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In 1962 the novel Anthony Burgess completed his novel, ‘A Clockwork Orange’. 9 years later it was then adapted, produced, and directed by Stanley Kubrick.
In ‘A Clockwork Orange’, the principles of behaviourism are used to support Ludovico’s Technique, a new, cutting-edge technology that allows the State to convert otherwise-incorrigible criminals into reliably law-abiding citizens. The technique is a form of aversion therapy, in which Alex (the main character) is injected with nausea-inducing drugs while watching graphically violent films, eventually conditioning him to become severely ill at the mere thought of violence. In Burgess’s own time, behavioural science was a relatively new field, one whose practitioners considered themselves highly sensitive to issues of ethics. Many behaviourists saw their profession as a chance to redesign society based on universally benevolent principles, but Burgess had a distinctly less idealistic attitude toward the nascent discipline. Reform may qualify as an admirable sentiment, but in these chapters, we witness as behaviourism is used to justify the hijacking of Alex’s free will and the reduction of his moral choices to a set of predictable outcomes. Burgess creates Ludovico’s Technique in the fictional world of ‘A Clockwork Orange’ in order to interrogate the ethical implications of behaviourism in his own world. The examination of contemporary concerns through a fantastic, imaginary fiction is the defining element of dystopian science fiction.
Kellett’s work manifests itself as a similar stream of what could be classed as a contemporary version of what Alex has to endure; images which are associated with violence or are in some way unpleasant. It relates to this fictional torture technique which appears to be an effective instrument, but it also seems to be a blunt and problematic one. It’s predicated on the notion that the criminal impulse can be isolated and eliminated, but as we see in ‘A Clockwork Orange’ the removal of violent tendencies runs the risk of extinguishing other, more benign inclinations.
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Martin Kellett's work mixes up the 'highest' and 'lowest' types of commodities -those which apparently improve, like art, and those which literally kill braincells. www.martinkellett.com
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