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Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange as a Postmodernist Critique of Eighteenth-Century Anti-Literary Discourses

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posted on 2024-07-09, 03:17 authored by Morgan Connor

Anthony Burgess’s dystopian novel, A Clockwork Orange, and its experimental style, reflective features, and brutal depictions of violence have been the subject of academic discourse for decades. However, existing scholarship has thus far neglected to examine the novel’s allusions to the long eighteenth century (c. 1660-1830) and its paradoxical relationship with the postmodernist movement of the mid-twentieth century. Drawing upon the significance of these anachronistic elements of the text, this study argues that the characteristically postmodernist features of A Clockwork Orange are employed to present a complex critique of the anti-literary discourses that circulated in eighteenth-century Britain. Extensive research into the ideological, historical, and literary perspectives of the eighteenth and twentieth centuries guides a three-part analysis of A Clockwork Orange which selectively integrates the theoretical frameworks of new formalism and postmodernist literary criticism. This investigation highlights the metafictional separation of narrative from narration and its significance for revealing that Burgess’s critique is constructed from three central arguments: that eighteenth-century anti-literary discourses mediate the relationship between Enlightenment humanism, Romanticism, and postmodernism; that eighteenth-century attempts to change literature and literary theory in accordance to the criticisms of anti-literary discourses were inherently flawed; and that the only viable solution for overcoming these criticisms is the postmodernist effort to destabilise notions of truth and reality. In addition to contributing a new interpretation of A Clockwork Orange to existing scholarship, this thesis also offers a practical demonstration of how discussions of anti-literary discourse can be transformed into a critical lens for examining literary works. By illustrating the relevance of such investigations, this research legitimise further study into the importance of the anti-literary for critical analysis and understanding Western literary history.


Table of Contents

Introduction -- Chapter 1: Early Postmodernism, Burgess, and 'A Clockwork Orange' -- Chapter 2: The Anti-Literary in Eighteenth-Century Britain and 'A Clockwork Orange' -- Chapter 3: Controlled Intersection as Critical Process -- Conclusion -- Works cited

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis MRes


Master of Research

Department, Centre or School

Department of Media, Communications, Creative Arts, Language, and Literature

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Geoffrey Payne


Copyright: The Author Copyright disclaimer:




87 pages

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