Alan Moore - The Magician

This interview was conducted by Matthew de Abuitua for The Idler.

The dedicated loafers that run the magazine have finally opened a website at www.idler.co.uk - you can purchase back issues, subscriptions and absinthe there. The published version of this interview, which appeared in the edition cover-dated for February/March 1998, was highly truncated. The following is an edited but uncut representation of MDA's original transcription.

If anyone has any suggestions/examples of appropriate illustrations, or corrections to any errors made by either MDA or myself, please direct them to the webmaster. Thanks go to Peter Hollo, Steve Lieber and Nick Burns for earlier corrections made when this interview ran on a much crappier website in 1998.


 

We pull up in a pizza restaurant, where the waiters greet Moore with familiarity.

 

MDA: Is this a regular haunt then?

AM: Pretty much. I've been in most of the restaurants of Northampton, I tend to do them on a circuit, I'll eat at one of them for a couple of months and then get bored with it and go on to the next one. I'm less than electrifying today, I've been doing a lot of work this week and have not been getting to bed until four or five, and then getting up at nine, so I'm shell-shocked.

I've had some guys up, Alex Osbourne who has been producing the Acid House Trilogy for Irvine Welsh and The Granton Star Cause, he is planning to do Big Numbers as a TV series, the full twelve-part colossus, like Our Friends in the North.

 

MDA: Has that all been published now?

AM: No, no it's never going to be published now, I've had two artists just run screaming into the night, and it becomes increasingly difficult to resurrect as a comic book with each one. I've written the scripts up to issue five. But what do you do? Do you get a new artist in? Do you start running it again from issue one and promise the readers that this time we are going to finish it.  And what happens if the artist leaves halfway through again? I wonder, is it me? Is it me doing this to these poor boys? I've been thinking what am I going to do about Big Numbers, I don't want to leave it unfinished, and then when Alex Osbourne approached me and asked me if I had anything suitable for television, I said 'no', because most of it is either owned by other people or too peculiar. Then he started talking about "Big Numbers" and I said well that's even more of a problem because I don't think I'm going to be able to finish that as a comic book.

While I was saying the words I thought, maybe I could finish it as a television series. I've got the whole plot, the structure's practically done, so we've been working with a scriptwriter to put the whole thing together. I've got this huge A1 sheet of paper with forty characters listed down one side and twelve numbers across the top, so there are twelve hundred squares filled with my little tiny mental patient handwriting saying what was happening to each character in each issue, it is a wonderful piece of work in itself. It turns out to be a good schematic for the entire twelve part series. If it goes anywhere.

 

MDA: Prospective TV and film projects are always so up in the air.

AM: It's barely even up in the air, it's in some vapourous netherdimension from which it may coalesce into something as sturdy as a soap bubble: the From Hell film is going to go into production in April, May, June - I understand Sean Connery has been signed for it, Hughes brothers to direct, it sounds like it might happen. But I've seen two of my books, V for Vendetta and Watchmen go through various stages of Hollywood optimism. But I've not been that interested. I mean, it was nice to meet Terry Gilliam, the first thing he said to me over lunch was "Well, how would you turn Watchmen into a film?" and I said, "Well to be honest Terry, I wouldn't." So we went on to talk about other things and just had a great lunch. But Big Numbers could work, it was always more like a TV series than a comic book anyway. All the visual elements, the backgrounds were photo-referenced, it might have been a lot easier if we had just filmed it to begin with. But Hollywood, television and film is not my prime area of interest. Because I would never have any control, working in those areas. It's nice to get the money from a Hollywood project, but whatever they do with it, it would be their piece of work, and not mine. Someone said to Raymond Chandler, 'how do you feel about Hollywood ruining all your books' and he took them into his study, pointed to the shelves containing 'Farewell My Lovely' and all the rest of them and said, 'there they are, they're alright, they're not ruined.'

 

MDA: You said you'd been working quite hard this week. Is that the way you normally work, with long periods of research that snap into sudden flurries of activity?

AM: It doesn't really work like that. Because there are so many projects going on, when I'm researching one, I'm doing three others, so it tends to be pretty frenetic, not many days go by without me actually writing a few pages, at the very least. I imagine it will be that way for the foreseeable future, I'd like to get the chance to slow down at some point, but on the other hand, it's surprising what you can do. I quite like working in this frenetic zone of ideas. As the ideas come up, you have to see which of the projects you are working on it is most applicable to, sort them properly, it's pleasurable, it doesn't feel stressful. It's kind of exhilarating, to be able to do two or three things you are pleased with a week. It's also nice to be able to refresh the palette between courses. I mean, if you're writing something like From Hell without a break, I should imagine that would be horrible. But if I can take a few days off to write some baroque pornography like "Lost Girls", or some harmless superhero fun, or do a bit of recording in the studio, stuff like that. There is a kind of synergy between the different forms of work, you'll learn things from one sort of work that will have tremendous application in another. They all tend to pull each other forward.

 

MDA: What I like about that form of work is that you are never trying to shoehorn various ideas and concepts into one project.

AM: When people first start out and they've got all these wonderful ideas in their head with very few opportunities to vent them, you do find people who've got three very good ideas that they are trying to combine into one lousy idea. I did hear that Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avary had originally written a long sprawling and probably unusable screenplay containing the ideas for True Romance, Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs and Natural Born Killers. The Natural Born Killers was a fiction written by the characters in True Romance. So you can imagine in its original form it was unreadable, but you come to learn how to discriminate between ideas. So I have a more fractal way of working, if you like, it is more like the way most people's minds actually work. They don't work in any linear way. When your mind wanders if you ever pay attention to some of the paths it takes, you generally find it's these paths of association that can link all over the place. Rudy Rucker the mathematician did an essay called "Life is a Fractal in Hilbert Space," where he was talking about how, if you light up a cigarette, this may spark up any number of possible topics, you might start thinking about recent problems cigarette companies are having, you might start thinking about cancer...

(quick break to order drinks)

The movements of the mind don't follow any linear pattern, they can't be explained with a mechanistic, clockwork view. You could find quantum models of how the mind works that might fit.

 

MDA: When we interviewed Bez, he likened God to a particle in the corner of his mind.

AM: It's like The Copenhagen Interpretation [...Nils Bohr...] that he made the Carlsberg Brewery, that all our scientific observations of the universe and quanta can only, in the end, be observations of ourselves. These are more interesting models of the mind than these deterministic models that a lot of biologists seem reluctant to let go of. They desperately want to explain all human thought processes as the squirt of a gland, and some chemical reaction in the temporal lobe.

 

MDA: They are really stoked up in the press - the media always seizes upon genes for different forms of behaviour, the gay gene, the criminal gene, and these things always have more sinister sociological intents behind them.

AM: It's Nazi science, let's face it. People are more comfortable with that. I am currently writing this thing that is a study of some of my associates in this magic business are trying to formulate some quasi-rational thoughts on what we think of consciousness, language, magic and art and the relationships between them. And connect that with human development and show how these things are incredibly intertwined and inextricable from each other. We start out talking about how the 'I' is its own blind spot. Mind has come up with this brilliant way of looking at the world, science, but it can't look at itself. Science has no place for the mind. The whole of our science is based upon empirical, repeatable experiments. Whereas thought is not in that category, you can't take thought into a laboratory. The essential fact of our existence, perhaps the only fact of our existence - our own thought and perception is ruled off-side by the science it has invented. Science looks at the universe, doesn't see itself there, doesn't see mind there, so you have a world in which mind has no place. We are still no nearer to coming to terms with the actual dynamics of what consciousness is. In questing after artificial intelligence, we seem only to have learnt that normal intelligence is so far beyond our comprehension.

(picks up menu)

I've got to focus here, focus on food, I tend to forget to eat when I'm not sleeping so I should shove something satisfying down my neck.

 

MDA: Have you come across the works of Rupert Sheldrake?

AM: Yeah, the morphogenetic field theory - you've got to admire a guy who has had Nature magazine recommend burning all his works. I've got a lot of sympathy for his ideas. My theories of ideaspace aren't necessarily complimentary to his notion of morphogenetic field theory, but they would probably have much the same effect.

 

MDA: When I re-read Swamp Thing, your interpretation of his origins reminded me of Sheldrake's theories.

AM: Well, if I'm right, all these ideas are in the air. And if he's right, then there is morphic resonance around these in his morphogenetic field.  Not unsurprisingly then, these ideas will turn up in fiction, comic books, cheap trash movies, scientific dissertations, I can't think of any other explanations for why these ideas should be so prevalent. It's what Charles Fort called Steam Engine Time. When James Black (chk) invented the steam engine, there were about eight other guys  who invented it around the same time but just not quite fast enough to make it down the patent's office.

(We order food.)

 

MDA: I have a great attraction to theories like Sheldrake's morphic resonance - I read an interview with him, when he was talking about how there is no proof that memory is actually held in the brain. He posited a view that the brain is more like a radio tuner than a video recorder, receiving thoughts, memories - both those of the self and the collective - from localised morphic fields. These ideas are very attractive because they posit an alternative to straightforward mortality - you read it and feel that leap within, 'perhaps there might be more to life than just death'. You have to be suspicious of your own motivations for seizing at these ideas - like a dying man reaching for miracle cures.

AM: Sheldrake's idea of the brain as a radio receiver - I feel something quite similar. But I'm still thinking it through, so this is a thought in progress. It strikes me that self, not just my self, but all self, the phenomenon of self, is perhaps one field, one consciousness - perhaps there is only one 'I', perhaps our brains, our selves, our entire identity is little more than a label on a waveband. We are only us when we are here. At this particular moment in space and time, this particular locus, the overall awareness of the entire continuum happens to believe it is Alan Moore. Over there - (he points to another table in the pizza restaurant) - it happens to believe it is something else.

I get the sense that if you can pull back from this particular locus, this web-site if you like, then you could be the whole net. All of us could be. That there is only one awareness here, that is trying out different patterns. We are going to have to come to some resolution about a lot of things in the next twenty years time, our notions of time, space, identity. The flowerings of seemingly outlandish concepts like Sheldrake's are what you would expect. At the scientific end of the spectrum - and I am a regular New Scientist reader - I like to balance the mad howling diabolism with a dose of scientific reality - I have noticed that the crossover is getting a bit extreme. The people at the cutting-edge of quantum physics and cosmology are trying to come up with a practical, workable model for the original expansion of the universe, and what is happening now at a quantum level. They were saying that they are having to turn to these archaic belief structures, like Sufi beliefs, or the Qabbalah. They were talking about how this idea of expansion from a single point is the core of the Qabbalah - and the most accurate description of the Big Bang, knowing what we know now, would be (Hockma Bine - er). So I was reading this in the New Scientist and I was thinking, well surely this is the sort of idea I would expect from Robert Anton Wilson. All of us collectively are fumbling towards an apprehension of something that feels like a kind of group awareness - we are trying to feel the shape of it, it's not here yet, and a lot of us are probably saying a lot of silly things. That's understandable. There is something strange looming on the human horizon. If you draw a graph of all our consciousness, there is a point we seem to be heading towards. Our physics, our philosophy, our art, our literature - there is a kind of coherence there, it may look disorganised at first glance, but there is a fumbling towards a new way of apprehending of certain basic fundamentals. In post-modern literature you can see similar things happening to what is happening, at the same time, in science with the quantum theory advances. They are trying to come up with non-linear ways of viewing things, trying to think our way outside of our own perceptions to find a new perception. Some people mistake this approaching new perception as the approach to Armageddon. In a certain sense, they might be right. There is a sense that we are reaching a critical point in the expansion of our inner worlds. For better or worse - I mean, I have no dreamy New Age notions of this - whatever awaits us up the road might not be all sunshine and smiles, pretty flowers everywhere. That all sounds a bit Yellow Submarine to me. But it will certainly be different. To me, when we talk about the world, we are talking about our ideas of the world. Our ideas of organisation, our different religions, our different economic systems, our ideas about it are the world. We are heading for a radical revision where you could say we are heading towards the end of the world, but more in the R.E.M sense than the Revelation sense. That is what apocalypse means - revelation. I could square that with the end of the world, a revelation, a new way of looking at things, something that completely radicalises our notions of the where we were, when we were, what we were, something like that would constitute an end to the world in the kind of abstract - yet very real sense - that I am talking about. A change in the language, a change in the thinking, a change in the music. It wouldn't take much - one big scientific idea, or artistic idea, one good book, one good painting - who knows - we are at a critical point where the ideas are coming thicker and faster and stranger and stranger than they ever were before. They are realised at a greater speed, everything has become very fluid. I like to imagine setting a camera up in a field in the Bronze Age, taking a frame a week,  - I worked out the maths of this in a sad moment if I can just remember it - over the intervening  two thousand years, you would have a two hour film there, it would be very boring and slow for an hour and half, the buildings that were appearing very slowly, staying there for a long while, and then decaying very slowly. For the last half hour, buildings would be boiling. Going up and down in seconds. Some of the more alarming possibilities for nanotechnology that people are talking about, you get that as a literal reality without needing a speeded up film. You would be able to assemble and disassemble matter at the speed of thought. As far as I know, that is the definition of fluidity. We are approaching a more fluid state. I have talked about cultural boiling. The idea of the phase-transition period which, in fractal mathematics, is the chaotic flux between one state and another. Cold water is one state, you heat it up till boiling point, then it reaches a phase-transition where there is this immense chaos - that mathematically, we still don't know what is going on, when a kettle boils, in the boiling - and what comes out is steam. Which is nothing like hot water at all. An alien could not predict steam from water, anymore than he could predict water from ice. They are three different things, each with a phase-transition dividing them. Culturally, and as a species, we are approaching a phase-transition. I don't know quite what that means, on a human level. A bronze age hunter is analogous to cold water. We, with our very different lifestyle, are analogous to very hot water. But we are still both water. There is less difference between us and the bronze age hunter than what is twenty years down the line.

 

MDA: The steam.

AM: The steam. Whatever that means. I can't conceive of vapour culture. I might not survive it. But that is where we are heading. I don't know quite what I mean by my own metaphor, but I have feeling, it may bring in an even greater, faster space of fluid transmission, where no structures, as we used to understand structure, will sustain itself - we will have to come up with new notions of structure where things can change by the moment. I'm talking about physical structures, political structures, I can't see coherent political structures in the traditional sense lasting beyond the next twenty years, I don't think that would be possible.

 

MDA: But there are lot of recessive genes. The Fundamentalist Christians exist to hold the novelty in American society in check. In this country, the traditions of monarchy and parliament function in a similar way. There is a lot of inertia within traditional political and economic structures designed to hold culture and society in place, where they are now. I can't see how any force of change could overcome these historical power bases.

AM: In terms of almost everything, things are getting more vaporous, more fluid. National boundaries are being eroded by technology and economics. Most of us work for companies that, if you trace it back, exist within another country. You are paid in an abstract swarm of bytes. Consequently, the line on a map means less and less. The territorial imperatives that until very recently have been the main reason for war start to make way. As The physical and material world gives way to this infosphere, these things become less and less important. The nationalists then go into a kind of death spasm, where they realise where the map is evaporating, and there is only response to that is to dig their hooves in. To stick with nationalism at its most primitive, brutal form. The same thing happens with religion, and that is the reasons behind the Fundamentalist Christians. If you look at the power of the Church, starting from the end of the Dark Ages up until the end of the Nineteenth century, you can see a solid power base there with a guaranteed influence over the development of society. If you look at this century, it is a third division team facing relegation. Fundamentalism in religion is the same as the political fundamentalism represented by various nationalist groups, or in science. Take the Committee for Scientific Investigation for Claims of the Paranormal, the ones who hounded Uri Geller, James Randi - The Amazing Randi - persecuted Uri Geller and when he found he couldn't disprove Geller's claims resorted to suggesting Geller was a paedophile, and getting his ass sued, quite justifiably.

 

MDA: Was he the man who put up the reward for anyone who could perform a paranormal act that he couldn't replicate with conjuring?

AM: Yes. As if that proved anything.

 

MDA: It was an amazingly effective stunt though, it lodges in their mind and when you talk about paranormal acts, they respond with 'well, why hasn't that person taken Randi's money?'.

AM: Randi says he can do it by tricks, so the person making the claim must have done it by tricks, which is fallacious.

 

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