Friday, 2 November 2007

Moore And Moor(cock)

Last Friday my wife and I went to see Alan Moore, Iain Sinclair and Michael Moorcock have a discussion about London (along with a reading by poet Brian Catling, who seemed rather uneasy in front of an audience and a performance by a singer called Kirsten Norrie, who sounds like Enya would if she had talent). I want to give a quick overview of it here because it's started me thinking about things I want to talk about, but this post is going to be more personal-journal type writing than the more analytical stuff I usually write here. The analytical stuff will come tomorrow night or Sunday.

I wanted to write a short review of it closer to the time, but it's taken this long to stop myself unconsciously imitating the shared rhythms of Moore, Sinclair and Catling. All have very similar writing styles - loping, rambling, looping adjectival torrents of words, flowing through the sentence like the Acheron through the abyss of the underworld, a tunnel with no end in sight, til the brightness of a new metaphor appears, classical references and pop culture intertwining, Ariachne and Peter Parker meeting mid-sentence in a web of language and reference. Then a short sentence. Hanging there, portentous. Another longer sentence then, the construction vaguely archaic, the language flowery... I'm sorry.

But easy as it is to imitate Moore's rhythms (even more so in speech - his inflection is almost as distinctive as his language) , his spoken work is crucial to understanding his comics, so after talking for a little while about the event itself, I'd like to go on to talk about Moore's spoken-word work and (to tie into the themes of my more recent posts) how his magical practice differs from that of Grant Morrison, the other major comic writer/'magician'.

The event was held at the Bishopsgate Institute (or Foundation, or Library, depending on which sign you believe, making the venue rather difficult for us non-Londoners to find), and it seemed like half of the 200 or so people there were important in the British comics/literary world. Holly and I were sat directly behind Moore himself (pre-show) with Melinda Gebbie, Oscar Zarate and Hayley Campbell all in a row next to him, which led to me spending a large chunk of the evening embarassed, as I couldn't help saying "But that's Oscar Zarate (or whoever)" and then having to explain to Holly who Zarate is with him in clear earshot.

(For those who don't know, Zarate is an incredible artist, who collaborated with Moore on the comparatively little-known graphic novel A Small Killing, but who I know best for his work with Alexei Sayle on Geoffrey The Tube Train And The Fat Comedian).

I also got to briefly meet Roz Kaveney (who I've known for several years as a vague acquaintance online) for the first time, but not for very long as she was busy talking to Important People about Weighty Subjects. I'd really have been rather disappointed if she hadn't been...

I was intermittently distracted during the first half (with Moore and Moorcock reading their pieces from the Sinclair-edited anthology London, City Of Disappearances , and Sinclair reading a rather wonderful piece about Jayne Mansfield opening a parrot-fanciers' meeting) because Melinda Gebbie was busily sketching away little ballpoint sketches of the principals on lined paper as they talked. In many ways I was more impressed by this than by the readings - while I'm not a writer on the level of those reading, I know how to put words together, but being able to create visual art that quickly (and the sketches were good), looks like magic to me.

And magic is a subject that came up in the discussion half of the event. The discussion was in some ways rather frustrating. Sinclair didn't speak much (although he got in a wonderful line about how as a result of him and Moore there is now a block of flats and restaurants for yuppies called Hawksmoor Mews, which is probably not a result they intended for their work), but essentially moderated between Moore and Moorcock.

Moore and Moorcock are both very articulate, but also tend to build up an argument, speaking in paragraphs rather than sentences. They'll often appear to have thought three paragraphs ahead, and be saying something in order to get to something else more interesting. The problem is that the 'something' is often in itself quite interesting, and since by this point the speaker has been talking for a good couple of minutes, Sinclair would cut them off mid-flow to ask the other one.

As a result, we got a sort of ping-pong of half-finished sentences, trains of thought brutally derailed, as each man's half-ideas would send the other careening off in a completely different direction. (This actually reminded me of the game in I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue, a recording of which we also attended this week, in which contestants build sentences one word at a time in turn and you end up with phrases like "Paraguay is the largest badger-wearing country in Poland".) Often the two would visibly cut short something they were saying that was becoming too discursive, to go for the cheap laugh instead (Moore referring to himself as being on first-name terms with Gilbert and George springs to mind).

But however maddening this kind of thing can be, it was also exhilarating. In particular, the subject got on to the topic of writing as magic.

Moorcock was fascinating on this subject, and I'd like to hear him talk more about it - he was essentially riffing on Shelley's line about poets being the unacknowledged legislators of humanity, talking about how "we can't get real change, and the only way to get actual change is to change the rhetoric", as well as talking about how other people had often come up to him and described remembering events from his fiction.

Moore's thoughts were broadly similar, but subtly different. While Moorcock spoke about the need to change rhetoric as a stepping-stone to real change, Moore says "we are living in text - we live by manipulating language". Moorcock talks about writing himself a new London when the old one was blitzed, but still finds it funny that someone told him about a portal to other worlds underneath a nearby building, and said he should include it in one of his novels (Moorcock had invented the portal in an earlier book, which the person talking to him hadn't read).

Moore, on the other hand, would probably (though I don't want to put words in his mouth) say that Moorcock inventing the portal had made it slightly more real - "I made it all up, and it came true anyway". The distinction Moorcock makes between 'real' change and change in rhetoric is one Moore would not make and possibly doesn't believe in. For Moore, a change in rhetoric is a real change, and may well actually change the physical world. Certainly he seems to see the borderline between the physical world and our brain software as being more permeable than most do.

Tomorrow I'm going to look at how this belief affects his writing.


Andrew J said...

I wholly wish I was you right about now.

VM said...

How do you find out about these events? I've been in London a little while now, but still only stumble across these things at the last minute (and often too late to attend).

Holly said...

Man, that's pretty extreme of you, getting Alan Moore to sign things for your imaginary wife and all. ;)

Ajit said...

Would a transcript of this be available anywhere? Or even -- we should be so lucky! -- a tape that could be uploaded to YouTube?

Marc said...

But Holly, he signed a copy of Promethea--the book about the fictional woman who becomes real--so I'm now more convinced than ever that you are imaginary. Sorry. Say hello to Sophie and Glycon for me.

Andrew Hickey said...

VM, Rich Johnston generally posts about anything Moore is doing on Lying In The Gutters - it's one of the best reasons to read his column regularly, actually.

Ajit, I've not seen anything around the internet, but I vaguely remember a video camera being present in the hall, so I imagine something will turn up somewhere.

zack soto said...

that last line is so sad.