“I Knew Such Lovely Pictures”: The Aesthetic Function of Nadsat and the Politics of Counterculture in A Clockwork Orange

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2023
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Haverford College. Department of English
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Thesis
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eng
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Open Access
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This thesis contemplates the function of language in Anthony Burgess' 1962 novel A Clockwork Orange, paying close attention to the colloquial dialect, Nadsat, with which the narrator, Alex DeLarge, speaks. The essay explains how such language embodies an aesthetic of distortion and creative violence, which speaks to the anti-nationalistic sentiment and struggle for individualism expressed in British counterculture during the mid-twentieth century. We begin with an exploration of the linguistic construction of Nadsat as a device for social rebellion by analyzing its parent languages. This process involves looking into the sociopolitical and aesthetic properties of Cockney, a sociolect tied to the experience of the British working class. We also look at how Burgess’ use of Russian vocabulary suggests an underlying political commentary that drives the novel’s stylistic appeal. At the crux of this essay’s agenda is the question of how language represents the values of British youth counterculture, the emergence of which occurred after World War II. To answer this, we consider how the poetics of Nadsat express anarchy and perversion and still sound attractive. Through close readings, rhetorical analysis, and conversations with scholars such as Julia Kristeva, Dick Hebdige, Mikhail Bakhtin, and Edmund Burke, this essay justifies Nadsat’s grotesque beauty and reveals its liberating quality. What follows is a discussion of how the creative distortion of language allocates power to the individual, as it represents a rejection of traditional rhetorical structures endorsed by government institutions and, in turn, embraces the art of disrupting the norm. Nadsat posits Burgess' novel as a punk manifesto that asserts itself as distinct from the kind of linguistic and thematic content traditionally deemed appropriate for the Western literary canon.
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