Alan Moore Book Club: ‘Illuminations’ – Location, Location, Location
by Koom Kankesan
The third entry in Moore’s collection of short stories Illuminations, “Location, Location, Location”, is thirty-six pages long and deals with the End of Days, the Second Coming of Christ. It is difficult not to think of this as a companion piece to the story “Not Even Legend” which precedes it. Both are written in Moore’s affable and ironic tone, making light of everyday people and their small observations and concerns. In this case, the everyday person is Angie, a forty-ish solicitor responsible for administering the documents which will see Jesus Christ assuming ownership of a row house which has been kept unoccupied for him. The house and its contents have been paid for and kept by the Panacea Society, a group that followed the teachings of self-styled prophetess Joanna Southcott. The location referred to in the title is Bedford, an English town that is not too far from either London or Moore’s own Northampton.
This story is very reminiscent of the kind of sensibility that served as the lifeblood to Vertigo comics in the ’90s, the kind of thing that Moore was known for in his early work – a marriage between the mythic and urban mundane – the trick that Neil Gaiman has built his whole career around. In Moore’s hands, this sensibility is entertaining, knowledgeable, and stylish even if it is not new. It is the first time to my knowledge that Moore has directly tackled the character of Jesus, studiously avoiding him or working around him in previous works. Moore imagines every detail of this returning Jesus (slightly overweight and hipster-ish, mullet haired, wearing a rust coloured jacket and single earring, smoking a golden vape pen) and what it might be like for the last mortal on Earth to deal with him. As one might expect, the stratosphere and atmosphere are populated with ancient Biblical deities that are magnificently described. These deities and figures, including warring angels that crash to the earth in smouldering heaps, are explained by Jesus as representing a contractual language for what must happen. In the same way that Angie must use contractual legal language that can be intimidating and obtuse to a layperson, the symbols of Biblical proportion she witnesses serve the same purpose and moreover, are rendered in a language that is millennia old.
As with the previous story, Moore has an incredible facility for making the fantastical seem real and commonplace. This isn’t just an attention to detail and sensation; he seems to think very carefully about the logic, meaning, and internal workings of his symbols and set dressing before he begins each work. His brain seems to naturally breed mythologies that are both alive and awesome. This story also has another connecting theme with the previous story: humanity’s incapability to visualize what it doesn’t understand. Again, the idea that our vision is coded for survival over accuracy is repeated in this story and Jesus proceeds to explain to Angie that what she’s experiencing is the best approximation her mind can muster when dealing with him and all the phenomena surrounding them. People who have seen or read a number of interviews with Moore will remember that he often harps on the fact that we don’t see things as they really are, instead experiencing a version rendered by our imperfect senses. Thus, we are constantly living in a kind of virtual reality. Many of the most moving passages in his oeuvre deal with a derangement or displacement or transcendence of the senses: rational reality gives way to something more majestic, magical, and ultimately moving.
Thus, the ending of this piece, without giving away too much, ends in a place that is more fantastical and engaging than that in which it began. Though Moore has often conjoined the mundane and the magical, he really prefers the magical. He might say that if we saw things as they truly were, the mundane would always be magical. This is what makes him different from Gaiman or Garth Ennis or Warren Ellis or any of the other Vertigo-esque writers who followed. This conjoining of the two modes isn’t merely an affectation or a superficial writer’s party trick – it is an invitation to open portals and experience life on another plane; there is a grand sincerity about the enterprise that transcends the human coil.
As to why this story is being presented at this time is anyone’s guess. Is it a comment on Brexit and its aftermath, an aftermath that is still writhing politically in the UK’s zeitgeist, having now resulted in the implosion of Liz Truss’ nascent leadership? Does this story point to that End of Days feeling that seemed to loom as Donald Trump and Boris Johnson took power? If so, this story, which resolves itself in more of a rebirth rather than a traditional End of Days, follows Moore’s idea of apocalypse as ‘new beginning’ rather than ‘doomed end.’ As a straightforward tale of the apocalypse, it comes long after those that were teeming around the beginning of the new millennium, just over twenty years ago. Filmmaker Hal Hartley, for instance put out The Book of Life in 1998 which had commonplace renditions of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and the Devil. Instead, Moore’s tale might belong in the company of novelist J. M. Coetzee’s chapter in his excellent Elizabeth Costello where his eponymous writer Costello imagines what congress between a human and Greek God must feel like in incredible depth and detail. What would it have been like for Psyche to sleep with Eros – what would the psychological and sensual experience have been like for a human in congress with a god, even one who assumed the semblance of human form? It is Moore’s ability to think in such playful depth around the subject matter of his tales that makes them, well, delicious and divine.