Peep into a cosmic collage: Reading Alan Moore’s Jerusalem

Just like the city itself, Jerusalem is a juxtaposition of ideas, of thoughts, ever running, and of course of time frames. Jerusalem breeds everything. It is a world in itself. Supratik Ray gauges the map…

 

Ever wondered how a novelized version of wasteland would look like?-  A mixing of styles and sentences taken from some of the most famous works in literary history? Or what a novel would look like if Joyce and Beckett co-wrote it and gave it to Enid Blyton to put forth a conclusion? 

Have you ever thought what a collaboration between Blake and Botticelli would look like? Or wondered what if all of this was mixed into one single novel, divided into three parts and published? 


‘Jerusalem’ is Moore’s answer to the obvious. There’s a reason why the tome took me three months to read- simply put, it’s too metatextual. From Blake to Conan Doyle, the novel touches everything. The fact that it is also one of the longest novels in English doesn’t help either. The novel set in the picturesque Northampton, England – a throwback to Moore’s hometown, preserves its memories by encasing itself in rich vivid colours that are characteristic of Moore’s art style.

The book by large is not unreadable in the way Joyce’s Finnegan’s wake or Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s pendulum is. However, one has to perfect the art of jumping pages while going through it for the same reason that it is just not possible to process such extensive background information on everything. At other times the language itself may pose a problem. As is the case with Tolstoy sometimes, the language is so ornamented that it is difficult to conjure up a mental image. A good instance of the above would be the following lines::

“A diffused gold plume rose smokily through the engulfing negative-space gelatine, a cloudy and unraveling woolen strand of lemonade that trailed up to the gumdrop pane of the vat’s surface quite near Michael’s plaid-clad feet as he stood on the framing wood surround.”

jerusalem
The Smoky Land by Trinamoy Das

Brilliantly modeled on Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, Moore’s Dedalus is Alma Warren, who comes from a family from artists, lunatics and “deathmongers”. Apart from her, the novel has a wide range of characters ranging from a heroin-addicted prostitute, a council official, a few refugees, Samuel Becket and a whole variety of ghosts. To establish such a large and diverse range of characters is obviously a difficult task both for the author and the readers. And while Moore does handle the transition between characters adeptly, the same cannot be said for the reader. Unlike Watchmen, which one would imbibe word for word; Jerusalem would thoroughly test the readers ‘art of skipping’. A comprehensive understanding of the book would require at least three readings, if not more – one each for the three parts.

Reading Moore has never been easy, be it the ideas of Watchmen or the graphic visuals of Lost Girls, there is a certain degree of assimilation to get used to. With each literary work, Moore challenges the reader to undertake this arduous journey of assimilation. In the context of the novel, it takes time to get used to an artist using memories and hallucinations as inspiration for paintings on a scale as huge as Finnegans wake.

Moore has over the years re-defined almost any genre he has worked with. Be it the graphic novel with the publication of Watchmen or the DC universe with Batman: The Killing Joke. With Jerusalem, he has quite possibly re-invented the novel as we know it. I am not even sure if it could be called a novel, for starters parts of it is in the form of an epic poem, parts in dramatic verses and parts in the form of a children’s story. All this divided over three parts following a non-linear storyline.

Jerusalem, the work is much like the city it takes its name from. As old as time itself, with characters as diverse as angels playing pool using souls as gambling money to Oliver Cromwell doing what he does best. This polarity in terms of the plot has always been a larger issue with Moore, most famously when he used rape as a focal point in one of his plots. This creates a piece of literature that the audience (for I consider graphic novels to be a performative genre) either loves or hates but never ignores.

jerusalm cover
Book cover from Amazon

At the risk of sounding overtly academic, I would think that the best way to define the novel would be to call it a “network novel”- a mode of expression where the very experience of being has become akin to a network simulating contemporary life. For someone as desolately fragmented and complicated as Moore, it would not be amiss to say that he tries to bring about amity between roots, people and places.

It is always difficult as an author to follow up your works when they happen to be among the most oft-quoted in all of ‘popular literature’. But Jerusalem is perhaps Moore’s finest because of its sheer cosmic magnanimity, defining narratives breaking boundaries and creating a cosmology. Like  Blake, he creates a cosmology building on Christian symbols but never adheres to them. His universe is strange, dark, twisted and violent. However, behind all this eccentricity is a shadow, a rare instance of an author willingly and noticeably putting himself into his fiction. Moore is not the god of his cosmology, he is not the maker; he is not omnipresent, omniscient and certainly not omnipotent- he is at the very best, an Editor. While Jerusalem may lack the revolutionary ideology of Watchmen or the eminently quotable dialogues of V for Vendetta, it certainly is Moore’s ‘Wasteland’.

 

Title photo by Luca Guzzo 

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