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Topic: Classics Challenge- Dystopias

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Subject: Classics Challenge- Dystopias
Date Posted: 1/10/2012 6:54 PM ET
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I finished my dystopian novel- A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess.  I've loved the movie since I was 10 years old but never read the book.  It's one of those rare cases where the book and movie are equally brilliant, mostly thanks to Stanley Kubrick's gorgeously mad visual interpretation of Burgess' hyperviolent London where teenage criminals run amok unchecked and the government conditions people to be moral like Pavlov's dogs.

Possible spoilers below for anyone who minds:

The main difference, and the main point I keep thinking about is the difference in the ending between the UK version of the book and the film & US version of the books.  Burgess wrote 21 chapters, on purpose to equate to 21 being the generally accepted age of adulthood and responsibility for ones' own actions.  The US version of the book cut out the 21st chapter, deeming it too redemptive.  In this chapter, Alex starts to grow up and become weary of his rootless life of savage, meaningless violence.  He decides to have a son and start to lead an adult life but reflects that his son will grow up to do the same sorts of violent things he himself did in his teenage years. 

The film and US version of the book end with the 20th chapter- with Alex's conditioning against violence being reversed and his return to his amoral ways: "I was cured alright".  I love that as the final line of the film, it's got great dramatic impact.  But other than that, I can't make up my mind which ending I find more believable and satisfying.  Do people really change that much?  Do growing up and growing a conscience mean the same thing?  I had a professor in college who told us we weren't fully human until we'd fallen in love and I kept thinking of that while reading the 21st chapter.  Dramatically, does Alex returning to his natural inclination towards violence work better than his voluntary abandonment of it?  Would he be coming full circle or just not growing as a character?  Can we believe that someone would become "good" just because they start to find evil boring?

A Clockwork Orange raises a lot of intensely interesting and frustrating questions about the nature of morality and I highly recommend it.  I may still read my other two dystopia picks (Lord of the Flies and Children of Men) if I get a chance because I just love the genre.

What other picks have people read for this category and what did you think of them?

Date Posted: 1/13/2012 10:26 AM ET
Member Since: 9/25/2006
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Classics: Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451 and 1984 are all well worth reading - I think all will survive and be read for a long time.

Phillip K. Dick's science fcition always has lot of ideas about the tuture in which stuff is different but human beings are subject to the same motives and desires: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? / The Man Who Japed  / The Man in the High Castle / A Scanner Darkly (curioius movie too) / The 3 Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch

Thomas Disch's Camp Concentration and On Wings of Song are good but probably dated, being from the 1970s and all.

Vonnegut's Player Piano and Cat's Cradle will appeal to the teenager in a certain kind of reader.

Other greats of dystopic lit: We (Yevgeny Zamyatin), The Sleeper Awakes (HG Wells) and The Wanting Seed (Anthony Burgess)

More political: Invitation to a Beheading (VL. Nabokov) and It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis, probably worth re-reading in an election year.

Matt C. (mattc) - ,
Date Posted: 1/13/2012 9:17 PM ET
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It seems like I've read most of the better known dystopias.  I did find a "top 10" dystopia list somewhere that listed The Iron Heel by Jack London...the Kindle version is free, so that was my choice.  I gather it's more political in nature that futuristic and science fiction-y like most dystopias are.

Date Posted: 2/21/2012 9:47 AM ET
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***SPOILERS***SPOILERS***SPOILERS***

I finished reading "A Clockwork Orange" a few days ago.  I originally caught the movie at around midnight several years.  I was shocked and fascinated by it.  It remains one of my favorite movies.  This year I finally read it.

I probably would have put it down for the simple fact that the book is written with so much slang.  Since I had watched the movie, which has a wonderfully voiced "humble narrator", I was better able to get into it.  I just read it in my "humble narrator's" voice and was much better able to get through it.  The movie follows the same storyline and events, but some parts are much more detailed and disturbing.

In the 20 chapter version, also found in the movie cut, Alex recovers from the learned behavior that forces him not to do violence.  In these two versions he ends up going back to his violent ways and has no intention of changing.  He's happy to be back to the way he was.  I like the 20 chapter version because there are some people who are like that.  They do not agree with society and will do as they will despite knowing that society views it as wrong. They lack the empathy to understand why they shouldn't do these things.

In the 21 chapter version, Alex is out and about doing violent things.  One day he retires early, not sure what's wrong with him.  He meets up with one of his old "droogies" and sees that he's married.  At this point Alex realizes that maybe he doesn't want to do all these violent things any more.  He wants to go find a wife of his own and maybe even have a son, who he'll pass his wisdom down to...which he promptly realizes will be ignored just as easily as he ignored his own father's.  I like this ending because it shows that many people can and do mature out of their undesirable behaviors.

***END SPOILERS***

Date Posted: 2/21/2012 11:17 AM ET
Member Since: 4/4/2009
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In my never humble opinion, we are in danger of expanding our definition of dystopia to the point that is becomes amorphous and meaningless.

No, on furher examination of the lists, we are pretty well past that point.

Date Posted: 2/21/2012 7:49 PM ET
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John, which of the works mentioned do you consider expanding the definition of dystopia?

Date Posted: 2/21/2012 11:48 PM ET
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I better start with a defiition. This one comes from The Encyclopedia of LIterature by Merriam Webster: An imaginary place where people lead dehumanized and often fearful lives. My presumption is that people means the great majority of the populace, otherwise any book of fiction where some people lead dehumanized and often fearful lives qualifies as a dystopia, effectively rendering the term amorphous and meaningless.

And I will start with A Clockwork Orange.

And I hesitate to pick on Matt, who in my estimation is one of the better-read and closer to having some standards as far as a definition of a classic than at least 80% of the participants in this forum. Nevertheless, all the books about Nazi Germany, Stalin's Russia, and most definitely It Can't Happen Here obviously do not qualify as dystopian. Cat's Cradle definitely qualifies. In fact, any book by Vonnegut will. He always tells the same story; his.

Date Posted: 2/22/2012 12:16 PM ET
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Well, pick on me since my inclusion of It Can't Happen Here and the other overtly political novels was indeed based on my own understanding of a dystopia, which is "an imaginary place, set in the future, which is nightmarish for most people." Even per my own understanding, It Can't Happen Here and We and Beheading don't fit that defintion. Maybe they are better placed in the catergory of "alternate reality" in which the writer takes trends all too present in society and exaggerates them to describe another history, an alternative now or possible future. Disch and Dick and Ellison do that all the time. Anyway, when I start making lists, i go a little nutz and go far afield easily - maybe because my paying job is largely gathering info and making lists. It's because I work for Santa Claus, one of his very few non-elfin employees. So in this forum, be good for goodness sake.....



Last Edited on: 2/22/12 12:20 PM ET - Total times edited: 3
Date Posted: 2/22/2012 12:23 PM ET
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Matt,yes   Right on, man. You are, indeed, a cool rocking cat  with a sense of humor to boot.

And please to never tell which of your lists you put me on.

Date Posted: 2/22/2012 3:03 PM ET
Member Since: 10/17/2006
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Now I'm trying to figure out which books fit John's definition, and which Matt's . . . .?  For instance, Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale?  

Aarrrgggghhhhh!

Date Posted: 2/22/2012 4:04 PM ET
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Not close to a classic on at least two counts: not old enough; nothing close to unduring excellence.

Category: literature of whatever the name is for the mirror image of misogynist literature. As in literature permeated through and through with a hatred of males.

And if you doubt my analysis, read any five or ten books by Margaret Atwood and show me one adult male who is presented as a sympathetic character. If there is even a single one, he must have escaped my notice.

Date Posted: 2/22/2012 6:34 PM ET
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My presumption is that people means the great majority of the populace, otherwise any book of fiction where some people lead dehumanized and often fearful lives qualifies as a dystopia, effectively rendering the term amorphous and meaningless.

A great majority of the populace is pretty subjective though, classic status aside.  For example, in Atwood's A Handmaid's Tale the oppressed class consists solely of fertile women.  In the world of the book, that includes about half the female population, which would theoretically be about 25% of the total human population.  Is that enough to qualify?

I'm absolutely going to argue that ACO is a dystopian novel.  In A Clockwork Orange Burgess only describes a certain population in England, but the people in that population consist of either sadistic gangs, terrorized suburban citizens or impotent government officials who can't control the violence except by physiologically programing the gang members against it (which ultimately fails, rendering them doubly useless).  Granted, we don't know if conditions are as bad in New York, Tokyo, Kenya etc. but the society that is the focus of the novel is certainly fearful and dehumanized.

Likewise, Fahrenheit 451 also neglects to describe conditions worldwide.  We are left to assume that conditions are the same- with international oppression and censorship.  The Hunger Games describes the state of affairs on the North American continent, but is it not a dystopia if things are hunky dory in Asia?   Even in 1984 we have only Big Brother's word for it (and we know how reliable that is) that the rest of the world has degenerated as much as Airstrip 1, Oceania.

Also, Jon Stewart called it a dystopian novel:



Last Edited on: 2/22/12 7:24 PM ET - Total times edited: 2
Date Posted: 2/23/2012 11:03 AM ET
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In A Clockwork Orange Burgess only describes a certain population in England, but the people in that population consist of either sadistic gangs, terrorized suburban citizens or impotent government officials who can't control the violence except by physiologically programing the gang members against it (which ultimately fails, rendering them doubly useless).

That's exactly what I came on here to say.  The larger population is experiencing the terror due to gangs like the one Alex belongs to which would make it dystopia; not because of Alex's experience.



Last Edited on: 2/23/12 11:03 AM ET - Total times edited: 1
Matt C. (mattc) - ,
Date Posted: 2/23/2012 1:53 PM ET
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I am a little lost...am I Matt, or is Matt B. the real Matt?  

If you care to dispute the idea that The Iron Heel is a dystopia, I haven't read it, so I don't know where to place it myself.

I do think A Clockwork Orange is intended to be a true dystopia.  I agree the gang violence itself is not enough of an indicator, but all of it taken together, with subtly drawn but brutal power of power of the police state indicate a dystopia.  I feel that, along with 1984, the message is more powerful by being only an exaggeration of the status quo, not a distant speculative future.  That said, I have a hard time qualifying it as a classic.  I didn't think it was particularly well-written, and I doubt anyone my age would have read it were it not for the movie (and we probably wouldn't have seen the movie, either, except that it contained nudity).

I have no comment on Margaret Atwood other than to say that, by any reckoning, she is a contemporary author.

 

Date Posted: 2/23/2012 3:16 PM ET
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I'm not sure what age you are, Matt C, but I'm 27 and would have seen the film of ACO for many reasons although nudity wouldn't have been one of the first that sprang to mind. I saw it because I'm a film buff, I love Kubrick and I'm incurably drawn to things that are banned (I first heard of it on a list of films banned in different countries). I think the film is a classic (since film is so much younger a medium I suppose 50-odd years should be old enough to qualify) and I think it's brilliant. As for the book, the writing may not be great but it is arresting and unique and very few authors can invent slang that works so seamlessly in with real slang and the King's English.

Last Edited on: 2/23/12 3:17 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Matt C. (mattc) - ,
Date Posted: 2/23/2012 3:52 PM ET
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This year is the 50th anniversary of A Clockwork Orange (the novel, the film is from 1971).  I am 30 myself, and was being a little tongue in cheek about the nudity in the film...but I think you're proving the point, sevenspiders, because the film was obviously banned for nudity, and obviously you are interested in the book because you were interested in the banned film.  It's also fair to point out that both a 10 year-old girl and an elderly woman were transformed into voluptuous models from book to film, for no other reason than to further sexualize the film.  I agree the use of slang is creative, but Burgess did not invent the words, and from a writer's standpoint they are not that difficult to insert into a passage.  

I didn't plan to dump on the book so much.  I don't even think it's bad...I just think it's overhyped, and I think the hype is due almost entirely to Stanley Kubrick.  

Date Posted: 2/23/2012 4:04 PM ET
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I'm not denying a certain amount of sexualization in the film, but from what I've read the decision to change a sexual assault on two adolescent girls (as in the book) into a consensual ménage a trois with two adult women was made because a depiction of child-rape was considered crossing a line, even for Kurbicks vision. More a case of something that works in print not working on screen. I'm not sure what old woman you're talking about- there's an attack on an elderly woman in both the film and book- and apart from the fact that Alex attacks her with a giant phallic sculpture the attack isn't sexualized. Also from what I've read, the film was banned for its violence as much as for nudity and because it was blamed for inspiring certain 'copycat' gangs in London.

Last Edited on: 2/23/12 4:07 PM ET - Total times edited: 2
Matt C. (mattc) - ,
Date Posted: 2/23/2012 4:38 PM ET
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I don't really want to argue details...but (Spoiler Alert!) in the book Alex's gang breaks up the rape of a 10 year-old girl.  In the movie he interrupts the rape of an adult woman, or at least I took it that way.  The older woman Alex attacks in the movie is maybe in her 40s, and looked (to my eye) like a slightly aged Playboy centerfold.  My reading if this character in the book was that she was 70+ 

Date Posted: 2/23/2012 6:42 PM ET
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Fair enough.  And since I'm a fan of the genre, does anyone have opinions on any of the other ones mentioned here that might be worth reading? (Or any not mentioned here that also might be worth reading).  I've already read the basics (1984, Fahrenheit 451, Anthem, Brave New World, A Handmaid's Tale)

Date Posted: 2/26/2012 9:16 PM ET
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On the subject of dystopias, irregardless of age or quality: And I do not intend to prescriptive in any way, because all I seek to discuss are matters I am unsure of and seeking the thoughts and opinions of others.

When I look over the list of books that are universally regarded as dystopias, it seems to me that in all of them, the governing forces of the society regard it as a true utopia. Have I got that right? And if that is so, what to make of that?

I have another question, too, but think I will see what you'uns have to say about this one.

BTW, I was previously referring to Matt C. In fact I was totally unaware that Matt B, the Buffalosoldier, was a different poster entirely.

Matt C. (mattc) - ,
Date Posted: 2/26/2012 10:07 PM ET
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I have no real opinion regarding the definition of dystopias, but I would not say that in 1984, for instance, the powers that be truly think their society is a utopia.

Date Posted: 2/27/2012 2:39 PM ET
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Re The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood----while I do not urge the reading of this novel on anyone, I do submit that the fact that the "story" now exists in three artistic formats means (IMO) that its ideas have captured quite a lot of the attention of the reading, film-going, and opera-attending public.  Now, what that means, I dunno . . . .



Last Edited on: 2/27/12 2:41 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 2/27/2012 4:45 PM ET
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Bonnie, this book was the turning point of my love for Atwood. Even though I've read everything else she's written, the magic has long been gone (love those early books!)

                                                                                                                         Rose

Kat (polbio) -
Date Posted: 3/2/2012 12:29 PM ET
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Well Bonnie loaned me It Cant Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis, and I was hoping to use it as the Dystopia choice. I guess I wont know until I finish reading it if it will count. Otherwise I am back to my previous choices.

 I have always thought that a Dystopia was an Utopia that went wrong. The governing power is trying to create a utopia by repressing their population. Such as in 1984, Animal Farm, and Fahrenheit 451. I thought being futuristic had nothing to do with dystopias though they are usually written as a warning to society in which case they take place in the future to its author. Like 1984 was written in 1949. I think they just seem futuristic when we read them.

Date Posted: 3/2/2012 4:18 PM ET
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Footnote to this discussion of "utopias" and "dystopias":   For a kind of obverse side to consideration of community harmony or disharmony, look for Birds Without Wings, by Louis de Bernières.  It tells the story of a community in a crossroads of the pre-World War I world (somewhere in Anatolia?), in which neighbors of many religious faiths, nationalities, ethnicities, and languages, interact, intermarry, and get along just fine, thank you, by being compassionate, tolerant human beings.  Alas, the events of the "wider world" arrive on their doorsteps and change all that.  But for a while, it was a peaceful little place with lots of "diversity", and I relish the time I spent in it . . .

 



Last Edited on: 3/3/12 4:53 PM ET - Total times edited: 3
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