[Work: A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess, 1962]
Burgess’ Myopic Morality:

Why Anthony Burgess’ Infamous A Clockwork Orange is Stronger Without its Original Last Chapter

 

Anthony Burgess Sketch by M.R.P. - A Clockwork Orange - bad last chapter 21

Caricature Sketch by M.R.P.
[High-res prints available here]

Introduction:

I really think that there is no better demonstration of the valuable insight and truth behind the concept we know as ‘the death of the author‘ than A Clockwork Orange. Anthony Burgess wrote one of the greatest works of philosophical farce of the twentieth century—in many ways as strong in that genre as is Voltaire’s Candide—and then lived out the remaining 30 years of his life without really realizing he had done so. And on the strength of luck (as well as a savvy editor, and later a savvy director), his accidental stroke of genius will be remembered in perpetuity.

Do not mistake this as outright disparagement of Burgess’ abilities as an artist. Far from it, I think he was a clever writer, a subtle reader of classic literature, and a capable composer. But I also think that he was too old-fashioned, moralistic, and traditionally intellectual to notice the real virtues of his work in A Clockwork Orange.

And the great book that he decried (his own), which became the great film that he decried (Kubrick’s), was something that he dedicated much time and effort to denigrating in his later years. He sneered at it and dismissed it whenever it came up, and—most egregiously, from my perspective—he worked hard to ensure that a weaker version of the book (which he successfully marketed as the true version of the book) became the primary version available to the world.

The nature of this article is such that it requires spoiling basic plot details of A Clockwork Orange, so you should only continue reading after this paragraph if you either do not mind spoilers or have already read the book (or seen its 1971 film adaptation).

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[Work: A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess, 1962]
Burgess’ Myopic Morality:

Why Anthony Burgess’ Infamous A Clockwork Orange is Stronger Without its Original Last Chapter

was last modified: July 27th, 2018 by Daniel Podgorski

[Work: Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë, 1847]
Powerful Vision:

The Power of Women and the Motif of Sight in Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

 

Introduction:

Charlotte Brontë Sketch by M.R.P. - Jane Eyre - feminism and vision

Caricature Sketch by M.R.P.
[High-res prints available here]

The revolutionary and game-changing nature of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre in the history of literature is easily forgotten. The novel seems to modern readers, after all, a conventionally Victorian exercise in listening to the inner struggles of a person navigating a highly ordered and repressive society. But I consider that perspective to be akin to the ‘Seinfeld is Unfunny’ trope, insofar as anyone leveling that accusation must necessarily have limited knowledge of the medium.

Brontë’s sustained, sensitive, and extremely personal examination of the thoughts and feelings of her character Jane Eyre was daring and unconventional. It is no coincidence that many late Victorian realists as well as many early twentieth century Modernists cite Jane Eyre as a big influence. I could talk about this book from any of six or seven angles, but to give this article some focus (and prevent my endless rambling) I would like to make the case for Brontë’s achievement through just one of Jane Eyre‘s motifs: vision.

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[Work: Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë, 1847]
Powerful Vision:

The Power of Women and the Motif of Sight in Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

was last modified: December 21st, 2017 by Daniel Podgorski

[Work: Cat’s Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut, 1963]
Laughing at the Worst:

The Equal-parts-comedic-and-nihilistic Critique of Inhumane Research in Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle

 

Kurt Vonnegut Sketch by M.R.P. - Cat's Cradle - arms race satire

Caricature Sketch by M.R.P.
[High-res prints available here]

Introduction:

Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut is a member of a class of novels which could arguably not have surfaced without the Cold War as their context. It is brimming with paranoia, and it manages to frame the greatest of tragedies as the subtlest and most inevitable of truths. I’m not entirely sure what to call work like this: perhaps something like ‘bureaucratic sci-fi.’ But whatever you call it, what it provides is a stinging criticism of a society that knowingly teeters on the brink of destruction, and which does so with a smile. Where there is something to smile about, reasons Vonnegut, there is something to laugh about. Cat’s Cradle, despite having one of the bleakest and most nihilistic plots of any of Kurt Vonnegut’s novels, manages to be one of his most hopeful, charming, and humorous works.

Cat’s Cradle holds nothing sacred, and—like much of Vonnegut’s work—its message may be summed up succinctly by a sigh that comes through a grin. It takes to task humans that are indifferent to human suffering; technological advancements that are made without humanistic aims; and spiritual as well as governmental institutions which fail to provide happiness to their participants. It is pithy, clever, and confusing, and it just might be my favorite Kurt Vonnegut novel.

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[Work: Cat’s Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut, 1963]
Laughing at the Worst:

The Equal-parts-comedic-and-nihilistic Critique of Inhumane Research in Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle

was last modified: December 23rd, 2017 by Daniel Podgorski

[Work: Nausea, Jean-Paul Sartre, 1938]
Meeting Angst and Despair:

A Brief Introduction to the Symbols and Revelations to be Found in Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nausea

 

Introduction:

Nausea - Jean-Paul Sartre - philosophy, symbolism, literatureThe book that I would like to analytically introduce and recommend today is one that is most assuredly not for everyone. And I don’t mean that it’s not for everyone because its content is shocking, like American Psycho, nor because its content is controversial, like Lolita, nor because its content is difficult, like Gravity’s Rainbow.

No, Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nausea is not for everyone because it’s entirely possible to read the book cover-to-cover without noticing what the book is doing; and if you do exactly that, then you are likely to find the book rather boring. In fact, Nausea is at its best and most likeable when its unassuming content becomes for you shocking, controversial, and difficult. So I’m now going to try my best to prevent you from having that first experience, so that you can enjoy this amazing work of literature.

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[Work: Nausea, Jean-Paul Sartre, 1938]
Meeting Angst and Despair:

A Brief Introduction to the Symbols and Revelations to be Found in Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nausea

was last modified: December 21st, 2017 by Daniel Podgorski

[Work: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot, 2010]
Creative Journalism:

American Race Politics, Perspective, and Shifting Culture in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

 

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks book cover - Rebecca Skloot - racism, biography, medical science, segregation

Introduction:

An incident in literary history that I have previously covered for this series was when, about 40 years ago, an essay by Chinua Achebe was published that changed the way literary scholars talked about Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. In the essay, Achebe leveled claims of blatant, overarching, and thorough racism in Conrad’s time-tested classic about imperialism in Africa.

The ensuing devaluation of Conrad’s novella was not permanent, however, and Heart of Darkness is once again at the forefront of most higher-level high-school and lower-division university curricula. But the conversations about it have changed, and now its racism is discussed alongside the complexity of its visual imagery. Indeed, in high schools across America Heart of Darkness is taught in the same classrooms as Achebe’s own novel, Things Fall Apart, with its African perspective on imperialism.

The recent popular success of Rebecca Skloot’s work of creative nonfiction, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, may be seen as a further incident in the progressive recontextualization of historical objects and ideas; in Skloot’s case, the historical object is one of immense scientific importance: the HeLa cell. Just like Conrad’s novella, the importance of the HeLa cell is obviously not diminished by the exploitation in its history, but that exploitation has become an integral part of telling that history.

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[Work: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot, 2010]
Creative Journalism:

American Race Politics, Perspective, and Shifting Culture in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

was last modified: December 23rd, 2017 by Daniel Podgorski