Sunday 25 June 2017

Clockwork Language - Glossary of Nadsat

The phrase “As queer as a clockwork orange,” which inspired the title of Anthony Burgess' famous novel, is first of all “good old East-London slang,” as the author explains in an interview conducted after the success of Stanley Kubrick's film based on his novel. (If you've missed it, you can find it here!).

Intending to bring together “the organic, the lively, the sweet, in other words 'life' – the orange –, and the mechanical, the cold, the discipline,” the writer added “an extra meaning” to it, thereby giving life to a “sour-sweet word.”

“Anybody who knows cockney slang would know the term, anybody who doesn't can give a meaning to it,” comments Burgess. In the same way, the writer crafts new meanings for his novel by giving to some Russian words “a Joycean* twist into English.”

The Nadsat Language is Burgess' creation for his “little squib of a book”

* Burgess was a renown Joyce scholar and Joyce passionate.

Glossary of Nadsat Language

Words that do not appear to be of Russian origin are distinguished by asterisks.

*appy polly loggy – apology

baboochka – old woman
*baddiwad – bad
banda – band
bezoomny – mad
biblio – library
bitva – battle
Bog – God
bolnoy – sick
bolshy – big, great
brat, bratty –

Tuesday 20 June 2017

A Clockwork Orange – The Sour Sweetness of Original Sin

“[A] human being is endowed with free will. He can use this to choose between good and evil. If he can only perform good or only perform evil, then he is a clockwork orange – meaning that he has the appearance of an organism lovely with colour and juice but is in fact only a clockwork toy to be wound up by God or the Devil or (since this is increasingly replacing both) the Almighty State. It is as inhuman to be totally good as it is to be totally evil. The important thing is moral choice. Evil has to exist along with good, in order that moral choice may operate. Life is sustained by the grinding opposition of moral entities. This is what the television news is about. Unfortunately there is so much original sin in us all that we find evil rather attractive.
[M]y little squib of a book was found attractive to many because it was as odorous as a crateful of bad eggs with the miasma of original sin.”
           Anthony Burgess, 1986
      “A Clockwork Orange Resucked” – Introduction to the UK version of his novella
Enjoy this 1972 interview with Anthony Burgess and Malcolm McDowell, on Burgess' novel A Clockwork Orange (1963) and Stanley Kubrick's eponymous feature (1971).

This conversation interestingly interlaces Burgess' reflections on the genesis of the novel and his insights on language, man, and free will, with McDowell's opinions on the creative freedom of working with Kubrick, and on his (successful) attempt to turn an “evil force” into a “real personality,” that of Alex Delarge. 

As Burgess comments, “Alex is a man in that he is violent, as men are, he loves beauty and he loves language. These three things go all together.”

The beauty of classical music is surely one of the things Alex is most attracted to. 
The rhythm, the fluidity, the colour, the taste, and the evocative force of language are surely some of the things Burgess can most finely render on the page.

“Oh, bliss, bliss and heaven. I lay all nagoy to the ceiling, my gulliver on my rookers on the pillow, glazzies closed, rot open in bliss, slooshying the sluice of lovely sounds. Oh, it was gorgeousness and gorgeosity made flesh. The trombones crunched redgold under my bed, and behind my gulliver the trumpets three–wise silverflamed, and there by the door the timps rolling through my guts and out again crunched like candy thunder. Oh, it was wonder of wonders. And then, a bird of like rarest spun heavenmetal, or like silvery wine flowing in a spaceship, gravity all nonsense now, came the violin solo above all the other strings, and those strings were like a cage of silk around my bed. Then flute and oboe bored, like worms of like platinum, into the thick thick toffee gold and silver. I was in such bliss, my brothers.”

A bliss counterpointed by violent drives.

“After that I had lovely Mozart, the Jupiter, and there were new pictures of different litsos to be ground and splashed, and it was after this that I thought I would have just one last disc only before crossing the border, and I wanted something starry and strong and very firm, so it was J. S. Bach I had, the Brandenburg Concerto just for middle and lower strings. And, slooshying with different bliss than before, I viddied again this name on the paper I'd razrezzed that night, a long time ago it seemed, in that cottage called HOME. The name was about a clockwork orange. Listening to the J. S. Bach, I began to pony better what that meant now, and I thought, slooshying away to the brown gorgeousness of the starry German master, that I would like to have tolchecked them both harder and ripped them to ribbons on their own floor.”


Burgess, Anthony. A Clockwork Orange. London: Penguin, 1996. 

Tuesday 6 December 2016

Aubrey Beardsley and the Inescapable Music of the Pied Piper

The story of the Pied Piper of Hameln is well known. Of all its possible interpretations, I like to think of it as an allegory of the passage from autumn to winter. In Lower Saxony, where the story is set, this period of the year is fascinating. As if under the spell of the alluring notes played by the Piper, the richness and variety of colours transform the landscape day after day.


The colours reach an indescribable intensity, reminiscent of the Piper's gaudy garment, and then fade softly, leaving only the veil of the winter frost to cover the bare arms of the trees.


It is probably not a case that the famous illustrator Aubrey Beardsley was one the many artists who have been inspired by this story. Among his very first publications, are precisely the illustrations for “The Pay of the Pied Piper” that formed part of the programme for the Christmas Entertainment at the Brighton Grammar School, in 1888.
The city of Hameln was infested by rats....
The rats follow the Piper outside the town

The Piper entices the children outside the town.

Although these were not the works that made him famous, some of the distinctive traits of his unique style are already present.

J'ai baisé ta bouche, Iokanaan - 1894

The platonic Lament - 1894

Black-and-white illustrations and a preference for grim stories.
Exaggerated garments and the recurring presence of skeleton-like figures.


The Black Cape - 1894

La Beale Isoud at Joyous Gard - 1894

These will famously become the emblematic figures of that decadent fin-de-siécle period in which Aubrey's short but intense career flourished.

Due to his weak health, Aubrey was well aware that a wintry veil would have soon covered his fragile body. And indeed, the inevitable notes of a Totentanz follow one another among the black lines of his illustrations.



Tuesday 25 October 2016

Maudites lunettes noires! – Agnes Varda's "Les fiancés du Pont Macdonald"

If you think about the French Nouvelle Vague, some of the things that may come to your mind are

Jean-Pierre Leaud's confused look at the end of Les quatrecents coups,

Jean Seberg's striped t-shirts in A bout de souffle,

Jeanne Moreau's fake moustache in Jules et Jim,

Jean-Paul Belmondo's blue face in Pierrot le fou.

Yet, Nouvelle Vague also means Jean-Luc Godard's black sunglasses.


Worried that the viewer could get bored towards the end of her feature Cléo de 5 a 7 (1961), film director Agnes Varda jotted down a short story.

“The heroes of this story are Anna Karina and Jean-Luc Godard. The truth behind this film, my wish 

to do it in this way, is that I had enough of Godard's dark sunglasses, very dark; one could never see 

his eyes. And I knew – I had seen – that he had beautiful eyes. So I made up a silly story.”

By the way, Cléo de 5 a 7 (1961) is not at all boring.