Sex, Imagination, Anonymity…And Alan Moore

Weather for the west side of Vancouver tonight: very mild, with the tiniest pinpricks of freezing rain. Somewhere out there a Squamish wind must be blowing; beneath the aroma of woodsmoke, the faint hint of the mill’s hoppy sweetness.

Most who live here seem to hate it; Schiele found it romantic; I consider it a little glimpse of Paradise. Call it Jack London weather. It’s just not like anything else.


This began life as a long, long, long post…far too long, even for me. So here’s the Reader’s Digest version.

Have you read Black Dossier? Lost Girls? Promethea? Regular-strength LOEG? Have you read any of the myriad negative reviews of these books?

In most of them, the question comes up: just what the fuck is Alan Moore on about, these days?

Some say, nothing at all. Some say that all his time is taken up with pointless panegyrics meant to uncritically glorify “Imagination”…but which, apparently without irony, make “Imagination” staler and staler the more it’s looked at. The sexual congress of fictional universes in “Alternity”! Frankenstein and Dracula, Huckleberry Hound and Quickdraw McGraw! Flash and Blur! Chip and Dale! Mickey and Minnie! Up-se-daisy Hep-zi-bah! Ipso facto, where you are!

They say he’s lost it. At least, they say that in some of his more recent efforts he’s allowed himself to get a little lazy, thus allowing a certain self-indulgence to come to the fore. Or, he’s just blowing his own mind so much, that he can’t help sharing too much — one is reminded of Chesterton’s comment about Wells: that he’d “traded his birthright, for a pot of message.”

Well…pots and kettles, and all that. And besides, isn’t writing all about self-indulgence, really…?

Still, it isn’t like the critics of Moore’s recent work are just experiencing some sort of mass hallucination. Something is going on there, in the past few years: he seems to be getting more ostentatiously playful, but at times it seems to threaten becoming a dreadfully self-serious sort of play, verging on the solipsistic. Many see it; even I see it.


I’m inclined to think there may be just a bit more to this phenomenon, after all.

Here’s where I start to shorten it up: as for what Moore is “on about”, I defy anyone to read Promethea and not feel pretty sure that he’s laid out at least a very good fictional approximation of what he believes, stands for, admires, exalts, is interested in…but then again, any priest of the Imagination could tell us any of that, and Alan’s no priest, of course: rather, as we all know, he’s a magician. So, though the comics-blogging world fears that he’s chosen to subsume fiction into lecture (instead of going, typically for him, the other way around), I’m not sure those fears are properly justified. Amidst all the capital-R representations, Moorean plot and character and dialogue still persist, with all their trademarked tension…by turns sensitive and explosive storytelling, and the very antithesis to a lecture or a diatribe: because in the making of a story, the philosophical destination really never is the point, is it? Or if you prefer, the point of a story is never simply the making of the point, but rather what happens to the characters as the point gets made. We can just about stomach Promethea saying “oh, that’s right, I almost forgot…Reality and Imagination together make the world, don’t they?”, but to straightforwardly make Mina Murray the mouthpiece of philosophy must seem somewhat repellent to us; to make Allan Quartermain merely embody the generic protestations of the novitiate must seem something of a cheat. These aren’t the characters we’ve come to know, and perhaps love, at all! Are they?

If, like me, you’re willing to believe for a moment that they are not, can’t be, mustn’t be…

Then let’s deconstruct this shit, a little. Shall we?

Alan Moore’s seeming “collapse” into self-indulgence is, I believe, a bit of an illusion: as easy a summation, as seductive a summation as it is to just say “he’s losing it”, I think a little examination will show that all these perhaps sometimes off-putting things (I mean I am not put off by them, but many people evidently are) are nonetheless not actually the same thing — and because of that, they don’t really sum the way that they seem to.

And I believe it all starts — or rather, ends — with “Jimmy Bond”.

One thing Alan Moore has never shied away from in his many investigations into Imagination and Identity is the necessity of showing the reader how essentially problematic this relationship is: Imagination gives us a name, but what’s underneath it? No matter how great and glorious the name happens to be, there is always something underneath it…at least, a restless something. The masks of identity, of Imagination, are applied to a secret Self at the same time that they themselves bestow Selfhood — and Promethea is both greater than Sophie and less than Babalon, but Sophie is still more than any Great Truth, to us: in the context of a story, Sophie is what Matters.

But then again…what’s Story, if not that selfsame Imagination I’ve just opposed it to? And who is Sophie, without her story?

There: I’ve just described her whole life’s difficulty. “Now she discards my mask,” she says, and lets loose a tear — and to my mind, it is not just for the destruction of the world. Eh?

Because there’s a more essential conflict there. As a matter of fact, there is always a more essential conflict there. And to be careful that I don’t just simply reiterate Promethea’s storyline, let me point out that the principle goes a lot further than Promethea — although that, too, may be reiterating Promethea’s storyline — but what I mean is that we should look at Alan Moore’s entire oeuvre: in which Alec Holland, appearing to be the identity Imagination is only laid on top of, is revealed as a fiction himself, a necessary scaffolding for a fake fakeness…and now that you mention it, who’s realer, Mike Moran or Miracleman? Mike, the real and non-manufactured one, would confess that he’s the fake — but as soon as the freedom of the dream-self is manifested, just look how quickly it becomes poisonously un-free

And is that proof of its “real” reality, or not? The photograph lies at Dr. Manhattan’s feet, as Rorschach’s real face gets put on, stripped off, put on, stripped away…but note at the very last moment it does both at once

So what I’m saying is: it’s this very conflict which is Moore’s stock-in-trade. Think about it.

Imagination is not just simply grrrREAT!

Identity is not just something GOOD TO HAVE…!

And sex is much more — and less — than just the celebration of the Idea. Because anonymity, the secret identity — the secret identity — is on the Tree Of Life too. Promethea has a great time with Jack The Faust, and he with her…but it’s Sophie he likes. It’s Sophie he cares for, and fears for.

Let’s look more carefully at the somewhat greasy beauty and transcendence of the Blazing World in Black Dossier, with its pop-eyed Prospero bellowing his creed from its most topless towers: the absolute perfected image of what our local Morrisonheads would call a Knowledgeable Beard! Rather suspicious, ain’t it? Rather makes one squirm, don’t it? Not to mention go reaching for the Excedrin. You want something to deconstruct, here it is: the Golliwog as Deus Ex Tar-Baby, the repulsive convenience of Orlando just “happening” to be in female phase as Allan Q. and Mina arrive — how fortunate it all is! How extraordinarily fortunate!

But, what’s the message?

Just: that Imagination is grrrREAT?

That it — what? — swings?

That sex — I mean Identity — oh no wait, I mean Freedom — or do I? — is GOOD TO HAVE?

What seems most suspicious about that, if you ask me — and I’m surprised I should have to say it — is its aggressively ominous tone. Because that seems to work against everything Moore has previously done with the LOEG characters, doesn’t it? Everything is settled now, hurray! Onward and upward, everybody except Susan! HURRAY! Aslan’s here!

Except: hurray?

Forgive me, but I just can’t believe that.

Because actually what’s most suspicious about all this is the notion that Moore himself doesn’t know what disturbing or dissonant threads he’s working into his stories. There’s the Golliwog, stuck like a big black Messianic doorstop into the entranceway to Final Perfection…and, what, do you think he just pulled that choice out of a hat, or something? There’s Orlando, suddenly bloody everywhere, guiding and directing, shaping…but why?

You think he ran out of ideas, and so decided to fill a million pages with Orlando, just at random?

Sex is just Imagination, and ain’t it great, so let’s all have a lot more of it, and Orlando’s perfect for that so why not?

And seriously, we all should have a lot more of it, but that’s not what this is about…

There’s no doubt whatsoever that Moore thinks Imagination really is great — hell, I think so too — but quick, let’s jump over in the direction of Lost Girls: where on the eve of the Great War, Monsieur What’s-His-Name (no, I didn’t get that wrong), proprietor of the Garden Of Eden Hotel, invites our heroines to a hootenanny, wherein his infamous Book is always prominently on display, catalyzing the escapades…if I may be so pudicious. Or, should I say: immanentizing the Eschaton? Slightly less so. But anyway in the White Book is a remarkable passage: the story of the incestuous family locked up with each other. Warning, reader: this is where it crosses the line from porn, over to something else…and indeed even one of Herr Whosit’s houris expresses a carefully authorially-controlled disquiet with it. “But, I’m a Mum myself” she says, or something very like that…

This is where that famous line comes in: about how Imagination is Imagination, and Reality is Reality, and only moralists and magistrates can’t tell the difference…

Which is true enough, certainly…

But does that sound like Alan Moore, to you? “Tush, now, it’s so easy to draw a line between real and unreal, why are you being so foolish…?”

No. I mean, it’s true. It’s even very true, when one is an artist speaking of their art. But inside the book…!

Alan’s a cleverer writer than that. He likes issues. For proof, note that as soon as he’s said that nutty thing Herr Voluptuous Geezer immediately points out how he supposes he might himself have crossed that Reality/Imagination line just now…and so you can’t go by what he says…

But, hey! Lucky for him and us, he’s a fictional character

And maybe more than one, in fact: but of course he doesn’t say that.

“I’m a Mum, too”: if you’ve read the passage in question, you know that this is not a “Simplicio”-type objection. Sr. Sexual Socrates, proprietor of the White Hotel, doesn’t answer it back with quite the ease he seems to, because as readers we look at this passage in the Book and think: oh my God, ha ha, Good Lord that is really taking the conceit pretty far, Alan…

We are meant to feel disturbed by it, I think. This is not Watchmen, where Imagination is automatically prophylactic (and so you dare not take the costume off) — this is the real deal. This could be trouble: there isn’t a costume in sight. And, as we’ve been repeatedly told, it’s porn, too — so if we are looking for excuses, we will be looking in the wrong place if we pick up Lost Girls. Herein, no quarter is given. Well, really that’s hardly important; of much greater significance is the fact that no quarter is asked…but, yes, if one wanted to pick at it, no quarter is given either.

Or in other words, here Moore’s allusive layering is more than just trompe l’oeil, more than just encryption…and indeed the point is that you could find yourself in a bit of trouble if all you do is crack it. In point of fact if you try to crack Lost Girls or Black Dossier, the greatest danger is that you will — you’ll hear Father Inevitable say that only moralists and magistrates can’t tell the difference between fantasy and reality, and you’ll see that War kills Imagination, but that’s all you’ll see and hear…you’ll notice Allan Quartermain despairing of the condition of modern British pop-fiction, and you’ll notice that sex is magic and magic is Idea…but you won’t notice anything else. You won’t notice, for example, any irony in the presentation of the moral woof! woof! Imagination is Great, and Sex is Good to Have!

Which, I think, will mean that you’ll hardly notice anything at all.

Although, come on: Imagination is great, and sex is good to have…

But let’s get parabolic, and do some more tearing-away of concept from concept, before we fall down and re-enter the sexual: let’s talk referentiality vs. interreactivity. I hope you can see that the two are not the same: interreactivity’s top potential is actually the land of No-Reference, No-Motive…where subject rules, and object sucks. Or rather, where object doesn’t exist at all. Pure inter-reference, the word that defeats the sum of its parts — where meanings are made from themselves, incestuously, cannibalistically, with no past at all: because the past does not exist. Where the moment just gone by is unrevisitable (if you’ll pardon me again), and so the only past there ever has been is the past of now…and as to how that works, look: don’t even ask.

Edenic, by some standards, absolutely. David Cronenberg’s, maybe? But…

Then you’ve got referentiality: where everything’s essentially tied, like a bunch of floats bobbing on the waves, but nevertheless anchored to the seabed. And the ropes and the chains only stretch so far, only move so much…in other words there’s some physics here, some constraint on absolute interpenetrability, absolute anti-topological cosmic virility…a restraint, on what some might call storytelling senility


Sorry, little bit of the late-night preacher, there…

But what I’m saying is, let’s not confuse one with the other. And especially where LOEG is concerned, let’s not confuse the intention to invoke one, with the intention to invoke the other, see what I mean? Even if they do get tangled up.

A short digression, on our way back to regularly-scheduled programming: what’s the difference between sex and gender?

Gosh, you know I don’t know if I’ve ever made a digression that short; let’s return to it later.

Meantime, how about Mina?

You know Mina: the long red scarf. The maiden name. Sure, but it’s not that weird — look, everybody uses their “maiden name” in LOEG. Allan sinks himself in opium. Jekyll and Hyde don’t know who the hell they are, who’s concealing who (and no, that isn’t a mistake either). Griffin is, for Heaven’s sake, invisible. The man named Nemo — say, what does that little name mean agin? — lives under the sea. A mystery surrounds “M”. The name of the evil they first battle is “The Terror Of Limehouse”…and we know why. The unnamed detective looks up to the top of the waterfall, wonders…climbs up…disappears.

And then he’s gone.

But, really gone?

Out in the green sea of the South Downs, the strange thing called un-identity is found. Or, is it really un-identity at all? Allan talks about how it feels “like Africa”, and this surely isn’t an accident either…this is Moore doing Victorian literature in a few extraordinarily deft, and ultimately recursive strokes — one can’t help hoping that the next “M” is Marlow. And what would he say about “the state of the English adventure hero”, when Moore himself has made the fascinating suggestion that the allure of fame has in the mid-to-late twentieth century time replaced, in fact supplanted, come to stand in for, the allure of the sea? The black water of the Thames goes up and down still, and if anything in LOEG bestows character, it’s anonymity itself: Mina’s red scarf. Alan Moore’s Allan Quartermain, or his Mister Hyde…or his Nemo. “Kiss me,” Hyde begs Mina. “Bite my neck,” Mina asks Allan.

These are Alan’s own characters. Beyond a doubt.

And yet: the red scarf.

Big, isn’t it?

They cannot even be his characters, without first being someone else’s…and then, being cleverly obscured. We are not paying enough attention: is it at all remarkable that Jimmy Bond just can’t seem to secure any sexual advantage over the women he meets? Though the world is full of Pussy Galore and Oodles O’ Quim. You know I heard once (and I’ve said this before) that in the Forties and Fifties “Jimmy Bond” was precisely the same sort of name as “John Doe” — a name meaning “no one”. A euphemism for a dead body. So this is Jimmy, not James; he has not even had his anonymity notionalized. And so, he cannot get the damn thing sexualized either? This may in fact be the key matter: in the world where Harry Lime fairly boils out of the name-swamp at Greyfriars to become (oh, brilliant! And who else?) Big Brother, Jimmy Bond is still the biggest joke that ever was. I mean, he cannot even get to bed with a sixteen-year-old Emma Peel, who doesn’t even have a name yet! The place is a riot of pop-culture spaceships, but for Jimmy as for Emma, as indeed for Winston, there’s absolutely no escape to be had anywhere. All those going-tos are barren, for the anonymous — the anonymized — self…

And yet, isn’t it interesting that Allan and Mina can go? Because they’ve been anonymized too, three different times: once at introduction, once in a hotel room, and once in a glorious pool. Of course sex makes anonymity just as surely as it crafts identity: the ultimate Unknowable is always the partner’s own Body, that very indissoluble cornerstone of identity…that ultimate Anonymous thing, that mirror that simply swallows the reflection…

Gender, in case you’re wondering, is not the same as sex. Sex is only the parts you’ve got; gender, on the other hand, is who you are. Not that it doesn’t have anything to do with the parts you’ve got! As a matter of fact it has everything to do with them! And that’s because, quite naturally, the body is the indispensible root of personhood. That’s sex, if you like; and gender forms the branches, upon which all the blooming flowers are identities. And, the nectar of those flowers…?

Literature, I suppose: Jimmy Bond and Orlando face one another across the big Baccarat table of life, with Jimmy dying for Imagination, any old Imagination — he is the imagination-less man, the seeker, the clay — while meanwhile Orlando is beset, has always been beset, by too damn much Imagination — just as much mutable Idea as any Psammead, any Golliwog, any Aslan, Orlando is entirely bereft of the security of the body, and the body’s own Truth. He/she has completely lost track of the clay. Kings of Ennui face each other across the table, waiting for cards. One will never hit. One will, horribly, always hit.

These are Alan Moore characters too, you may notice.

But they’re kind of “Big ‘R'” ones. Allan and Mina are still different, still adrift in the intermixture of identity and anonymity: Allan’s sexual stodginess persists on into the Blazing World itself, his very own Big Red Scarf, though his body’s been wiped clean of all marks and histories…still the world of problematic tensions he belongs to has not been unmade, only temporarily avoided, and the ears don’t grow on unripened corn as much as all that! Meanwhile Mina is still beautifully recognizable as Mina, whatever she does…her scarf is still there too, and her scars. The scars left by Idea. So, the place they arrive at is a kind of Nowhere (onward and upward, except Susan!), and Nowhere’s not exactly synonymous with “escape”…unless those are the rules of the game, after all, that the Blazing World is no more than the flip-side of IngSoc’s embedded oppositional nature…but then in that case the two must partake of each other, mustn’t they?

So…where’s that escape, again?

Cheers. Thanks for reading so far. And now back to Lost Girls, and its terrible crowning image of the most very ultimate kind of fucking…or, maybe let’s go just a bit further back, to Alice and Wendy and Dorothy, and how their fantasies intertwine with reality. Because they choose that, naturally: the upward stroke of the lightning, reaching…the downward stroke, finishing. They choose them both. Peter is ruined as surely as he’s made, the Red King is woken on purpose by the rebellious Alice…and why, after all, does she rebel? Can we responsibly imagine the debate over the White Book is not set at least in superposition to Alice’s actions in her dream-life?… and there never was a Tin Man at all, only a secret eventually impossible to cover up with false names and bright new places. In the end, when the mirror is broken, it isn’t only War killing Imagination, you see…War, after all, is a kind of Imagination. Descending into reality, a finishing stroke. Margaret Case is not just Alan Moore’s mouthpiece. None of the characters in Promethea are. Not really. Lost in interreactivity, we think the author is getting lost too, but he isn’t.

At least, that’s my contention.

Remember, the Woman is Imagination. The Snake is Reality.

And Alan’s God is the Snake.

Although, you may notice…well, he says so himself…

It is a fictional Snake.

So, maybe we’re meant to notice the sterility of “pure” or “blazing” Imagination, and be annoyed by it, and go reaching for the Excedrin? Why else in the world would Bertie ever fight Cthulhu, for God’s sake? What else in the world is the Golliwog doing there, at all?

And whoever said Imagination was always “nice”? Who on Earth would ever believe them, if they did?

And whoever said Sex and Identity were just simplistic expressions of its awesomely awesome awesomeness?

Somewhere, the restless Self, never to be known, gets its dirty fingers into this stuff too. Or, are they clean fingers, that it gets in there? Into that filthy old pot of message?

Whatever; as I think Moore makes terribly clear throughout his oeuvre, the only sure way to tell what Identity really is, is when it disappears. Sometimes fatally.

As events conserve their meanings most, when juxtaposed with a gravestone.

…And, well, so much for the Reader’s Digest version, Bloggers! I confess I missed out quite a bit of stuff I’d meant to cover! Oh, you’re welcome, you’re welcome…really, it was nothing. Just…going away for a few days, you know. Thought you’d like some raw meat to tear off the bone in the meantime.

But if you will try to be gentle with a poor Blogger, I will try my best to lie back, and think of England.

So ta-ta for now.

22 responses to “Sex, Imagination, Anonymity…And Alan Moore

  1. I’ve read all the above-mentioned Moore works apart from Lost Girls — of which I’ve only read an excerpt — and a very wide sampling of the critical reaction to all these works, enough to have a good sense of what you’re describing. And I can’t help but compare the whole thing with the later work of another author with whom I’m equally familiar…one who on first glance might seem a very unlikely counterpart to Alan Moore, but in fact the two have a lot in common.

    Robert Heinlein — yes, yes, but stay with me here — made his early reputation bringing a higher level of literacy and literary craft than SF pulps previously enjoyed, and though it gets overlooked today he was virtually a practitioner of kitchen sink realism by the standards of Astounding circa 1939. He had a background in left wing politics and architecture and avant garde art and incorporated knowing references to mysticism and Wicca and Freemasonry in among the hard-nosed rocket jockeys who smoked Lucky Strikes while matching ballistic orbits with the Supra New York space station. People remember the latter but often forget the rest.

    But in the Sixties, the fans thought Heinlein had lost his marbles, with the endless discussion of sex in Stranger in a Strange Land and peepshow hookups in I Will Fear No Evil and interminable dissection of group marriages in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Time Enough For Love. (Readers who wanted more hardware and no sex could at least enjoy Starship Troopers, and they’re welcome to it.) But in the final phase of his career, Heinlein wrote a book called Number of the Beast, in which the lead characters travel through alternate dimensions and meet characters from Stranger and TEFL…who they know as fictional characters because they’ve read those Heinlein novels, just as those characters know the cast of NOTB from having read Heinlein’s book (or a version thereof). And then all these folks who know one another as fictional creations have lots of sex with one another. This continues for two more novels in which Heinlein explores the nature of fiction versus reality, writers and their characters, alternate universes, and the virtues of eliminating all sexual repression and having lots of sex with people whose values the author agrees with.

    Heinlein has totally lost it, they said. He’s succumbed to the Brain Eater that destroys once-admired SF writers after a certain age. And maybe so. But doesn’t this all sound familiar?

    In many ways Moore can be unctuously PC, and I suspect he’d be righteously disgusted to be compared with that right-wing reactionary Neanderthal Heinlein. However, I see in the Blazing World — and in Promethea’s post-Eschaton New York City — more than a passing echo of Heinlein’s paradisical future world Tertius, where the spiritual Elect are allowed to groove with one another because they think the right thoughts and have the right values, and so they received the spiritual revelation freeing them from human failings.

    If that sounds a harsh description, I’m actually a big fan of these stories…but I don’t entirely trust the nature of their paradise.

  2. It’s kind of interesting you bring up Cronenberg, becuase I think he and Moore have the exact same problem. For most of their careers, sex was simply just another aspect of their worldview. It was important, sure. But it wasn’t everything. And in recent years both of them have become the old guy who talks about sex all the damn time (Cronenberg apparently is actually that guy, acting out the sex scene on the stairs with his wife on the set of History of Violence in front of the cast and crew.). They’ve become the type of person who says “lover” every single sentence. Ew.

  3. Oh, well caught, RAB!

    I’d better preface things by saying that words cannot easily convey how much I owe to Alan Moore, and how much I admire him and all his works. If there’s any doubt how to construe what I say, well it’s fansqueee.

    I sometimes think of Moore as an enduring Beatle, but interestingly one who meets John Lennon coming the other way. Moore starts out doing some memorable rants about the Bastards and the Beaten; then, almost at an abrupt moment (“The Red eats your wife.”) he turns to a mystical renunciation, where there is nothing but Everyman and the Way, and Everyman is deprived of even a claim to common humanity. Then, as with the Beatles, the Way turns out to be the welcoming face of the world, where hope and love are principles of power. Not that this keeps Moore from also seeing a kind of Calvinism, where human beings are enmeshed in a global determinism, and their choices, though completely transparent, are nonetheless too genuine to deny. But, you know, Buddha never denied the Wheel.

    Now John and Alan were lucky. At the time they came upon mysticism, they had extraordinary resources on hand, and with these they could furnish the Way with original concrete imagery, instead of just testifying blandly to the white-lightness of it all. But you can only take that so far, before you find you’re just adding to the giant pile of trivial distractions you were trying to get away from in the first place. So John goes off and deals with his own conflicts. While Alan winds up where the Beatles started out, playing gigs in unknown clubs, releasing the odd single on an obscure label, and making his peace with the giant pile of neat crap – a lot of which is still good in itself. George Formby and Chuck Berry are for the ages, and likewise all the pulp and comics geniuses. It’s a good life.

    It’s a simple story. But now Plok asks, but hey, what about this overflow of eroticism in the man’s later work here? Surely it must mean something, I mean this is Alan Moore.

    Now I had to pick up The Black Dossier sometime, and today was it. I haven’t opened it yet. Want to lay out my expectations first. What do I think Moore’s going to do with the eroticism here?

    Well, it’s going to be another face of the Way, isn’t it? Gender as Qabala, gender as Tarot, as commedia dell’ arte. All the roles, the masks, the drag; and if Plok says right, Orlando Panogyne as Magus to the show, with all the cards at hir elegant fingertips.

    So it’s to be another museum tour like Promethea, then? (Admittedly, it sounds as if Lost Girls is where we get the whole deal, but the outlines should be apparent in TBD.) Or does it have teeth, will it take a stand?

    There’s nothing more unseemly than eroticism with a moral code. Even an implied one. We’ve spent centuries just making the point and trying to get it heard, that it’s all about each other, damn it, and being honest with each other now and true to each other later, and that’s it! You can take your transcendent values and stick ’em where the moon don’t beam.

    And yet – when it’s Moore drawing all the icons into a panorama, doesn’t it irresistibly reveal itself to be the Way? Though maybe it’s the Wheel.

    I’ve got a couple of strange connections. One of them is Eleanor of Aquitaine’s Court of Love. I have to research this, but it functioned briefly as kind of professional ethics tribunal, as I understand it, for the certification of Platonic amours among the Plantagenet knights and ladies. Which is a ridiculous connection to make, I know. Except that when Moore first hits the Way, it’s with Alec Holland, with his sexual narcissism crushed to a pulp, barely with a gender at all, more vegetable than human being – and then in a moment, unselfish love turns him into perhaps the most purely male character in the comics. Queen Eleanor would swoon.

    And the other connection is so flat-out weird, I have to read the Dossier first, to see if Moore exploits it. I’ll tell you what I find.

  4. Jonathan, I’ll look forward to that for sure! Come right back! But whatever happens, I think you won’t find BD to be the same sort of show as Promethea (“now she discards my masque”?) — in a way I think LG and BD break Promethea right down the middle, message-wise. RAB’s entirely on-target when he brings up Heinlein’s later work — I defy anyone who’s familiar with it to suppress a shudder upon getting to the 3D pages of Black Dossier, it is right bloody there. Damned unnerving: it is so, SO there, in fact, that it makes me want to say the similarity was completely intentional…and yet I wouldn’t go that far, actually. So, that’s the unnerving part, and though I really don’t think I’m digging very deep to get past that Heinleinian disquiet, I do have to dig…and that amazes me. So the question becomes, for me: Heinlein aside, did Moore know what disquiet he was causing with all this Alternity jazz, or was it an accident? Most people, when critiquing BD, don’t just point to it but to Promethea too…so I followed suit, but one thing I didn’t bother to say in so many words is that the two indulgences aren’t the same indulgence, in my opinion. As far as Promethea goes, I think people overreact to the “mouthpiecing” — in my view, the formal artistic ambition involved in Promethea’s journey up the Tree of Life all but requires such a…hm, okay, how ’bout calling it a docile protagonistic voice? But seriously, look at that thing: graphically, it really pushes the envelope. So Moore falls back, temporarily, on the old fabulistic call-and-response dialogue that today we regard (thanks in large part to his own efforts) as rather dunderheaded, because it’s the only way to achieve those objectives — as he wishes to achieve them — with any concision.

    In other words: I’m totally okay with all of that. Doesn’t bother me a bit. Likewise the arbitrary Utopia of Promethea’s final installment is…I think not entirely arbitrary after all, since it flows out directly and consequently from Sophie’s protagonistic adventure. But! I can’t argue this still doesn’t mean there isn’t “a certain tendency” in Alan Moore’s work. As far back as 1963, he was clearly fiddling with this sort of frisson. And as clever as it is to have the 3D section of BD be the place where LOEG’s comics narrative and ancillary text-pieces COLLIDE — that’s crazy-clever, really, and a truly inspired use of 3D, if you’re just willing to dig down one inch — it’s still ostentatiously arbitrary in a way that the ending of Promethea wasn’t. Ostentatious? Hell, this is where I lose it: it’s practically gory, for God’s sake. So, maybe he didn’t know about Heinlein, but it can’t have been completely bereft of intentionality. Because there are two things:

    One, is there something to say on this semi-Heinleinian subject of the implosion of all fictions that isn’t just, well, masturbatory? Speaking as a fan, nevertheless I’m sure Heinlein got to the masturbation part and just stopped dead at its doorstop — Alan, though, is not playing when he says he believes in Ideaspace. So there must be more to say about Alternity, for him, than just “do it into a sock, and then throw out the sock, and woo-hoo.” But, what is it? Well, I hope we’re not there yet, as far as LOEG and Allan and Mina go…BD is so ENORMOUSLY in-your-face (ha ha), so enormously ominous, that while I can’t bring myself to say I think it deliberately invokes Heinlein’s latter-day excesses, I can’t bring myself to say it could’ve possibly been intended to be read straight, either. Because, two: as I hope I’ve pointed out adequately, there are plenty of elements in the text that strive against the text’s own apparent (and triumphant) conclusion. For one thing, and the most obvious, what we have here is a drama about Reality and Imagination that’s significantly unlike the one that plays out in Promethea, because in LOEG there really is no “real life” — there’s nobody standing for “Reality” except Allan Quartermain and Mina Harker, named as themselves, I mean really! So how can Imagination simply be “good”, and Reality simply be “bad”, in a setting like that? (Same problem with LG, BTW) To extract a moral from it all, you’d need to imagine Moore trying to communicate something hugely sophisticated about English pop literature. So although everybody seems to read BD’s last page as Manifesto, I just can’t. I can do it with the middle-late Promethea, but not with this. So, RAB, I hope I’m not intended to trust the nature of this paradise. Because I hope to see Allan and Mina leave it; somewhere upstream, I eventually hope to see somebody sympathize with Susan, somehow. It does seem like Alan’s thing, to do that. However, my fear is that the deconstructable bits of BD are only there because he couldn’t switch off his old authorial habits perfectly, in pursuit of his new starry-eyed objective. I fear that; on the other hand, I think I’ve got a better than 50/50 chance, all things considered, of having my fears dispelled by LOEG’s next incarnation.

    Well, we’ll see!

    Whoops, starting to babble. But, as an addendum, read Lost Girls: Jonathan, embedded there is a Promethea-like enumeration of the Seven Deadly Sins, but turned to a different purpose…RAB, in Melinda’s final image, I think we learn something about Alice’s mirror that we didn’t know before. German soldiers rush in and smash it, after Alice leaves it behind: that’s too easy by half, though. The final page puts it in better perspective.

    And: love the Lennon/Moore comparison! And everything else, too.

    Also, I’m not one to pit Zatanna against Promethea, but…there is one certain panel in which Morrison and Sook thoroughly yu-gi-oh Moore and Williams. If I may use “yu-gi-oh” as a verb.

    Finally, Sean and Clone: hmmm…

    Must think on’t!

  5. Bit over twenty years ago, Nancy Friday wrote a book about male sexual fantasies. Interviewed a bunch of guys, had them come clean about what they had at the back of the drawer. Perhaps the sanest of the lot, a psychiatrist, just said, “Sitting under a tree in summer with all the women I’ve ever loved, and none of them are jealous.”

    Now I can well see how, especially toward the end of your life, you want to express a settling of affairs, a unification of your affections, if only (wait for it) in your imagination. And I also see how this can get down the necks of younger men, with a lot invested in their personal commitments, who want to share that, and feel there’s a consensus on it. So yeah, it’s totally Heinlein’s game of ideal families. Blatantly. But I don’t think it means you’ve succumbed to aggravated Hefnerism if you play it. It’s your fantasy life, and there’s only one you.

    Well, I’ve read it. It felt skimpy, I wanted more story, but then it clicked that the Dossier was the hero of the piece, and in that perspective it’s fine. Alan Moore, literary impressionist, does his famous Wold Newton act (over men and horses, hoops and garters…), I’ll buy it.

    No, Plok you’re right, it’s not the re-gendering of the hermetic whatsit that I was extrapolating. That’s Promethea really, and there’s still loads left to explore that way with Margaret, Grace, Anna and the gang.

    What does come through in TBD, with scary force, is how the Victorians went about sustaining the British Empire by injecting its values into childrens’ stories. Almost colonized them. Tom Brown at Rugby, Stalky & Co., until you have the Famous Five at Greyfriars, chugging along unreflectively forever. Oblivious to the serpents hatching in the nest. I mean, we usually think of literature as reflecting the realities of the times; but if we imagine the stories having an interest of their own – well there stands Rugby College like an occupying fortress, and its animating spirits, the chaps it’s there for, are Harry Wharton, Bob Cherry and all. Who’ll tell you, a chap doesn’t peach on a chap, and he won’t let a chap down, but gosh, doesn’t Bunter rather ask for it? And this is going to be your ruling class, folks.

    Righto, back to the filf.

    We’re all monsters when we masturbate. In my imagination I can have what I want. My figments lead charmed lives with no conflict or consequence which isn’t part of my intention, i.e. which isn’t the point. Obvious, that.

    Now Fanny Hill, she leads a charmed life. Bit of a monster, really. She doesn’t even need the amenities of Venusberg to lead it, the world of LOEG is full of occasions. Do rather well at Rosa Cootes’, haw-haw. Fanny gets a ticket to Avalon, where everyone is pretty much immortal. Prospero can celebrate her along with all the figments, as an eternal fantasy. And that’s fine, because Fanny is not, in essence, greedy. She doesn’t insist that you live in her world, or that you must falsify yourself to enter it. And this modesty, oddly enough, is what makes her sovereignty possible. Her fantasy plays nicely with others, thus she can be the supreme intention in it.

    Bulldog Drummond also leads a charmed life, in his own stories – but not in LOEG. Could he get a ticket to the Blazing World? In theory yes, but could he be happy without an endless supply of Bolshies to lay out? Would he have to get a reeducation? Prospero can’t welcome Drummond in as an eternal fantasy, and still allow him sovereignty over his fantasy cast. Least, not unless the Blazing World
    has dungeons we haven’t seen.

    So now Alan Moore has a structural problem. In his supreme intention, Drummond has to go down, and Moore has to be accountable for making that choice. In fact his own heroes – if they haven’t found their Happy Ending in Avalon – if their essence is to be risking all against infamy – have to do to Drummond what in his own stories he does to others.

    So it’s not as nicely nice as Prospero would have it. Even as the untrammeled author of your own fantasies, you’re compelled to impose a hierarchy of intentions. You can’t haveChristopher Robin in Harry Lime’s world – and you’d probably best make sure the charm on his life keeps him out of Fanny Hill’s.

    Now I sure don’t think Moore has lost it. Not when he can still do things as surpassingly slimy as Bob Cherry’s assurances of lifelong friendship and support to Gerry O’Brien. If there were Westerns for rats, he’d be Rat Bastardson. But, structural problem. If Moore wants, he can deal with it by keeping the LOEG world an edgy place which crucially needs Murray and Quatermain on the job. An Armageddon of fictional characters might be the ticket.

  6. I think I agree, Jonathan — superficially you could assume that the postwar English cultural icons all got too enmeshed in, and blasted by, political exigencies, and that’s why they’re all trapped, unable to get up to Prospero Country…but it isn’t really a sufficient explanation, is it? Because it appears to privilege the Imperial children’s stories by leaving them unexamined. Which of course isn’t right either: because as you point out, they do get examined, and the character of the postwar stories is far from disconnected from them. It’s a really fascinating game…so long as the Blazing World isn’t its finish line. Mostly because I can’t imagine Allan and Mina not being needed in Moore and O’Neill’s tensely intertextual world! They’re the focus of all these meanings, after all.

    Of course one thing we’ve got to remember is that BD is the sideshow, here, an intermission-play…it isn’t LOEG proper, and as you say, the Dossier itself is the star. Skimpy in a story sense, absolutely; fantastically rich in all the other ways, though. But no wonder so many American bloggers were so unfazed by all the enchantment — I freely admit, there’s a hell of a lot of stuff in BD that I know I’m just plain missing, but some of that stuff I at least know is there, because of all the other stuff I do catch. But, if I didn’t catch anything…yikes, I guess I’d be wondering why I wasted my money. As it is, I know just about enough to realize how much is slipping under my radar, so I can appreciate the ludicrous density of it…and then, too, for all that it’s skimpy on story, there are bits that genuinely amaze. I laughed when they ended up at Greyfriars, and I gasped and smacked my forehead when Harry showed up. Also, the sex: it’s not just there to titillate, I believe, rather it does get utilized

    Basically the whole thing gets me very eager for the next LOEG installment.

    Whoops, bedtime! More on this tomorrow, I’m sure.

  7. I can’t do it, because I haven’t read the Black Dossier or Lost Girls or Promethea…

    But someone needs to bring Kim Newman into the discussion.

    (If you don’t know who Kim Newman is, he’s sort of…

    Kim Newman = (Alan Moore + Philip Jose Farmer)/2 + 0.2*Bret Easton Ellis

    if that makes any sense. And he’s written a whole lot of stuff that fits in here.)

  8. Kim Newman, writer of the line “sometimes scotch is the only soldier that can complete the mission”!

    There was a part in The Bloody Red Baron that intrigued me, but then came to nothing — a character, having been turned into a vampire, wonders if she’s really dead, or if being a vampire just means being alive in a different way. And she concludes something like: “No…that queer silence in her head, that was death…” She reasons that there’s something supernatural going on. A little bit later we come across some fictional mad scientists trying to find a physiological cause of vampirism — similarly, they have no luck.

    I thought, oh good: we’re going to be taking a look at why this isn’t science fiction.

    But then it never happened, and after that I always felt something crucial had been left out of the “Anno Dracula” series…an important implication of having all these different related characters jammed up into the same universe.

    Love the equation, Matthew!

  9. The Bloody Red Baron goes down like a hot chocolate and brandy. It’s good to have read Anno Dracula first.

    I reckon Newman hits his targets better than Moore does in LOEG, because Newman isn’t tempted to throw every old story into the pot. He selects his elements for cumulative effect.

    Incidentally, I’ve come to think it was a mistake for Moore to have Prospero finish up proclaiming his domain as a refuge for stories. He’s the only character in LOEG who goes meta like that – everybody else believes they’re the real thing, and we did too. It doesn’t give LOEG a superior context to make it a suburb of the Immateria, rather it would undermine its seriousness.

  10. Hmm, looking it over again today, I can see I missed a couple crucial things, and got another one or two factual details just plain wrong…

    However! The main point stands, I think, though perhaps a bit more obscurely. Prospero speaks to us, but…well, it’s exactly as you say, the moral undermines the conceit, and because of that we’re not sure how much of a moral it really is. Prospero mentions Holmes, but where is Holmes? If the Blazing World is the afterlife of Story, as Prospero tells us it is, then what else is it? If he goes meta, then we’re obliged to follow him in — but then if the Blazing World is a suburb of the Immateria, then its population is in some sense meant to be just what it is, and so an in-story meta-rationale for why Emma Peel and James Bond are set up as an oppositional pairing to Allan and Mina is practically required. And then there’s Drummond. And then there are all the French folks. And then there’s Prospero wanting the Dossier. If I’m not meant to be suspicious of this set-up…well, but how can that not be intended? That’s Hyde playing Caliban on the last page, after you get through the authorially-enriched Prospero soliloquy…which by the way: would this conclusion be so unsettling if it weren’t for Prospero going meta on us? Because the suggestion is that here comes Moore’s own voice, surely…

    The whole experience is a little bit uncomfortable. “A takeover by the Americans”, sure — I get that. (And, missed this: “there was no doctor“) But what does that mean, for heaven’s sake? “A takeover by the Americans.” Well, all right…

    All right, but…

    What else?

    Reading it again makes me extremely nervous about the threads I see dangling, here. Prospero’s voice is so authoritative (and long-winded!) that it leaves no room for doubt, and that’s precisely what sets my teeth on edge. In fact Moore says what you say, Jonathan, only in reverse: that the stories that are our “secret soul” colonize us…submarines from Nautilus, spacecraft from Cavorite…well, fair enough…but your point’s a little more on-point, to say that we colonize them. Put both of these together and you have some great fertile earth for growing criticism in…but take just what Prospero says, and you’ve only got sand.


    Also, what to make of the French connection, that culminates in the confrontation with the French league? Isn’t there something else in that, too? But mostly the Blazing World is a thousand times less interesting than the world “outside” it…except for this disquiet. Allan and Mina still do not know that they’re fictional, do they?

    Hmm. More thought required, I believe.

    On The Bloody Red Baron — this was my favourite, because I really appreciated Newman’s knowledgeability about WWI: odd mixture of real and unreal, there. Yet I’ve got to disagree about him hitting his targets better, in one sense: because what does it all get added up to? Well, maybe that’s me — too addicted to roman a clef for my own good…

    Jeez, it’s hot in here. Must take a few hours off. Happy belated Solstice, by the way: ocean water gets warmer from this point on.

  11. One of the Newman stories that sticks in my mind is the one where the Nazis recruit Rick Blaine to help them hunt down all the legendary literary characters who represent the soul of Paris.

    Question. I’m just rereading Westlake’s ‘Bad News’, and it contains within it a certain Thoreau quote. Is that where you twigged to it as a title for this blog? I remember you (have the good taste to) read Westlake, and ‘Bad News’ was published well before you fired up the first version of this blog…

  12. Ha, no, it was actually a favourite quote of an old roommate, years and years ago…I thought it was obscure, so always held onto it, wanting to name something or other “A Trout In The Milk”…but I hate my own voice in articles, so I never had any call for it. Blogging’s different, though.

    And then I found out it’s not an obscure quotation at all, it gets used in medicine and law all the time! “Well, Doc, I guess we’ve found our trout in the milk…” “You said a mouthful, Your Honour…”

    But, ah, Westlake. Think I’ll go read some right now…

  13. My research is done. Veni, googli, vici. Here’s the weird connection I was intimating.

    Margaret Cavendish, 1623–1673, Duchess of Newcastle. Writer in drama, philosophy, natural science, gender politics. Personal eccentric in fashion, celebrity-seeker, known as “Mad Madge”. Familiar, though not Fellow, of the Royal Society. And author of The Description of a New World, Called the Blazing World (1666), also republished as an appendix to her Observations upon Experimental Philosophy (1668), in which she criticizes Hooke’s Micrographica. Of which (former) work a synopsis follows.

    A woman of a certain world, which we take to be our own, is abducted to sea by a man who loves her but is below her station. A great storm carries them far into the Arctic, where everyone but she freezes to death.

    And right away I’m tempted to overquote. I don’t want to clog up plokspace, but this passage is significant:

    Neither was it a wonder that the men did freeze to death; for they were not onely driven to the very end or point of the Pole of that World, but even to another Pole of another World, which joined close to it; so that the cold having a double strength at the conjunction of those two Poles, was insupportable: At last, the Boat still passing on, was forced into another World; for it is impossible to round this Worlds Globe from Pole to Pole, so as we do from East to West; because the Poles of the other World, joining to the Poles of this, do not allow any further passage to surround the World that way; but if any one arrives to either of these Poles, he is either forced to return, or to enter into another World; and least you should scruple at it, and think, if it were thus, those that live at the Poles would either see two Suns at one time, or else they would never want the Suns light for six months together, as it is commonly believed; You must know, that each of these Worlds having its own Sun to enlighten it, they move each one in their peculiar circles; which motion is so just and exact, that neither can hinder or obstruct the other; for they do not exceed their Tropicks, and although they should meet, yet we in this world cannot so well perceive them, by reason of the brightness of our Sun, which being nearer to us, obstructs the splendor of the Suns of the other Worlds, they being too far off to be discerned by our optick perception, except we use very good Telescopes, by which skilful Astronomers have often observed two or three Suns at once.

    I’d guess that latitude and longitude have misled Margaret into seeing the North Pole as a singularity. You can’t keep going north, so either you have to turn back south, or break into a new atlas altogether. An elementary fallacy – but having made it concrete with this bridge between the Poles, she sets to working out the consequences, like, shouldn’t we be be seeing the Suns of both worlds together, six months of the year each? This is science fiction, no less, propelled by the sweeping curiosity of her era.

    The woman is rescued by Bear-men, who look after her briefly, then pass her on to the Fox-men, who decide to give her to the Emperor of this “Blazing-World”. There are men of different colours (like green and purple) and also Goose-men, Mer-men, Satyrs and others – all highly civilized. The Emperor, as soon as he meets her, falls in love and makes her his Emperess, commanding all she desires.

    What does Woman want?

    In no time at all, she has organized the cream of the several races into learned societies. First she asks her Bird-men about the nature of the Sun and Moon, astronomical and atmospheric phenomena; then has the Bear-men show off their microscopy of lice and flies; and so on, for a round trip through the scientific controversies of the time. Next the new Emperess reforms the local religion, but this is just bolilerplate; we never hear what the original religion was, or anything specific about the new one, although the idea of a womens’ religous conclave is intriguing. No, what motivates the Emperess is (1) curiosity, and (2) her own preeminent splendour.

  14. The next step is interesting. Wishing to know how her original world is getting on, the Emperess seizes on communication with “immaterial spirits” as the means. She gets her study groups to look into it, her Fly-men promptly locate a species of air-dwelling spirits, and communications begin.. This leads into a long passage where the spirits answer her questions about the kinds of Cabala, with specifics about John Dee and Edward Kelly, and the Emperess is inspired to write a Cabala of her own. (!)

    Apparently it is advantageous to have a Scribe for this work, and apparently it needs to be a very scholarly scribe, because the Emperess now canvasses the notion of getting the soul of some ancient philosopher to take on the job. Say Aristotle or someone. (!!)

    All right, this sounds like off the planet, yes? What kind of monster is this woman? How much hubris can one ego contain? But it would make a lot more sense, if we assume that the Emperess is really saying: I would like to write my own Prometheade, as Mr Alan Moore has done, and I’m in the market for a viewpoint character or style model. Say Aristotle or someone.

    However it is true that the Emperess is somewhat concrete in the matter of souls, because Margaret writes:

    Why, said the Emperess, can the Soul quit a living body, and wander or travel abroad? Yes, answered he, for according to Plato’s Doctrine, there is a conversation of Souls, and the Souls of Lovers live in the bodies of their Beloved.

    As soon as she invokes Plato, the game is up. This is not about the Christian world-view, where the status of the immortal soul is the most momentous thing in the world. This is about the Immateria, where you can converse with or indeed become anybody, in your imagination.

    Between the Emperess and the Spirits, they decide that any of the great philosophers would have too much of their own opinions to make a good scribe, and would probaby not stoop to work for a woman.

    But, said he, there’s a Lady, the Duchess of Newcastle, which although she is not one of the most learned, eloquent, witty and ingenious, yet is she a plain and rational Writer, for the principle of her Writings, is Sense and Reason, and she will without question, be ready to do you all the service she can.

    Thus Margaret writes herself into her own fiction, as a sounding-board or rhetorical device for her own fictional creation. The first question they have to decide is what type of Cabala they’re going to write. For a Jewish Cabala, the Emperess should really have a Jewish mouthpiece, and she’s not up to pastiching the Old Testament. How about a Philosophical Cabala? No, that would just be adding more nonsense to an already infinite heap. A Moral or Political Cabala? No, the true principles are too simple, you can state them in a couple of sentences. Finally, the pair decide on

    a Poetical or Romancical Cabbala, wherein you can use Metaphors, Allegories, Similitudes, &c. and interpret them as you please.

    After that conclusion, nothing is heard of the matter. Not a word. Perhaps Margaret had some ideas for following up but didn’t complete them. It is just possible that the rest of the story is supposed to be the content of the Romancical Cabbala. But now a new arc begins.

  15. The Emperess and the Duchess are now fast friends – and truly their meeting did produce such an intimate friendship between them, that they became Platonick Lovers, although they were both Females.

    The Duchess is disconsolate one day, and the Emperess asks why.

    Truly said the Duchess to the Emperess (for between dear friends there’s no concealment, they being like several parts of one united body) my Melancholy proceeds from an extreme ambition. The Emperess asked, what the height of her ambition was? The Duchess answered, That neither she her self, nor no Creature in the World was able to know either the height, depth or breadth of her ambition; but said she, my present desire is, that I would be a great Princess.

    Meaning, that she would like to have complete control over a world, as the Emperess does. The duo consider what world would be best for the Duchess to conquer, and there’s some talk about finding a third world beyond the Blazing World’s pole. But all this is feigned. It’s really the pretext for some argument about what is the best kind of world to rule, concluding that it must be a world you invent in your imagination:

    But we wonder, proceeded the Spirits, that you desire to be Emperess of a Terrestrial World, when as you can create your self a Celestial World if you please. What, said the Emperess, can any Mortal be a Creator? Yes, answered the Spirits; for every humane Creature can create an Immaterial World fully inhabited by immaterial Creatures, and populous of immaterial subjects, such as we are, and all this within the compass of the head or scull; nay, not onely so, but he may create a World of what fashion and Government he will, and give the Creatures thereof such motions, figures, forms, colours, perceptions, &c. as he pleases, and make Whirl-pools, Lights, Pressures and Reactions, &c. as he thinks best; nay, he may make a World full of Veins, Muscles, and Nerves, and all these to move by one jolt or stroke: also he may alter that world as often as he pleases, or change it from a natural world, to an artificial; he may make a world of Ideas, a world of Atomes, a world of Lights, or whatsoever his fancy leads him to. And since it is in your power to create such a world, What need you to venture life, reputation and tranquility, to conquer a gross material world? […] The truth is, a Soveraign Monarch has the general trouble; but the Subjects enjoy all the delights and pleasures in parts; for it is impossible, that a Kingdom, nay, a County should be injoyed by one person at once, except he take the pains to travel into every part, and endure the inconveniencies of going from one place to another; wherefore, since glory, delight and pleasure lives but in other mens opinions, and can neither add tranquility to your mind, nor give ease to your body, why should you desire to be Emperess of a material world, and be troubled with the cares that attend Government? when as by creating a world within your self, you may enjoy all both in whole and in parts, without controle or opposition, and may make what world you please, and alter it when you please, and enjoy as much pleasure and delight as a world can afford you?

    Sorry about the massive quote, but this is Exhibit A – the Immaterialist Manifesto itself.

    Both women now set about conceiving imaginary worlds for themselves. There is a rather funny passage in which the Duchess tries out the principles of one famous cosmology after another and gets a headache, before settling on one of her own devising:

    […] she endeavoured to make a World according to Des Cartes Opinion; but when she had made the Æthereal Globules, and set them a moving by a strong and lively imagination, her mind became so dizzie with their extraordinary swift turning round, that it almost put her into a swoon; for her thoughts, by their constant tottering, did so stagger, as if they had all been drunk: wherefore she dissolved that World, and began to make another, according to Hobbs’s Opinion; but when all the parts of this Imaginary World came to press and drive each other, they seemed like a company of Wolves that worry Sheep, or like so many Dogs that hunt after Hares; and when she found a reaction equal to those pressures, her mind was so squeesed together, that her thoughts could neither move forward nor backward, which caused such an horrible pain in her head, that although she had dissolved that World, yet she could not, without much difficulty, settle her mind, and free it from that pain which those pressures and reactions had caused in it.

    At last, when the Duchess saw that no patterns would do her any good in the framing of her World; she was resolved to make a World of her own invention, and this World was composed of sensitive and rational self-moving Matter; indeed, it was composed onely of the rational, which is the subtilest and purest degree of Matter; for as the sensitive did move and act both to the perceptions and consistency of the body, so this degree of Matter at the same point of time (for though the degrees are mixt, yet the several parts may move several ways at one time) did move to the Creation of the Imaginary World; which World after it was made, appear’d so curious and full of variety, so well order’d and wisely govern’d, that it cannot possibly be expressed by words, nor the delight and pleasure which the Duchess took in making this world of her own.

    Check it out. Whole bloody world, carte blanche – and what does she fill it with? Diverting creatures? Sublime beauty? Perfect harmony and justice? Nope – fundamental physics, endowed with just enough animation and sensitivity to move spontaneously about the business of creation. This is my case for the nomination of Margaret Cavendish as The Inventor of Hard SF. You can see how intellectually prepared the literati were for Newton, who’d publish his Principia Mathematica nineteen years later.

    So, we see the extent of the Duchess’ “ambition” – meaning her comprehension of the potential scope of creative imagination. Not merely Princess, but Demiurge!

    Well, there is more. The duo make a visit in bodies of air, to the Duchess’ native world, where the Emperess gets to comment on the Arts, pay compliments to the Royal Family, and meet the Duchess’ affable husband; then to the Emperess’ original world, where her native country is under naval attack. Travelling physically via the Trans-Polar route (the Duchess’ piggy-backing on the Emperess’ soul), and using a kind of incendiary rock from the Blazing World, they fight off the enemy, and install the King of the Emperess’ country as world ruler. After that, the ladies return to the Blazing World, and establish the Theatrical Arts there.

    The work ends with Margaret addressing the reader, taking a bow, and recommending the pleasures of making up imaginary worlds. She leaves us with a playful warning …

    and if any should like the World I have made, and be willing to be my Subjects, they may imagine themselves such, and they are such; I mean, in their Minds, Fancies or Imaginations; but if they cannot endure to be subjects, they may create Worlds of their own, and Govern themselves as they please: But yet let them have a care, not to prove unjust Usurpers, and to rob me of mine; for concerning the Philosophical World, I am Emperess of it my self; and as for the Blazing-world, it having an Emperess already, who rules it with great wisdom and conduct, which Emperess is my dear Platonick Friend, I shall never prove so unjust, treacherous and unworthy to her, as to disturb her Government, much less to depose her from her Imperial Throne, for the sake of any other; but rather chuse to create another World for another Friend.

    … which I fear that Prospero and Moore seem to have flouted, installing Olympia in the Emperess’ place. (So they had better watch it. Huh.) (Shut up, Margie.)

    Now, there seems to be quite a wide awareness of Margaret Cavendish and her work – she also wrote plays and essays – in the womens’ history and literature sectors. What they note is the nonchalance with which the author flips between narrative levels, sometimes twisting them into strange loops, and spinning off surrogate viewpoints as she goes. They’re also keen on her repeated evocations of sisterhoods of Platonic mates, and there’s some stuff about the body as text which I’m not sure about. One sharp observation is how the metaphor of sovereign and subject for author and character turns out to be such a useful contrivance. When I was going on about Fanny Hill demanding a more tolerant sovereignty over the fiction than Bulldog Drummond, that was the inspiration.

    What we all want to know is, how early did Alan Moore know about all this? Margaret Case retires in order to find a peaceable kingdom of her own … coincidence? Dunno. But I have to say, we’ve totally found the Stuart Promethea.

  16. Oh my word. You’ve cracked the code, Jonathan. And to think, all it took was reading the original text Moore references so strongly! Gee, I feel dumb.

    If I were still in school, I’d be very tempted to write a paper on Margaret Cavendish — may have to recommend it to my friend Tyche! But surely this gives the key to Black Dossier, by way of Promethea, and even Voice Of The Fire…

    But, must crash now. If it’s not apparent, I’ll explicate tomorrow. But wow. That’s CRRRR-azy, but true.

  17. Hmm, took me quite a bit longer than I thought, and I’m still not going to talk about Cavendish! Just about what I’ve written already.

    So, I just re-read Dossier again again, and have come to some conclusions:

    One: but, God, did I get a lot of things wrong, up there. I blame a too-rapid compression and a late night…but I won’t change it, I’ll leave the mistakes as they are. For the record: Jimmy Bond does indeed have it off with Emma Black. Mina’s neck wounds are still there despite her dip in the glorious pool (an exceedingly striking revelation, considering my belief that the Blazing World isn’t quite what it looks like), just as Allan is still carting around his ridiculous elephant gun. Mina refers to Jimmy several times as a non-entity, as not “real”, in the space of just a couple of pages. Orlando’s comic strip installments are pretty much the history of the League’s origin, as they are also pretty much the continuation of the scholarly treatise on gods and demigods at the beginning of the Dossier, and in that sense they’re utterly straightforward, and possibly also have the ring of something long-planned…but Orlando’s story does start to go a bit funny after a while, too. Finally, Harry Lime isn’t Big Brother at all…or at least, not quite. He’s a bit more interesting than that.

    Two: this time around, it all read very, very smooth indeed…except when it doesn’t. The contrast between the outsider heroes in disguise in Mina’s day, and the manufactured, carbon-copy tools of the Spy State struggling for an identity they’ll never quite achieve in the post-Ingsoc return-to-reality days, is even more apparent than it was before…but the whole “what odds” aspect to the thing is more apparent, too. Reverse-colonization by “the cousins”? Replacement of the Leagues by central controllers, bringing the secrets of culture “inside”? Moore actually does conspiracy shockingly well, here — if Emma Peel grows up to never know much more than when “we’re needed”, it’s because the one-two punch of the War and Ingsoc has knocked things so very much out that it’s possible for the man filling the power vacuum to institute a culture of compartmentalization that will last much longer than Big Brother’s Still, there are un-picked-up threads — we’ve referenced Orwell, but isn’t there something missing from that reference? And Prospero’s retreat into the Blazing World just sort of happens, and for me anyway it just opens that same can of worms again: because the Blazing World is the home of intercommunicating fiction, but then so is England — there’s not really much of a difference. So how come there’s such a difference? Prospero wants the Dossier because…um, it’s important to know how much Mother knows about the League?

    But, why is that important?

    It’s tempting to read it as Planetary, in some ways…away at the pole is the Island of Misfit Toys, that Harry Lime would stamp out if he could…but…wait a minute, that’s not quite right, is it?

    More on this later; it’s coffee time.

  18. Pingback: Mindless Ones » Blog Archive » League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Century: 2009 thoughts·

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