Alan Moore Book Club: ‘Illuminations’ – Hypothetical Lizard
by Koom Kankesan
Since most readers will not have read the other contributions to this series, we must assume that some details or perhaps even the world’s sensibility have not been coined by Moore. However, the writing and sensibility of the story are undoubtedly Moore’s and having been written in 1988, bears the intensity of his creative work at that time. The story takes place in The House Without Clocks, a place of prostitution where inhabitants are cultivated by Mistress Ouish to manifest peculiar attributes that will make them popular with their patrons. Though there is an Orientalist flavour to the surroundings, characters’ unique and peculiar gifts, whether of contortion or the ability to administer pain or to be blessed with a copious amount of hair over their bodies, reminds one of Moore’s carnival inhabitants in The Killing Joke, beings of such pointed strangeness they are fascinating.
The story begins with Som Som who is cultivated as a sex worker for sorcerers. Since sorcerers wish to keep their secrets and may manifest any number of abilities when they climax, the proprietress has Som Som undergo an operation that severs the link between the two hemispheres of her brain. A mask is applied over half her head, sealing that side’s eye and ear. Thus, she can sense with one half of her face/brain but not move the information into the other half of her brain where it can be interpreted, processed, and then communicated. Moore has always been interested in cognitive processing and language. As a note of interest, he became partially deaf in one ear later on in life, perhaps making this story one of prognostication, as Moore attests sometimes happens in his own life.
Som Som’s way of relating to the world and the processing of information would be fascinating enough, but the heart of the story relates to Rawra Chin, another sex worker who contains an indefinable something within her persona/soul that her clients crave. What’s remarkable about this story from 1988 is that Moore builds a non-binary character out of Rawra Chin, a person born in a man’s body but who often is assigned the pronoun ‘she’, although not exclusively. Rawra Chin isn’t simply gay; her gender is truly ambiguous. She has a relationship with another resident, another sex worker and actor called Foral Yatt, and when she has grown tired of living there, having absorbed as much of Foral Yatt’s craft as she can, she leaves to make her mark upon the world. After five years, she returns to visit Foral Yatt a very successful dramatic actor. Foral Yatt obtains revenge by performing the most subtle and transformative exchange with her. Slowly, in stages, so subtly that Rawra Chin doesn’t see it happening, she loses all her power and motivation, her very soul to Foral Yatt.
The title’s reference is to a trinket, a puzzle, a metal egg that may or may not contain a ‘hypothetical sleeping lizard’ living in it. It is a puzzle that tests the possibilities of imagination and perception, the nature of reality simply through meditation upon the subject. It is a grand metaphor for the ‘indefinable something’ in Rawra Chin’s soul, whether it is actually there or simply perceived. Is it real? Can it be lost? Relationships with all their power and seduction and imbalance also are referred to through the hypothetical lizard within the egg. Moore is expert when looking at the darker, sifting sands of human relationships, their personal politics and the power dynamics inherent within them.
As you might expect, Moore writing in 1988 is excellent when it comes to language and his ability to craft it into baroque structures. The story is expertly shaped, solidly crafted, and nothing seems out of place. Even without reading more of the Liavek stories, one might see this as a testament to Moore’s ability to build foreign, fantastic worlds unto themselves. It’s a very strong start to the book and has a powerful effect.
Illuminations by Alan Moore is out now in bookstores and online.