HRSFANS Book Club – read-a-LONG up to our Feb 2017 meeting: Alan Moore’s Jerusalem.
This post has GUARANTEED 0, ABSOLUTELY NONE plot spoilers.
It has VAGUE concept/perspective spoilers.
Next set of favorite quotes –
From “X Marks the Spot,” perspective character Peter:
The duty … seemed both at once to make his soul all jubilant take flight, and be a matter of such heaviness he should be broke and flattened quite beneath it. In these contradictions did the feeling in him seem all human feelings rolled into one, and he was filled with it so that he thought to burst. This thrilling yet uncomfortable sensation, he concluded, must be that encountered by all creatures when they act the works of God.
From “Modern Times,” perspective character with several aliases, who is 20 years old:
Perhaps in some way everybody had a sense before it came, as if it were already all set out, of how their end was going to be. He glanced up at a speckled cloud of birds that dipped and swung and flattened out like a grey flame against the sunset, as they flocked above the local inns and hardware shops before returning home to roost, and thought it was a pity that you couldn’t tell beforehand how your life was going to be, and never mind about your death.
and another of the quotes that I’m beginning to believe bears on some main theme, also from “Modern Times” –
Perhaps the only meaning that events had was the meaning that we brought to them, but even knowing this was probably the case, it frankly wasn’t that much help. It didn’t stop us chasing after meaning, scrabbling like ferrets for it through a maze of burrows in our thoughts and sometimes getting lost down in the dark.
Time, place, and orientation
In the few centuries prior to the fall of the Second Temple in 70 C.E. there was, rather than Judaism such as we’d recognize it, a Jewish spectrum with many different facets. Only two of the several dozen previously extant strains outlived the Temple, though: that which would be come rabbinic Judaism, and that which would become Christianity. There were a plethora of holy texts early on, though, ones that made it into the Bible, ones that made it into the Apocrypha, ones that were lost until the finding of the Dead Sea Scrolls and became trendy like the Gospel of Thomas, texts of which copies were maintained only in Ethiopia until the 18th century, or that are still lost but are casually referred to by title in books that did make the canon, and so on and so forth. Some of them jibe pretty well with standard Bible texts, and some are way Out There in a direction that, from this distance, isn’t even easy to describe. I learned about this in Donald Harman Akenson’s Surpassing Wonder: The Invention of the Bible and the Talmud, which is just so much fun to read. So much fun. Seriously. (Akenson’s main approach to the reader is, “I really don’t care what you think about who or when or What wrote the Bible, and I hope you don’t really care what I think either, because can’t we all just agree that it’s so COOL?”)
But connecting back to our regularly scheduled pre-Book Club: one of the texts is called the Book of Jubilees, and what I remember hearing about it in Surpassing Wonder is that it reads like you’re supposed already to know the whole text and all its references, no matter where you pick it up. I suppose it must be written on scrolls (it was, after all, before the invention of codices, right?), but it presents as if totally non-linear. Which has to be maddeningly difficult to get into.
Jerusalem isn’t like that, but it puts me in mind of what I’ve heard of Book of Jubilees. It is dense and interconnected in a way that’s not merely linear. It does build from chapter to chapter: I finally have evidence of that. At my last post I hadn’t yet seen two perspective characters interact, but “Rough Sleepers” (Freddy) and “X Marks the Spot” (Peter) do have a face-to-face, and indeed the two chapters show the same interaction from each character’s perspective in turn. Peter in his chapter notes something about Freddy which I hadn’t noticed at that point in Freddy’s chapter.
What I still don’t know (having finished “Blind, But Now I See”) is whether we’ll ever have a perspective character come back, or whether there will be a linear plot to speak of.(I’ve also heard that the logical structure for the last Wheel of Time book would have been to be several hundred single pages, each depicting a different character’s view of the day of the end of the world. This is, mind you, not entirely unlike Nnedi Okorafor‘s Lagoon.)
I think the real reason Jerusalem feels like I’m supposed to know more than the text has told me is because I’m supposed to know the place. Not all chapters take place in a single geographic location across time, but most of them do so far, and when characters go for walks (or bike rides) the turns and street names and landmarks are specified in a way that really feels like gibberish to me, but also really seems like it is supposed to be meaningful if you’ve taken those walks yourself.
Starting to draw up the introductory post the other week I did a few Google searches on Moore, Blake, and reviews of the book, and among other stuff found a Goodreads Q&A page (“Ask the Author“) for Alan Moore. Then I realized anyone who actually wanted to read secondary sources could find what they’d want better than I could: I don’t usually find it that useful to read an author expound on his/her fiction, as the fiction should speak for itself. I did notice from that Q&A, though, that Moore expects Jerusalem to become his most personal published work. I think that’s what I’m feeling about there being a “know” to be “in.”
I’ll want to write more later about this place-layered-ness, particularly regarding the idea that a certain kind of sanctity does inhere in a place, and regarding what happens when people recognize holiness in a place over time even as their cultures’ ideas of the holy change.
Write back, please!