and TV critic Emily Nussbam taking on Doctor Who and Community. [via Boing Boing]