Alan Moore at Length

Alan Moore finishes million-word novel Jerusalem

Quoting Harold Bloom (on a hypothetical production of Faust, Part Two) quoting Lorca (on the body of the dead bullfighter): I do not want to see it!

Well, actually, I do, but I can’t promise I’ll finish it.  A friend of mine, decrying Gaddis’s The Recognitions (she finished, but didn’t much care for it, and found it needlessly, aggressively long), coined the term “gentlemanly length” for novels of the scope of Coetzee’s or Sebald’s, which are undeniably profound without trying to stun you with sheer mass.  I like “gentlemanly length” because it implicitly accepts the feminist thesis* (cf. Carole Maso on “Thousand page novels, tens and tens of vollmanns—I mean volumes”) that endlessly long books written by men are merely dick-swinging maneuvers, gross sexual displays, but then recuperates a sense of honor among men, to persuade them to avoid such excesses.  ”We must compensate the man for the loss of his gun,” says Virginia Woolf; such empathetic realism, the definition of intelligence, is missing from every aspect of our political dialogue—its absence is the clue to the identity in this cursed and constricted century of our neoconservative warmongers (back again, I see) and our social justice partisans, both of whom ideologically commit themselves to not reconstructing reality through their enemies’ perspectives (because the enemy is simply evil, simply oppressive, all too easy to explain), which damns both groups to enact indiscriminate and unintelligent hostility endlessly in the name of permanent revolution and an absolute political righteousness.  But I digress.  (Only slightly—there is an Alan Moore connection to these observations.)

Anyway, the aesthetic flaw that mars so many of Alan Moore’s works is a superstitious investment in structure for its own sake.  This has a genuine philosophical dimension—the demonstration of order in complexity, a refutation of the nihilism of his less savory characters (e.g., Rorschach, the Comedian) and an attempt at articulating a forgotten spiritual outlook (as in Promethea).  But formally speaking, once he figures out what he’s going to do and for how long, he goes ahead and does it.  This can make for an excruciating readerly experience: who among the readers of Watchmen don’t calculate to themselves midway through the book how many more pirate sequences they’ll have to suffer?  It utterly destroys Lost Girls, in my opinion, which is visible from the first as mechanical and schematic in its narrative design, the epitome of empty virtuosity, despite the beauty of Gebbie’s art.  Hence my preference among Moore’s works for Swamp Thing—which is I think genuinely haphazard in conception owing to the constraints of monthly publication—and From Hell—which has to make room for the disorders of history and which moreover thematically associates the desire for absolute order with a murderous patriarchal and economic elite.  (And both of these projects featured collaborators [Bissette/Totleben and Campbell, respectively] who favored a wilder style in the art.)  Someone should write—maybe someone has written—an article on the attraction of this self-proclaimed anarchist to the most rigid aesthetic forms.  So my fear, encouraged by Moore’s comments in the article and elsewhere, is that Jerusalem will come to feel like the automatic running of a pre-scripted program rather than the free exercise of imagination.  A million words of that will be hard to swallow.

Alan Moore, though, has earned his eminence the old-fashioned way, by writing books that people can’t forget, that influence the next generation of writers and artists, and that outlast—so far—their time of production.  So I believe in my anti-mercantile (gentlemanly?) way that he is essentially owed publication of this book as he sees fit, and I look forward to heaving my copy home eventually, even if it rests unread on my shelf.

*As with other examples of feminist culture critique, this one has more than a grain of truth but tends to ruin it with reckless exaggeration.  How does the Maso complaint account for Lady Murasaki, Mme de Scudéry, George Eliot, Dorothy Richardson, Marguerite Young, Leslie Marmon Silko, Eleanor Catton, not to speak of J. K. Rowling and Stephanie Meyer, and all our other female authors of doorstoppers, triple-deckers, commercial serials, and romans-fleuves?  It’s almost as if people write with implements other than the reproductive organs.