Feb 14, 2016

Alan Moore: writing, Godzilla, Twin Peaks and... the moth in his beard

Alan Moore. Photo from A bad witch's blog.
The complete piece can be read here.

1. Out of all of the many, many things you've written, which is your most personal?
Alan Moore: By definition, The Birth Caul must be the most personal piece of my writing that anyone has actually seen or listened to. However, next year I expect that to be superseded by Jerusalem, which is as close as I will ever be able to get to articulating my experience and my background in terms of a fiction.

2. Do you believe knowing that you're living inside of a horror story makes it easier to live there? 
It’s really only fictional people that live in horror stories. Real people, even if they’ve been the subject of special rendition and are currently receiving electric shocks to their genitals somewhere in Egypt, are not in a horror story: they are in the same ordinary reality as you and I, which we are all a part of and which we all, by our actions and inactions, help to create. I think it would be best if we agreed that we are living in the real world, and if at times it reads like a horror story – or worse – then we are the only authors, and we are the only authority that is in a position t fix or change that.

3. What horror novel do you find the most terrifyingly realistic? I.E. the scariest thing is that this could actually happen.
Well, in order to fit the criteria of an event that could actually happen you would be very limited in your number of choices. It would have to be some nuclear war or environmental collapse scenario, I imagine, so perhaps a novel like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, or a television production like the English film Threads, which I can best describe as The Day After for grownups.

4. [...] What would be the scariest way to die?
The scariest way to die, surely, would be after a life that was not sufficiently considered, understood or engaged with, wouldn’t it? […]

5. What do you think makes a person or monster truly scary?
I think the most frightening quality in a monster – real or fictional, human or otherwise – is its distance from our world of common human understanding; the sense that we are confronted by some sort of awareness that is absolutely nothing like our own, with interior processes and perceptions and agendas that are utterly foreign to our own and which are therefore unreadable to us. In this sense, things like werewolves, vampires or H.R. Giger’s franchised aliens aren’t really any more disturbing than a runaway car that’s heading in your direction. If there’s something with fangs or teeth like a typewriter carriage that’s making its way towards you, then you probably don’t have that many questions about its motivations, or your own: it’s evidently trying to kill you, and you , just as evidently, would rather not be killed. Being killed, whether it be by a tumour, a drunk and masturbating truck driver or a reanimated mummy enacting a vengeful curse, is something that, as humans, we should probably be used to by now. Something wanting to kill us...often a really ugly and monstrous something...has been our constant companion since the Palaeolithic. Much more alarming, in my estimation, is the entity of which we haven’t the faintest idea what it wants; the dancing dwarf in Twin Peaks as opposed to the shuffling and brain-seeking cadavers of our zombie movies. This posited unknowable entity doesn’t even have to mean you any harm or be aware of your existence in order to terrify. The very fact of its irresolvable and unfathomable nature is enough to haunt and obsess us forever after, to the point where we might end up wishing that we’d encountered a nice, down-to-earth, uncomplicated rampaging sasquatch instead.

6. What is your all-time favourite novel by another author? Do you like Dostoevsky?
Yes, I like Dostoevsky a great deal, although I’ve only read a very little of his work. I think he was a relatively fearless writer who was, for his day, exploring a raw and uncomfortable edge of the human condition and some of the chilly hinterlands of our psychological and emotional territory. As far as having an all-time favourite novel goes, I’ve explained elsewhere that I don’t really think in those terms, so any choice will be arbitrary and fleeting. That said, at this particular instant in time (10.50 PM, Wednesday 28th of October), I’m inclined to once more recommend Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman, which is stranger, funnier, and a lot less Russian than Dostoevsky but which, in its way, perhaps addresses some of the same concerns. On the other hand, if you were looking for something strange, funny and Russian, you could do a lot worse than Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita. The choice is yours; the probably questionable spelling is mine.

7. Who/what are your biggest literary influences?
Almost everybody I’ve ever read, if I’m honest, has influenced me either positively or negatively. Major influences would be William Burroughs, for the purposeful and shamanic energy that he had in his writing and his ideas; the non-musician Brian Eno simply for his eternally curious and adventurous approach to creativity itself; and more recently the extraordinary Iain Sinclair for the level of attack and crackling intensity that comes with his furious approach to language.

8. What's the most Lovecraftian or horrific thing you've ever found in your beard? Thank you!!
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.

9. What is your fantasy, sir?
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.

10. Out of all of your amazing characters, who do you think is the closest representation of yourself/who do you identify with the most?
To a considerable extent, it would be fair to say that every character I’ve written – male, female, human, alien, good, evil or otherwise – is to some degree a speculative extension of myself, because that, in my experience, is the only way to write truly convincing characters: you find some forgotten or suppressed facet of your own persona, and then you inflate that and carefully build it up into a credible character type. However, the character in all my fiction that is consciously the most closely based upon myself is Alma Warren, an unreasonable and post-menopausal female artist who is the elder sister of the main character in my forthcoming novel Jerusalem. That, as near as I can manage from the limited perspective of being inside myself, is pretty much me – although in real life I’m a lot more physically beautiful, obviously, and a lot less vain.

11. What happens to you when you write?
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.

12. What's your opinion on the new generation? Are we getting better or worse?
Alan Moore Oh, I think like all generations you’re probably getting better and worse at the same time, and I believe that over time, the better generally outweighs the worse. Given the massively increased complexity of the world that you have to deal with, I think you’re doing fine. My only concern...and this is certainly not specific to your generation...is that too many people may shy away from that complexity, in favour of a retreat into something simple, comforting and ultimately crippling like nostalgia or a longing for their uncomplicated and lost childhoods. Dealing with the present day has always been a thing that demands a great deal of fortitude and bravery. Trying to be sufficient to our times is all that any of us, of any generation, can really hope to do.

13. Which mainstream horror movie do you find to be the most erotic?
This is a bit of a loaded question. If I were to say, for example, Godzilla, then people would be justifiably wondering about my sexuality for the rest of my literary life. In truth, I don’t really think of horror films as being particularly erotic, although I do think that many erotic films are horrific.

14. Do you see the possibility of a meaningful shift to the left in the English speaking world with the emergence of popular support for Corbyn/Trudeau/Sanders? I don't mean to suggest that they are the same.
It’s certainly gratifying to hear some left wing voices in a world of voracious and unrelentingly right wing political agendas, and Trudeau’s win in Canada is obviously to be welcomed as a way of reversing some of that formerly exemplary country’s recent suicidal environmental policies. Sanders is an interesting case, emerging in a United States which seems to have enjoyed a previously phobic relationship with anything that vaguely smacked of socialism. I wish all of these people well, and it is certainly to be hoped that they prefigure some sort of resurgence in basic, decent human values, but I think that in the long term we should accept that the standard model of modern democratic government is no longer (a) working; (b) in the interests of ordinary people rather than an apparently amoral elite; or even (c) democratic. We have smarter and more egalitarian alternatives available to us now, and we should start planning to take advantage of that fact before our situation worsens even further. I, for one, would be interested in seeing modern science playing a greater role in government: evidence-based politics might be quite a novel and rewarding approach to governance. What I’m saying, I suppose, is that we should support such few rays of light as break through the toxic conservative cloud-cover, but that we should also be thinking about the future...which is here right now...and that we should very definitely have a Plan B embracing broader and more radical change.

15. What is the mechanism for using magic in your work? ie what is the process, or method you follow?
As regards how I use magic in my work, this has changed significantly in the twenty years or more since I took up the practice. Whereas in the beginning there was a great deal of ritual and serious magical experiment, both because this was the only recommended way to go about things and because it was a very exciting and pyrotechnical experience, these days I have internalised my ideas on magic to the point where anything creative that I do is perceived as a magical act. I will be bringing as great a weight of magical consciousness, perception and concentration to a chapter of Jerusalem or Providence as I would have done to the rituals that resulted in The Birth Caul or Angel Passage. Basically, I have understood that art and magic are precisely the same thing. This is not a way of saying that magic is a lesser thing, that it is ‘only’ art at the end of the day, but instead of saying that art is a far, far greater thing than its currently degraded state as a commodity or as simple time-filling commodity might lead us to suppose. If you happen to live within a worldview that supposes our entire neurological reality to be made up of words, and happen to believe that certain intense forms of language might therefore be capable of altering that neurological reality, then picking up a pen or sitting down at your keyboard feels like a very different proposition.

[The complete piece can be read here.]


Unknown said...

Nice interview with some interesting questions, and Mr Moore is at his loquacious, thought provoking best ,the man seems to be getting better with age. I so am excited about Jerusalem's impending release, cant wait.

Steven H. said...

Alan, I am a Tea Party supporter living in the State of Montana in the United States and I have been an avid fan of your storytelling abilities since I first took notice of your work on Miracleman for Eclipse Comics, and later, Swamp Thing, V for Vendetta, and Watchmen for DC Comics. I consider myself to be politically VERY conservative and I have always held the founding fathers of the American Revolution, especially Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin (founder of the first abolitionist society in America), and later President Ronald Reagan in the highest regard for their American ideals. Part of what I have always enjoyed about your writings is that, even though I disagree with you regarding my philosophical perspectives toward life and/or modern society, your writings have always left me with something to ponder about life and/or modern society. And for that, I most sincerely thank you. And I would be very interested in reading your opinions about America's founding fathers, either collectively or individually, as well as the American Revolution as a whole. Or would that be the American Rebellion, from the British perspective? I would truly love to some day have a cup of coffee with you, or a cup of tea, if you prefer. We do not tax either, in the State of Montana. Sincerely, Steven H. Billings, Montana

smoky man said...

Thank you for the visit and comment. Sure Jerusalem is... a must-read!

Thank you for the visit and for the interesting comment and question. But here it's *** not *** Alan. It's just a "fan's blog", you can say. :) Btw, maybe Alan will read it, who knows? :)