The Clockwork Condition

Scope and Content

This series consists of research notes and source material relating to a proposed photo-book which would present Burgess's view of modern man and the human condition.

Administrative / Biographical History

In January 1972 Warner Brothers flew Burgess to New York, where he spent several weeks publicizing Stanley Kubrick's film adaptation of A Clockwork Orange on television, radio and in newspaper interviews. In mid-January Burgess had the first of several meetings with Thomas P. Collins, who ran a company named Collins Associates, producing books, films and film-strips, normally with a religious theme, for the educational market.

Thomas Collins proposed that Burgess should write proposals for a series of American-themed novels which would be offered to publishers under a three-book contract. As a prelude to the trilogy of novels, Collins wanted Burgess to write a short, illustrated non-fiction book under the title ‘The Clockwork Condition’, to capitalize on the worldwide publicity generated by Kubrick’s adaptation. The film had provoked widespread debates about the ethics of representing of sex and violence on screen, and it was banned in countries such as Ireland, Spain, South Africa and Brazil.

An outline of the unfinished book reveals what Burgess and Collins initially had in mind. Borrowing its structure from Dante’s Divine Comedy, the work would be divided into three sections: ‘Infernal Man’, ‘Purgatorial Man’ and ‘Paradisal Man’. Taking the character of Alex from A Clockwork Orange as a starting point, Burgess proposed that his book would develop the themes of his earlier novel in the form of a 10,000-word philosophical essay about freedom, accompanied by 75 pages of black-and-white photographs. The resulting publication would be, as Collins put it, ‘a major statement on the contemporary human condition.’ Collins pitched this book out to commercial publishers, and he received warm responses from publishing houses in London, Paris and New York. It seems, however, that the Dante concept was discarded at a fairly early stage in the development of the project, and the next idea was to structure the book around a series of provocative quotations taken from interviews with Burgess. This idea, too, was subsequently disregarded, and a third concept was to present a series of short pensées, similar in style and content to The Unquiet Grave by Cyril Connolly.

As Burgess went on trying out different ideas but failing to deliver his promised manuscript, Collins proposed another change of direction. Would Burgess be willing to write a kind of journal, to be published under the title ‘The Year of the Orange’? Collins enlisted William Weatherby, the New York correspondent of the Guardian newspaper, to assist with researching and compiling the new manuscript. Weatherby prepared a list of interview questions, based on a careful reading of Burgess’s novels and his articles for the New York Times, with the aim of giving the book a more discursive and autobiographical flavour.

Eventually, in the summer of 1973, Burgess solved the conundrum by writing, in the space of about three weeks, a comic novel set in New York, in which he explores some of the thematic material he had intended to discuss in the ‘Clockwork Condition’ manuscript. This book is The Clockwork Testament, the third instalment in the adventures of the poet F.X. Enderby, published in 1974 with illustrations by the Quay Brothers. Within the novel, Enderby has written the script of a ultra-violent film, and he is invited onto TV talk shows, as Burgess himself had also been, to defend the film against accusations that it has caused copy-cat crimes.

The completion and delivery of this novel released Burgess from his contractual obligations to the publishers who had signed up for his non-fiction book. The abandoned manuscript of ‘The Clockwork Condition’ remained in his house in Bracciano until it was transferred into the Burgess Foundation’s archive in 2004.

Why did Burgess abandon ‘The Clockwork Condition’? One answer is that he was too busy with other, more lucrative, writing commissions in 1972 and 1973. His New York agent, Robert Lantz, had negotiated deals for him to write a variety of other projects for Hollywood and Broadway, including a novel about Napoleon Bonaparte, intended as raw material for a Kubrick film, and a stage musical about Houdini for Orson Welles.

The surviving ‘Clockwork Condition’ manuscript is a haphazard and rather skeletal collection of notes and fragments which provide an insight into the bigger non-fiction book that might have been. Although the project was never completed, the title, The Clockwork Condition, was ultimately attributed by Burgess to an article about free will and the human condition that he wrote for Rolling Stone magazine in 1973. The article, however, was not published until June 2012 in The New Yorker. (The article was also published (in 2012) by W. W. Norton and Company in the Restored Text and Fiftieth Anniversary Edition of A Clockwork Orange.)

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The New Yorker, 4 June 2012