Monday, 27 June 2011

Review: 25,000 years of erotic freedom-Alan Moore


An exploration of The Pornographic Imagination:

When you read this book and then look at a picture of Alan Moore, the two things don't seem to correspond. Alan Moore is a very strange looking figure, a hairy behemoth with huge gothic rings who openly worships a snake-god/hand-puppet called Glycon. But in reality, as comes across very well in this book, Alan Moore is a person who seems well versed in everything, from history to philosophy, maths and the arts. His writing is intelligent, witty, extremely cohesive, and makes him appear very normal indeed. In fact his writing style and the way his argument flows so easily normalises the argument to the point that any other viewpoint seems ridiculous.

But I get ahead of myself. It would make sense that Alan Moore would write this treaty on the decline of pornography as art form across the ages, after all his three volume erotic masterpiece illustrated by his wife pioneering underground American cartoonist Melinda Gebbe is a definite attempt to make pornography credible and beautiful again. He is also extremely sexually progressive. Before marrying Melinda Gebbe he was in a three way relationship with his previous wife and her girlfriend, and he compiled and published through his own publishing company Mad Love a one off anthology comic called AARGH (Artists Against Rampant Government Homophobia) which was a response to a controversial proposed government clause designed to outlaw the promotion of homosexuality by local authorities. This is a comic book I would very much love to own as it boasts a very fine line up of writing and artistic talent including Howard Cruse, Dave Mckean, Kevin O'Neil, Savage Pencil, Posy Simmonds, Art Spiegelman, Bill Sienkiewicz, Oscar Zarate, etc. One of the stories from the anthology called The Mirror Of Love written by Moore is available from Top Shelf.

What Alan Moore does with this book is put sex at the centre of a vibrant and forward thinking society and swiftly dispels all myths that an overabundance of decadence was the cause of the demise of certain famous civilisations. In fact, in the most famous case of the fall of Rome, he blames the eventually forced conversion to Christianity which meant that forgien troops who originally felt more at home fighting for the empire as they were allowed to worship their own gods and observe their own customs, would no longer be so willing, leaving the empire vulnerable to attacks from all sides.

His opening sentence sets the tone: 'Whether we speak personally or palaeoanthropologically, it's fair to say that we humans start off fiddling with ourselves'. To Moore, its pretty common sense that sex is a vital part of human existence, so its repression by religion, and its repression in art, seem absurd and illogical to him.
Moore's basic argument is very simple: Sexually open and progressive societies such as Rome and Greece gave us civilisation: philosophy, maths, running water, heating systems, roads, great works of art and literature, etc. Sexually repressed civilisations brought us back into the Dark Ages. Even at one stage the Christian church embraced erotic art but by attaching the stigma of sin and shame, and by using it as a moral lesson and a fearful warning, it has left a very long sticky residue throughout history concerning our attitude to pornography and sex. It is this shameful attachment that has affected pornography ever since, taking it down into the shadows, particularly in the Victorian period where (in Moore's opinion) the last remnants of truly great erotic art died off in a gasp of shame (Beadsley on his death bed, the trail of Oscar Wilde etc). The shame has lead to its degradation, its decline in quality and merit. In fact merit is a quality that Moore thinks pornography should try and regain, quoting the infamous obscenity trial against Alan Ginsberg's Howl where the Judge was in favour of the poem because of its 'redeeming social importance'. Pornography enjoyed a brief resurgence with high end production values during the sexual revolution of the 60's with the underground comics (although the sex in these would often have brutal misogynistic undertones) and importantly with the liberating mass viewings in cinemas of pornography, but soon it all became commercialised and crass, and with the introduction of the home video boom in the 80's, pornography was more readily available but once again stigmatised as the pursuit of the lone weirdo.
Overall this book is thoroughly well researched, well argued, and entertaining. It is difficult to get across the amount of different strains of the argument and the various references Moore makes in the space of a single review (although it is worth mentioning his discussion of the uneasy relationship between the anti-porn feminists and the Christian right) but Moore does so in such a way as to make the reading an easy experience that seems to be over too soon. Perhaps the only small hole in Moore's argument is that these sexually open civilisations were also as much war-faring ones as our modern day sexually repressed cultures, if not more so, but this is a minor bone of contention in such a pleasurable book (puns not intentional there).

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