Wednesday, October 18, 2006

From Hell: Chapter 10

I've read through chapter thirteen now, but I wanted to track back and write a bit abut chapter 10, the heart of the work and one of the most transcendent moments in all of Moore's oeuvre. The art and language of From Hell really immerse you in the nineteenth century world that Moore is exploring, and you're immersed so thoroughly that when Gull experiences our world, it feels utterly alien and cold. You see our reality from the perspective of this man, and it's a very odd feeling. It literally feels like seeing the future, even though what he's now seeing is just our everyday reality.

Beyond the surreal elements, the most striking thing about chapter ten is the violence. Very rarely do you read a comic that makes you cringe, but these images have deep power and Gull's dissection of Marie Kelly is quite disturbing to witness. It must have been a tough time for Eddie Campbell, to have to so meticulously detail what Gull did, but it ends up making for a segment that simultaneously dares you to look away from the gruesomeness and totally immerses you in Gull's mystical revelry. This is what all his work has been building towards, he is here to deliver the twentieth century, and he finds out that his quest to quell this female uprising has inadvertantly destroyed the magic that he perceives in all aspects of reality.

When I first finished the work, I posted on Barbelith with the idea of William Gull as the last of the old Gods, a holder of a secret knowledge that his actions are extinguishing. How do we reconcile this with his role as midwife for the twentieth century? I think this chapter shows the answer to this question. Gull set out to protect the society he lived in, and to uphold the traditions of the Royal family and the Masons, both secretive organizations who were considered to hold a mystical, extraordinary power. The Masons may be old men, but they believe in the 'Grand Architect,' also known as Jahbuhlon, the raw embodiment of all mysiticism in the world. In their ceremonies, we see a respect for wonder and the mystery of the divine.

Gull does not seek to destroy the magic he perceives in the world, rather he is seeking to control it, to ensure that his 'house' is able to put down this challenge to their authority. However, when he destroys these nineteenth century incarnations of Diana's priestesses, he is actually destroying all the wonder in the world, creating a reality in which people are all left brain, seeing a cold, oppressively real world despite the many objects of wonder about them. Essentially, he has cut off the connection between left and right brain, leaving a people who are groomed by the media to see not mystical vengeance, but cold hard human action. Jack the Ripper is a new kind of god, one who does not have any supernatural power, instead he is the fear archetype turned into a man. It serves the same purpose, but is based on purely left brain thinking.

Gull compares his work to the turning of water into steam. By killing these women, he is freeing their spirits to rise. They are able to leave the world before it becomes the dead reality Gull finds himself plunged into. I love Gull's address to the workers, imploring them, and us, to wake up to the wonder surrounding them. Ours is a world asleep, one that has advanced so far as to lose sight of something essentially human. The world that Gull describes is one that's purely left brain, the soul, that mysterious entity from which creativity springs, has been lost. While writing this book, Moore declard himself a magician and professed to worship a snake god. With this scene, he is addressing the reader, begging us to reclaim the wonder in our own lives.

In his final speech over the body, Gull talks about the way that he has made each of these women immortal. Again he uses the metaphor of a wedding, in this union of male and female, he has created a lasting myth that lives on long after the people involved have died. The union of male and female as the most powerful source of creation is an idea that Moore explores in Promethea 10, the 'sex' issue, where he writes about the essenitally masculine rationality and the essentially feminine creativity. Here, his final action has allowed Gull to transcend the limits of human perception, to enter the fourth dimension and experience multiple planes of time simultaneously. He sees the world that his actions have wrough, by symbolically extinguishing the feminine creative essence, he has doomed humanity to a rational world, devoid of magic. The burning of the heart is a visual symbol of this, what once gave life is now dust, disperesed in the air.

This vision is the bookend to his encounter with Jahbuhlon back in the book's second chapter. As Gull says, his life has peaked, and from here it's only the descent. This powerful shaman is now just an old man.

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