What if they gave a party online and Alan Moore came?
Moore, the warlock of Northhampton and the author of Watchmen, V for Vendetta, From Hell and Jerusalem, is self-confessedly Amish on all matters technological. Historically, Moore has shied away from even the most rudimentary, CompuServe-level interfacing with the information superhighway, beyond perfunctory online chats at the behest of charities or friends. His daughters have Twitter accounts, and that’s primarily where he and the global series of tubes touch.
But two years ago, without much fanfare, Goodreads fans did a Q&A with the writer. We believe that such a fine set of responses deserves a rerelease, so we’ve gathered some of our favorite answers to the 75 questions asked. To pick a single question from this heap of wonder is like plucking a sole hair from Moore’s Rasputinian beard. We can, however, pick 12.
Here, then, is Moore replying to a variety of queries with all the majesty you’d expect from an epoch-shaping auteur who worships a snake puppet.
MOORE: You have to understand that I’m from an English, not to say a Northampton, working-class background, and that the way that we traditionally regarded Halloween over here before we had the America re-imagining of the phenomenon imported, was as a serious and ominous event that was part of the witches’ calendar. My grandmother, whom we lived with, was unwavering in her insistence that since this was a night in which malevolent and destructive supernatural forces were abroad and roaming freely, this was also a night when sensible people, particularly children, should stay indoors. I feel, personally, that this was a properly respectful attitude to the ‘spirits of a place’ that accumulate, if only in that place’s legend and dream and imagination: these things are an important part of a place’s psychological reality, and I would actually prefer not to see them reduced to a fourteen year-old girl in a ‘sexy witch’ costume. Still, each to their own, and I’ve no doubt I shall spend this Halloween handing out money to, hopefully, some of the neighbourhood’s younger children accompanied by their parents, as these are always very respectful and point out to the children that they are actually talking to a real warlock. And of course, if they’re not with their parents I can ritually sacrifice a couple of them to my deformed 2nd century snake-god. Then everybody’s happy.
MOORE: This would have to have been the large, live moth that eventually found its way out of my beard during a visit to Steve Moore’s house a few years ago. While I understand that this doesn’t give a favourable impression of my grooming regimen, I have no idea how or when it got itself into its unenviable situation, and for all I know it may have hatched and grown to maturity knowing no other world than a maze of impenetrable grey tangles. Oh, and the other horrific thing or gateway to a dark realm to be found hidden in my beard, at least according The Onion’s Our Dumb World, is the Essex region.
MOORE: You ask what personally frightens me, and without wishing to sound at all tough or hard-boiled, I’d have to say that I really can’t think of anything. From my perspective, both fear and desire are reactive constructs that are rarely helpful to our situation and in many cases get in the way. To some extent, they’re both different faces of the same thing – our desire for a partner perhaps being equivalent to our fear of loneliness, or our desire for wealth and success being equal to our fear of poverty and failure – and because we project both of them as so huge and looming on our internal screens, it’s possible for us to end up paralysed and unable to do the things we need to do to achieve of goals in life. Much as someone might have an all-consuming desire to be, say, a successful writer, if his or her converse fear of being rejected prevents them from ever sending any work to a publisher for consideration, then they will never be able to fulfil whatever potential they may have had as a human being, self-sabotaged by their own fears; their own longings. For my own part, I attempt to be someone who has no axe to grind: a person who is neither afraid of anything, nor particularly wants anything. I feel that this attitude has served me well in a world where the only two blunt and primitive tools that any authority appears to have the wits to use are threats and temptation; sticks and carrots. A few moments’ consideration makes it clear that sticks can very easily be set on fire, and that you’ve probably never liked carrots that much anyway.
MOORE: No, I’m sorry, but I can’t report having shared your melatonin-inspired vision. But then, even with magically conjured presences, there always remains a very strong possibility that these represent parts of ourselves which our subconscious has chosen to externalise in a particular form, which is still a interesting phenomenon, if not quite telepathy. As for your Spider Man petition, I’m afraid that as I’m not really interested in any superheroes these days and as I’m not online, then I shall have to decline.
MOORE: It’s difficult to say. I suppose it would be either my initial induction into magic, on the night of Friday January 7th, 1994 in the company of Steve Moore; or it would be my attainment of the solar sphere Tiphereth and an attendant vision of the crucifixion – quite stunning even (or especially) for someone who has no belief at all in Christianity – a couple of years later in the company of my musical partner Tim Perkins; or conceivably it would be the early 21st century occasion described in my short story/photo novel/ triple album box-set Unearthing, again with Steve Moore, where I encountered his personal lunar goddess Selene and shortly thereafter attained the magical grade/level of consciousness described by the term Magus. I’m pretty much incapable of listing my favourite films or books, as my answers to the rest of this series of questions demonstrate resoundingly, so asking me what I think was my most spiritual experience is pretty much doomed to elicit an answer that is even vaguer and more equivocal.
MOORE: There are, of course, a number of theories as to why people seem to enjoy being scared. My own personal favourite relates to the emergence of the Gothic movement from the writings of Northampton clergyman James Hervey and his stylish but morbid writings that so influenced the early Graveyard poets. These adopted Hervey’s theme that in cemeteries and from the signs of earthly decay we can learn that only God is eternal. Then came the later Graveyard poets who weren’t really much bothered about God but who really liked all the creepy, ghoulish stuff about skulls and bats and worms, and following them came Horace Walpole and the other Gothic writers who transplanted the same ghastly sensibilities to their novels – from which all supernatural, ghost and horror fiction proceed, and indeed all genre fiction in general. The point is that this craving for a mortal shudder started to emerge at the exact historical point where we were starting to clean up and sanitise the skull-littered graveyards that had once been so commonplace and which had provided Hervey’s original gloomy inspiration. While death and decay had previously been an admittedly putrid part of everyday life, when we got rid of death’s visible evidence from our streets and churchyards it’s as if we were compelled to find another, safer way of approaching the subject namely via the medium of a creepy fiction. I think that in philosophical terms, this is referred to as ‘the return of the repressed’.
MOORE: I think perhaps a more useful way of looking at it is that ‘craziness’ and ‘sanity’ are both social constructions that actually mean very little and depend upon each other for definition: a crazy person is someone who isn’t sane, and a sane person is someone who isn’t crazy. Given that these definitions are coming from a culture that, in several thousand years, has failed to come up with an adequate theory to describe or account for simple human consciousness, I don’t see that its purely social definition of whether a given person is in some way ‘abnormal’ or not can have any real basis or meaning. Basically, I’m not entirely certain that craziness and sanity actually exist or mean anything, and I am even less sure of the contemporary definition of genius. Genius used to be a word denoting the actual divine spark of inspiration that would enter and briefly animate a person, rather than a word bestowed upon the person themselves. I think it would probably better for human beings, with our delicate psychologies and ego-structures, to accept that if we were very lucky great art or genius may work through us, but that doesn’t mean that we ourselves are either great art, or a genius. As for whether you need to be some variety of crazy to be a great artist, I would say that what you need to be in order to achieve great art is completely and fiercely be yourself. This may, or may not, see you classified as crazy, but as remarked above, I think that it’s our largely meaningless classifications, regarding a subject of which we clearly understand nothing, that are a big part of the problem.
MOORE: While I’m not personally sure that there is any external authority or force making it our duty as a sapient species to accomplish something, I think that it is imperative that we behave as if that is the case. As for whether I believe the species will ever actually reach this transcendent goal, whatever it might be, I’m probably a lot more optimistic than my largely-diagnostic fiction might have led you to believe: for all we know, we may be the only tiny speck of advanced life anywhere in the universe; the only part of the universe that is sentient; the only part of the universe that can look at itself and marvel. If that were the case…and we might value ourselves more and look after ourselves and our environment more if we acted like that were the case…then you’d have to say that we’re accomplishing quite a significant thing already. We might be the very beginnings of the universe’s nervous system and sensory apparatus. And even if we wipe ourselves out tomorrow, or in a hundred, or in a million years time, in my view of a solid and eternal spacetime continuum that accomplishment is not negated. Whatever we do or do not accomplish in the future, every conscious moment of our here and now is a stunning and miraculous unlikelihood that is very possibly nowhere replicated throughout the length and breadth of our cosmos. As far as I understand it, gold can only be created by a collision of supernovae. That’s why there is only enough of it on our planet to make a cube with a base area roughly the size of a tennis court, and why in any gold ring there is a tiny but measurable amount of gold from Mayan temples or from the teeth-fillings of holocaust victims. It’s a safe bet that gold is generally as rare throughout our universe at it is her on Earth. And yet we, examples of intelligent life, are much, much, much rarer than gold, and it would be a good thing if we thought a little more upon our scarcity, and hence our preciousness.
MOORE: Without knowing your son, and without wishing to presume to understand the (at 14, largely chemical) complicated matters that are going through his mind, I’d take a guess that a desire to (probably fleetingly) adopt a dark or scary persona is probably born of completely understandable fear. I remember that from a fourteen year-old perspective the world was a place of looming dangers that, at that age, I had no idea how to deal with. Also, it’s around about this age that we are starting to realise that our sweet, natural, normal personalities that have got us through the first ten or so years of our life with no great existential difficulties are clearly not going to be adequate to dealing with the scary and alien territory of adolescence. Traits that your grandmother found adorable are neither going to ward off bullies nor attract a girlfriend or boyriend: probably, in fact, the exact reverse. This is the age at which we are frantically scrambling to put together a workable identity for ourselves, and we tend to do it by borrowing bits from people we know, or more often from completely fictional characters that we admire in some way. I dread to think of the number of otherwise potentially nice young men who have grow up with the impression that acting like James Bond will make them as irresistible to adult women as James Bond is to a twelve year-old boy. I imagine that with your son, he is probably trying on a ‘dark’ persona as a form of armour for the vulnerable person that most of us are underneath. Fortunately, at that age we are trying on identities like masks in a fancy dress shop, and we usually realise that they don’t really work, or certainly not for us. You say that he’s read my work, so I’m guessing that he’s perhaps read Watchmen and that maybe he found certain qualities of the character Rorschach to be admirable. Although I wrote that character to show what the internal and social life of a justice-obsessed masked vigilante would most probably actually be like, I have actually had a couple of grown adults tell me how much they identified with the character…which, again, is just the futile attempt to be the most scary thing in a world in a world that you personally find scary. These were adults, and in neither case did they end in what you’d call an enviable state. Luckily, your son is fourteen, when this behaviour is completely normal and understandable. He will realise, as I did, that nobody in their right mind wants to go out with Skeletor or Ernst Stavro Blofeld, and he will very probably adjust and moderate his balance until he reaches a point where he feels confident and happy in himself, when you will probably see the child he used to be becoming confident enough to re-emerge, albeit in a modified and more sophisticated form. As for how to be yourself in a world where you don’t feel you fit in, I can only advise that you grow a beard, speak in a deep and unintelligible English regional accent about things that normal, rational people have never considered for a second, and take to the worship of a creepy-looking human-headed serpent god. In my own experience, this course of action always works. And you can tell your son that if he really wants to frighten everybody away, it works pretty well for that, too.
MOORE: As somebody who believes that he has had a conversation with a biblical demon mentioned in the apocryphal book of Tobit – and the important thing there is that it is what I believed was happening – then I’d have to say that demons seem to be perfectly reasonable individuals who just happen to have a dirty job. If you like, they’re celestial sewer maintenance personnel. As a result of this, I don’t really think that there are any such things as evil spirits…unless we’re talking about the ordinary human variety that seem to inhabit a distressing number of our political and religious leaders. Regarding these, I wouldn’t say that I was scared of them, as I think that both institutions are going through cataclysmic changes that may turn out to be their death throes. Perhaps the word is ‘wary’, in that given the historical belligerence and self-interest of both politics and religion, I doubt that those death throes are going to be of the quiet, peaceful, brave and dignified variety. More likely they’ll involve a lot of noise and damage, and very probably more than a few people will be hurt. Just leave the evil spirits out of this. They’re blameless, and nowhere near as evil as we are, because they don’t have the same incentives.
MOORE: The last time I had a fantasy, I was around fifteen and it became my subsequent life, pretty much down to the last detail. So you can bet I’m never doing that again.
MOORE: I probably shouldn’t play favourites, but for my money this is perhaps the most interesting question I’ve been asked all year. I don’t know. I don’t know what happens to me when I write, because I’m not sure if we have adequate language to describe, even to ourselves, what it is to use language in a purposeful way. I know that my consciousness, if I am immersed in writing something demanding, is moved into a completely different state than the one which I inhabit during most of my waking life. Neither is it like dreaming, having much more focus and control. If I’m writing, as I often do, something which requires messing around with the structure or vocabulary of the English language, then I find myself entering some very unusual mental spaces indeed. Writing the Lucia Joyce chapter of Jerusalem, ‘Round the Bend’, I found myself in a kind of synaptic cascade-state that had a delirious, mind-expanding bliss to it. By contrast, writing the collapsed future-vernacular of Crossed +100, I found myself ending up slightly depressed just by the experience of having a limited language with a subsequently limited number of things that the characters could think, or feel, or conceive of. What I suspect is happening is that, as started earlier, our entire neurological reality can be seen as being made from words at its most immediate level. When you descend into this level of our reality, the code of our reality if you like, then whether consciously or not; whether deliberately or not, you are working magic. So, the answer to your question as to what happens to me when I write, is the most banal and useless answer you will ever get from an author: the magic happens. I hope that the fact that it’s me saying that and that I mean the above statement with absolute conviction, along with all of its potentially frightening implications, will be enough to make it sound a little less fatuous.
You can read the full Moore Q&A on Goodreads here.