In his 1962 dystopian novella, A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess coined the term “ultra-violence” to characterize the sociopathic ravagings of a young man named Alex and his “Droogs”. Stanley Kubrick brought it to theatres in 1972. Exceptionally controversial for the time, I remember seeing it at the Strand Theatre in Shreveport, the weekend before I enrolled at Centenary College of Louisiana. I was 17. While it didn’t inspire me to indulge in “a bit of the old ultra-violence”, to drink “milk plus vellocet or synthemesc or drencrom”, to listen to “a little of the Ludwig Van”, or to have “her right down there on the floor with the old in-out, real savage” (more quotes), it did nestle into my subconscious, awaiting the proper moment to be find its own way back into the world.
And as much as I found the images from A Clockwork Orange fascinating, I also discovered an awful truth about great books and their creators. In 1973 or 74, Anthony Burgess gave a lecture at Centenary about Clockwork. I’m sure it must have been part of a promotional tour, otherwise I doubt he would have ever found the small liberal arts college. I was in the second or third pew of Brown Chapel in rapt anticipation and there he was at the lectern, the great man himself, about to reveal insights to his creative method and style.
I can still remember my expectation, but more than that I remember my disappointment. It could have been just an off night, but all I remember is being bored to tears as he droned on and on about whatever it was he was talking about. I, at least consciously, got nothing out of it except, after years of reflection to realize that while an author’s product may be everything you’d want, the product isn’t the author. The creation and the creator aren’t the same thing. The book may be full of action, sex, and violence, but the author may be an introverted bore. Certainly that could go for any author, me included.
There is, certainly, a difference between the author and the work, the creator and the characters, and that difference is what really matters. And here is where the author comes full round to the subject of ultra-violence.
In my eBook, Any Tomorrow: The Calling, one of the three main characters, Henry Turner, is a sociopath whose development, his “becoming”, is depicted quite graphically. There are scenes that depict incestuous voyeurism, murder, assault, battery, rape, incest, sodomy, fellatio, terrorism, masturbation, torture, arson, among other things. While the scenes are intended to make the reader uneasy, they are not intended to titillate and are included strictly as elements integral to the story.
Because I write about a sociopath, am I a sociopath? I don’t think so, but I didn’t immediately answer a resounding “No!”, did I? I answered this way because I believe that there is a very fine line between what is normal and acceptable, and what is horrible and repulsive. All the terrible things that Henry Turner does are horrible and repulsive, but except a slight tweak in genetics and environmental factors, what really separates him from me or you? Is it because he’s insane and we’re not? Or is it because we have other channels through which to exorcise our inner demons ― safe, socially acceptable channels?
After reading a draft of Any Tomorrow: The Calling, my daughter-in-law told me that if she didn’t know me so well, she’d really be concerned about me. Henry Turner disturbed her and the fact that I had created him, could even conceive of him, disturbed her even more. So I told her what I just told you, given the right genetics and circumstances, any of us could be Henry Turner. Any of us. And that is what changes the descriptions from titillating to truly terrifying.
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