Alan Moore Interviewed on the 20th Century

As we all wait with bated breath for Providence No.6 (no release date other than a cover date of December 2015, which basically means it could come out a month earlier or up to a couple months after December) we’ve been enjoying some interviews Alan Moore has been giving that have included hints about Providence. There was a recent interview online at Goodreads, and this interview video with John Higgs where the two talk about the 20th Century. Moore touches on From Hell, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, science fiction, and more. Below is a transcript of the portions concerning Providence and H.P. Lovecraft (which starts about Minute 2:30):

Higgs: What struck me about reading Providence – even though it’s not so overtly about the 20th Century – is the Lovecraftian world view probably sums up that time better even than my book or anything deliberately about the 20th Century. Do you see it as a —

Moore: Well, yeah. I see… Researching Providence was quite an eye opener. And it changed my opinion of Lovecraft. Not of his stature as a writer. In fact that only continues to increase the more I think about it. But more of an understanding of him in relation to his times. The thing is Lovecraft is generally positioned as an outsider, probably because that was the name of one of his most famous stories, so it’s not much of a reach.

But you actually look at Lovecraft and he was homophobic – this at a time when gay men – principally gay men, some gay women as well, but that was different – were starting to emerge quite vocally and very visibly onto the streets of New York. There was a huge gay subculture in the early 20th Century New York. It wasn’t just something that started after the second World War. And these were becoming more visible. 

Alan Moore - video still from Higgs interview
Alan Moore – video still from Higgs interview

You’ve got women – Lovecraft was certainly not a misogynist – but he was perhaps somewhat awkward or conflicted in his relationships with women. This was at a time when women were just about to get the vote.

There had been twenty years of the biggest influx of immigrants that America had ever seen – up until 1910, 1920. That had led to conservative fears that American identity was going to be lost beneath a tidal wave of miscegenation, inbreeding – sort of.

All of these fears were exactly those of the white middle class common man.

The Russian Revolution had just happened in 1917. And in America there were all these strikes, which, at the time, looked like “oh, it’s going to happen over here.”  In fact, most people, when you talk about the red scare, they think oh, that’s the 1950s – McCarthyism. The red scare was 1919.

And, in some ways, Lovecraft became a perfect barometer – because he was so sensitive – so unbearably sensitive – that all of the fears of the early 20th Century, including the fears of man’s relegation in importance, given what we were starting to understand about the cosmos. Lovecraft was unlike other people of his day. He actually understood that stuff. He was very quick – he didn’t like Einstein – but he was very quick to assimilate Einstein’s ideas. He didn’t like quantum theory, but he almost understood it.

Yeah, this was it. He – in some ways his stories represented the kind of landscape of fear – the territory of fear – for the 20th Century as a whole.

Higgs: He didn’t like the Modernists at all in terms of writing and things like that —

Moore: He was conflicted. He was a closet Modernist himself. I mean, yeah, he hated Gertrude Stein, T.S. Eliot, James Joyce. He wrote a brilliantly funny and actually very well-written parody of “The Waste Land” called “Waste Paper.” But, you actually look at Lovecraft’s writing, and, much as he’s decrying all of the Modernists, much as he’s bigging-up his favorite 18th Century authors – people like Pope – actually Lovecraft is a modernist.

He’s using stream of consciousness techniques. He is using glossolalia more impenetrable than anything in Finnegan’s Wake. He is using techniques that… deliberately alienating the reader or confusing the reader. His descriptions tend to be along the lines of “here’s three things that C’thulhu doesn’t look like.” Or he’ll describe “The Colour out of Space” as only a color by analogy. So, what is it a sound? Is it a rough texture, or a smell? What? These are deliberate kind of techniques. They’re not flaws. They are techniques at alienating the reader – of putting the reader into an uncanny space where the language is no longer capable of describing the experience.

Higgs: For Horror, it was all the Gothic Horror sort of gone – it’s sort of Modern Horror…

Moore: That’s important. All Horror – or most Horror up to Lovecraft – had all been predicated on the Gothic tradition, which is a tradition where you have an enormous vertical weight in time that is bearing down upon a fragile present. A history of dark things in the past that are bleeding up to some terrifying denouement in the present day.

With Lovecraft, yes, there is an awful lot of talking about romantic antiquity and the past. But with Lovecraft I think that it’s a much more present horror of the future. He’s talking about that time when man will be able to organize all of his knowledge. And when that time comes the only question is whether we will embrace this new illuminating light. Or whether we will flee from it into the reassuring shadows of a new Dark Age. Which is very prescient given, say, current fundamentalism, which is a direct – a response to too much knowledge, too much information. Let’s take it all back to something that we’re sure of: God created the world in six days.

Yeah, in that way Lovecraft was sort of – yeah, he was really exploring all of the – he was a very… he is still a very contemporary writer.


I think that Lovecraft’s preoccupations were so forward-looking that… and his writing techniques were so unusual  that you could, yeah, use Lovecraft as the starting point for a new kind of Modernist Horror



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