The Consolations of Ambiguity: An Essay on the Novels of Anthony Burgess

The Consolations of Ambiguity: An Essay on the Novels of Anthony Burgess

The Consolations of Ambiguity: An Essay on the Novels of Anthony Burgess

The Consolations of Ambiguity: An Essay on the Novels of Anthony Burgess

Excerpt

In slightly under a score of productive and creative years, Anthony Burgess has published dozens of essays, reviews, and poems; an unmusty primer on linguistics; a jolly, scholarly introduction to James Joyce; a survey of Shakespeare; a critique of the contemporary British novel; and fourteen of his own novels. Like the protean author himself--soldier, composer, teacher, journalist, lecturer, lapsed Catholic, expatriate, and eternal exile the books range from the mythopoetic-autobiographical Vision of Battlements through the tragicomic "Malayan trilogy" and the libidinous, metaphorically flashing pseudobiography of Shakespeare, to the ugly Gothicism and black humor of his most notorious book, A Clockwork Orange , and the pure and exuberant comedy of Enderby . With Burgess only in his early fifties, there is the grand promise of much more to come.

Burgess is a professional writer par excellence and, as some have it, a too prolific one; yet his art is in no way inferior to his scope. Language is the last on which he shapes his trim fictions, and with increased justification his craftsmanship has been compared to that of such as Shakespeare and Dickens, Joyce and Nabokov--all artists who made language, as much as people, the protagonist in their works. Indeed, the word is the beginning and the end for Burgess, the alpha and omega of his novels and of practically anything else he has a mind to write. His invention of a technico-Russo-Anglo slanguage in A Clockwork Orange and his Elizabethanizing of the modern idiom for Nothing Like the Sun are his most original and extravagant sorties into language. His knack for bringing off such holophrastic dazzlers as apneumatic, plenilunar, bathycolpic, steatopygous, dyspneal . . .

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