02 November 2009

Alan Moore Month - 25,000 Years of Erotic Freedom

25,000 Years of Erotic Freedom
Written by Alan Moore
Published by Abrams Books. $22.50 USD

Alan Moore has long infused his writing with varying levels of eroticism. Freudians would say it is part of everything he does, but certainly there are more obvious examples of sexuality in Watchmen, Supreme, From Hell, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and of course, the explicitly pornographic, Lost Girls. Often, characters in the same strange, repressive or high-stress situation find comfort in each other. Moore is not saying that characters with extraordinary abilities or colorful costumes are kinkier or more perverse than the rest of us. Rather, these characters are never more human than in their need for each other, and often learn more about themselves as a result. It's the repressed and damaged characters who are the perverse ones, their sexual impulses often finding violent expression, such as in V for Vendetta or From Hell. Essentially, Moore has always been saying that sex is normal and necessary, and repressing it leads to trouble. It is not without some irony that Moore often had to get that message across through the repressive machinery of corporate superhero comics publishing, and yet he's been largely successful at it for decades now.

And now Moore finds the medium of non-fiction to really get down to brass tacks with his view. Moore takes a 2006 essay he wrote for Arthur magazine, "Bog Venus Versus Nazi Cock-Ring: Some Thoughts Concerning Pornography" and makes it into a smallish coffee-table book with erotic photos and illustrations and an elegant Art Deco-inspired cover, not to mention a grander and more hopeful title. Rather than merely "some thoughts concerning pornography," Moore turns in a history of eroticism expressed through art and the various societal controversies and changes the artworks brought about, beginning with the Venus of Willendorf, a limestone sculpture of a nude woman, not only an object to induce fertility but an object of arousal as well for the carver and his fellows in that time between 24,000 and 22,000 B.C., when the Bog Venus is believed to have been sculpted. While well-researched, the essay finds Moore as witty and alliterative as in his fiction. He describes the Bog Venus as a "hubcapheaded humming-top of tits and ass carved lovingly from limestone," bug even with tongue in cheek he makes his point clear: "Sexually progressive cultures gave us mathematics, literature, philosophy, civilization...while sexually restrictive cultures gave us the Dark Ages and the Holocaust. Not that I'm trying to load my argument, of course."

Moore doesn't appear to have done much updating from the 2006 essay, but no matter: as his timeline ends for the most part with Oscar Wilde's indecency trials, he wasn't going to get to "sexting" anyway. Instead, he not only takes the reader on a tour of repression and expression, but also makes stops to illuminate important figures and artworks such as Botticelli's Venus and Michelangelo's punishment of sodomy on the vaults of the Sistine Chapel but also forgotten mavericks such as Ernest Dowson, who before his death by absinthe gave the world of letters phrases such as "I have been faithful to you, in my fashion," "days of wine and roses" and "gone with the wind."

By the time we get to the end, Moore has attempted to find a theoretical common philosophical ground between Simone de Beauvoir, Angela Carter and Andrea Dworkin that a "good" pornography might be possible today, something warm, intelligent, creative and welcoming, a pornography that makes us feel less alone and isolated from our fellow men and women. In other words, the opposite of pornography today.

Of course, Moore, in collaboration with partner Melinda Gebbie, has attempted to create just such a pornographic work in Lost Girls, putting his money where his mouth is. Readers aware of this might get a little more satisfaction from this book, having the knowledge that Moore's words aren't merely unrealized wishes. Either way, the book serves as as a deeply felt piece of Moore's philosophy, like his fictional work clever, playful, and passionate, with the added bonus of some beautiful and/or startling works of erotic art and photography providing further glimpses into what makes him tick.

Christopher Allen

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