Readers acquainted with Alan Moore’s magnum opus of picto-narrative smut, Lost Girls, a three-decker orgy of the imagination deriving equally from literary landmarks and the loins and composed lovingly over a span of decades with his artist wife, Melinda Gebbie, will have distilled from that sometimes overly programatic erotic romp that Moore has a clearly defined plan of operation in mind for redeeming pornography from the commodified, inaesthetic gutter into which it has fallen of late. If you supplement your reading of Lost Girls by tackling Moore’s Promethea, with its arcane sex-magic rituals, you will have a fairly firm and accurate set of expectations about his credo when you pick up 25,000 Years of Erotic Freedom.
This book-length essay is Moore’s jocular, conversational, yet utterly serious and semi-scholarly defense of sex in art. Unsurprisingly, he’s all for intelligent, adroit, polymorphously perverse arousal in prose and picture, video, and sculpture. Where the illuminating epiphanies occur is during the roller-coaster journey Moore takes us on, his connect-the-dots voyage down 25 millennia of feelthy, naughty bits. Anchoring his timeline in the creation of the Willendorf Venus on one end and Britney Spears garbed in schoolgirl attire on the other, Moore expatiates knowingly and with empathy on a wide assortment of sex-centric heroes and villains. After lauding Sade, Wilde, Beardsley, and Tijuana Bibles and vilifying inept pornographers and censorious puritans, he summarizes thus: “Sexually progressive cultures gave us mathematics, literature, philosophy, civilization, and the rest, while sexually restrictive cultures gave us the Dark Ages and the Holocaust. Not that I’m trying to load my argument, of course.”
Curiously, Moore misses out on citing a few styles or categories of erotica that could have bolstered his argument: I’m thinking particularly of so-called Good Girl Art, the pinups of Gil Elvgren or Vargas. Surely these represent a triumph of artistry over mere stimulation. He does not allude to any comics artists working in this medium aside from R. Crumb. A reference to the Hernandez brothers’ Birdland, for example, would have been supportive. He likewise fails to tackle Orientalism or the racial politics of much porn.
Moore’s text is supplemented with a variety of well-chosen illustrations ranging from the tamely suggestive (Toulouse-Lautrec’s “The Bed”) to the banned-in-Boston explicitness of photographs by Larry Clark and Vanessa Beecroft. As a primer of the type of erotica he affirms, these plates, along with the spirited text, comprise a coherent and arousing philosophy of Moore’s longed-for pornotopia.