Monday, July 5, 2010

Lost in translation

Current book: A Clockwork Orange
Pages read: 1 - 75

Sloshy this merzky raskazz, O my brothers, of our young chelloveck Alex and his band of droogs. When we meet them, they're engaged in a bit of the old ultra-violence, goolying about and tolchoking innocent malchicks in the nochy. They get some in-out-in-out, as well, crast some cutter from a few doms, and make the devotchkas creech all gromky-like. Dim, a big, strong malchick, has a bit of drat with Alex, who's the leader of the gruppa, and Alex gives him a real horrorshow tolchok in front of his droogs, Pete and Georgie. Well, it seems like jeezny will itty on, but after a day of lubbilubbing with a couple of young ptitsas, Alex meets up with his droogs and finds that Dim is all bezoomy about the tolchok he got the previous nochy. Alex teaches him a lesson, spilling some of his krovvy in a bitva, but afterward, when Alex is trying to crast another dom, his droogs turn on him and give him up to the millicents. So there's our young Alex, clopped on the gulliver by the rozzes and waiting in the statja for whatever's next. It's not smotting real horrorshow, either, because it turns out that one of the babooshkas he tolchoked when he was crasting a dom has gone and snuffed it.

Shall we try it again in English?

Listen to this filthy story, readers, of our young fellow Alex and his band of friends. When we meet them, they're engaged in theft and vandalism, wandering around and hitting people all night. They commit quite a bit of rape, too, steal some money from a few houses, and make the women scream loudly. Dim, a big, strong boy, has a bit of a fight with Alex, who's the leader of the group, and Alex gives him a good smack in front of his friends, Pete and Georgie. Well, it seems like life will go on, but after a day of raping a couple of underage girls, Alex meets up with his friends and finds that Dim is angry about getting smacked the previous night. Alex teaches him a lesson, spilling some of his blood in a fight, but afterward, when Alex is trying to rob another house, his friends turn on him and give him up to the police. So there's our young Alex, knocked on the head by the cops and waiting in jail for whatever's next. It's not looking good, either, because it turns out that one of the old women he hit when he was robbing a house has died.

Well, there you have it, really. Burgess's use of invented slang is nothing short of masterful, and the voice he creates for the main character, Alex, is impressively detached and horrifying. The stories of Alex and his friends' exploits are disturbing and off-putting, of course, but you can't deny that Burgess captures the absolute horror of complete immorality. There's nothing that Alex and his friends won't do, and they get a great deal of joy out of raping, beating, and terrorizing their entire community. I've just finished "Book I", and Burgess saves the revelation of Alex's age for the very end of this part, and to good effect. It's not until he's sitting in jail after having committed all these terrible crimes that we discover that he's only 15. I'll discuss the implications of all of the violence when we've got a bit more of the plot to include, but obviously there is something deeply wrong with the society in which the story takes place.

The slang, though, to come back to it, is really very impressive. A lot of it is based on Russian, but some is just out of Burgess's head, as well, and some comes from cockney rhyming slang. There's something about it that's just absolutely and completely believable. It's decipherable, with effort and context clues, which makes it an entertaining mental exercise, but it's also internally consistent, well constructed, and ubiquitous without being forced. In other words, he uses it enough to seem realistic, but not so much that it seems like he's showing off.

I didn't notice, the first time I read this, that it takes place in a Soviet-state version of Britain. (Or I did notice but completely forgot.) I'm going to have to see just how much Burgess intends for the book to indict the Communist system. It certainly seems like he's painting the future of Communism as a hellish dystopia, but it's also possible that he's just painting the future in general as a hellish dystopia. Then again, the Soviet references are constant and blatant, so there's a strong argument in favor of the former. We'll see.

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, that's a lot of Russian.

    Also, you're at the half-way point in the list!



A Clockwork Orange (5) A Good Man Is Hard to Find (4) A Passage to India (6) A Room with a View (3) A Separate Peace (2) Absalom Absalom (6) Achebe (5) Adams (3) All the King's Men (8) An American Tragedy (17) Atlas Shrugged (16) Babbitt (8) back from hiatus (1) baking (11) Baldwin (4) Baum (3) Bonfire of the Vanities (6) borderline (12) Brideshead Revisited (9) Burgess (5) Burroughs (1) canon (1) Capote (6) Cat's Cradle (3) Cather (19) cheesecake (4) Chopin (4) Conrad (5) cooking (25) Death Comes for the Archbishop (6) DeLillo (6) Dreiser (17) du Maurier (2) Edith Wharton (1) emergency (2) Ethan Frome (1) excuses (141) Faulkner (9) Felicia DeSmith (3) Finnegan's Wake (1) Fitzgerald (24) For Whom the Bell Tolls (3) Forster (19) Fowles (7) Franny and Zooey (2) Go Tell It on the Mountain (4) Grahame (2) Guest post (3) Hammett (2) Hemingway (5) hiatus (4) holiday (5) horrible (4) Howards End (6) In Cold Blood (6) In Our Time (1) Irving (6) James (25) Jazz (1) Joyce (1) Keneally (7) Kerouac (5) Kim (7) Kipling (7) Knowles (2) Lady Chatterly's Lover (6) Lawrence (26) Lewis (13) Light in August (3) London (3) Look Homeward Angel (9) Lord Jim (5) Mailer (7) Main Street (5) Midnight's Children (9) Miller (6) Morrison (1) Mrs. Dalloway (3) My Antonia (6) not a novel (4) O Pioneers (7) O'Connor (4) On the Road (5) Orlando (4) other books (7) page updates (1) Rabbit Run (4) Rand (24) Rebecca (2) recap (1) Rhys (6) Rushdie (18) Salinger (2) Schindler's List (7) Sinclair (6) Sons And Lovers (12) Sophie's Choice (10) Star Trek (1) Stein (5) Styron (10) Tender is the Night (10) The Age of Innocence (4) The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (5) The Awakening (4) The Beautiful and the Damned (8) The Bostonians (9) The Call of the Wild (3) The Fellowship of the Ring (5) The Fountainhead (8) The French Lieutenant's Woman (7) The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (2) The Jungle (6) The Lord of the Rings (16) The Maltese Falcon (2) The Naked and the Dead (7) The Naked Lunch (1) The Old Man and the Sea (1) The Portrait of a Lady (10) The Return of the King (6) The Satanic Verses (9) The Two Towers (5) The War of the Worlds (4) The Wind in the Willows (2) The Wings of the Dove (6) The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (3) The World According to Garp (6) Things Fall Apart (6) This Side of Paradise (6) Thomas Wolfe (9) To the Lighthouse (3) Tolkien (16) Tom Wolfe (6) Triv (2) Tropic of Cancer (6) unworthy (33) Updike (4) vacation (2) Vonnegut (3) Warren (8) Waugh (9) Wells (4) Wharton (4) Where Angels Fear to Tread (4) White Noise (6) Wide Sargasso Sea (6) Women In Love (8) Woolf (10) worthy (25)