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"Clockwork" Language Reconsidered: Iconicity and Narrative in Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange Robbie B. H. GoA Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange is a novel structured around repetitive patterns, the most obvious being its three-part division, each beginning with an identical question ("What's it going to be then, eh?"). Philip Ray sees this tripartite structure as an imitation of the ABA pattern of the eighteenth-century Italian "da capo aria," suggesting that Alex's movement towards law-abiding adulthood takes on the characteristics of a formal, predictable return within a set-piece (137). Burgess himself speaks of the "arithmology" of the original 21-chapter novel ("21 being the symbol of human maturity"), suggesting that the narrative's form mimes the organic and social development of the protagonist Alex, although this organic arithmology does not totally escape the suggestion that Alex's maturity is a kind of depersonalising and inorganic assimilation into the norm or social standard (Play with Music, vi). Indeed, this is precisely the objection made by the first American publisher of the novel, W. W. Norton, which argued that the final chapter should be omitted in order to minimise the sense of a reassuring and expected moral conformity at the end of Alex's career.1 Structural repetition reinforces Burgess's vision of the constraints of social structures, which create merely a "clockwork" morality through JNT: Journal of Narrative Theory 30.2 (Summer 2000): 263-280. Copyright © 2000 by JNT: Journal of Narrative Theory. 264 INT Skinnerian conditioning and other less obvious, more insidious means— and language itself, as a socializing system, is not exempt from this indictment . M. Keith Booker argues that the teen language, "Nadsat," spoken by the narrator Alex, represents various forms of entrapment and conditioning : it may reflect the subtle influence of "Russian propaganda," as well as having an "alienating" effect on its teen speakers, since it cannot be understood by mainstream society. Furthermore, its "lust for violence" and "contempt for women" also play some role in determining Alex's repetitive crimes (95-97). Esther Petix goes so far as to find in Nadsat "the Platonic form of mechanism: the cadence of a metronome and the tickingtocking ramifications of humanity without its essence" (126). Other scholars who are less concerned with the formal repetitions in the narrative structure of his novel, nevertheless also emphasize Burgess's "structuralist " foregrounding of the "ideal patterns" of language rules and rhetorical elements.2 Burgess's use of language in this novel makes a statement about the individual 's struggle (with varying degrees of sincerity and effectiveness) for authenticity under dystopian conditions of social control. Interwoven into the larger repetitive structures of the novel are moments of startling linguistic variation and experimentation, stemming on the one hand from Alex's neologistic playfulness and inventiveness, and on the other from his mimicry of the linguistic performances of others around him. Theo D'Haen, who argues the minority view that Alex represents the artistic impulse , the "creative, imaginative, liberating uses of language," bases bis argument in part on Alex's superior linguistic flexibility, since he can use a "gentleman's goloss" as well as his teen argot Nadsat (46). It is worth noting from the beginning that Alex's narrative is thus curiously hybrid and heteroglossic, rebelliously inventive at one moment, and perfectly imitative and conformist (despite his often satirical or deceptive intent) the next. In this light, it does seem too optimistic to argue (as D'Haen does) that at the end, there is a "preservation of the protagonist's linguistic creativity and imagination, and of his individuality" (49). The dominance of the larger repetitive structures in the novel seems clear; what is less clear is the scope for individual freedom and inventiveness within such larger structures. The novel's vision of social control is thus encoded in the different kinds of linguistic performances on the part of Alex, the Everyman of this "Clockwork" Language Reconsidered 265 dystopian world. Alex's "infantile" experiments with language—with small morphemic units and the possibilities of transplanting them to create new words, with sounds and their iconic and phonemic qualities—constitutes a sort of micro-politics of the individual (125...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9248
Print ISSN
1549-0815
Pages
pp. 263-280
Launched on MUSE
2010-10-13
Open Access
No
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