About Me

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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019); AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021); and HOW WE BECAME POST-LIBERAL: THE RISE AND FALL OF TOLERATION (2024).

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Hari Kunzru writes about, and interviews, Michael Moorcock

This long piece over at The Guardian contains fascinating reflections on the 1960s British New Wave, J.G. Ballard, Moorcock's extraordinary output as a novelist and editor (including his technique for writing 15,000 per day in his most prolific mode), why Moorcock prefers living in Texas to living in England, the respective merits of Tolkien and Peake (Moorcock dislikes the former), and much else. Great stuff.


Moorcock's dislike of authoritarian sentiment has led him in many directions: Jerry Cornelius's ambiguity is sexual, social and even ontological; one of Moorcock's most popular heroes, Elric, was written as a rebuke to the bluff, muscular goody-goodies that populate so much fantasy fiction. Elric, a decadent albino weakling, is amoral, perhaps even evil. As a not-so-metaphorical junkie, Elric allowed Moorcock to revel in unwholesomeness, and helped return fantasy to its roots in the late romanticism of the decadents, a literary school close to Moorcock's heart. In a recent introduction to The Dancers at the End of Time, which is set in a decadent far future, Moorcock claims to have sported Wildean green carnations as a teenager, not to mention "the first pair of Edwardian flared trousers (made by Burton) as well as the first high-button frock coat to be seen in London since 1910". Elric, much less robust than his creator, who admits his dandyish threads gave him "the bluff domestic air of a Hamburg Zeppelin commander", is part Maldoror, part Yellow Book poseur and part William Burroughs; within a few years of his first appearance in 1961, British culture suddenly seemed to be producing real-life Elrics by the dozen, as Keith Richards, Jimmy Page and others defined an image of the English rock star as an effeminate, velvet-clad lotus-eater. Moorcock was very popular among musicians, and it's tempting to see him as co-creator of the butterfly-on-a-wheel character, which still wanders the halls of English culture in guises ranging from Sebastian Horsley to Russell Brand. I ask him whether he felt at the time that the 60s rockers were living out a role he'd imagined. He's too modest to agree, but tells an anecdote that seems to sum up psychedelic London's openness to fantasy of all kinds. "I'm in the Mountain grill on the Portobello Road, where everyone used to meet to get on the tour buses. I'm sitting there, and this bloke called Geronimo is trying to sell me some dope. He says 'have you heard about the tunnel under Ladbroke Grove?'. He starts to elaborate, about how it's under the Poor Clares nunnery, and you can go into that and come out in an entirely different world. I said to him, 'Geronimo, I think I wrote that'. It didn't seem to bother him much."


Mike said...

Thanks for the lead. I first read Moorcock through his Dancers books, just as I was gobbling up Delaney's Dhalgren and other breakthrough titles.

After that he disappeared from my reading list for 25 years and I've only come back to him via his championing of Peake and Mieville. I've just picked up a new handsomely-presented exposition of Peake's work written by Moorcock. For some reason it's only available in French : The Sunday Books.

Russell Blackford said...

I loved Moorcock's work when I was young, although I've rather lost touch with it. In fact, my first published book, a rather derivative sword and sorcery novel which I'd love to rework knowing what I know now, featured a hero who was something of an Elric lookalike.

Spencer Troxell said...

Thanks for linking to this article. I was a big Elric fan in late middle school, and am looking forward to sharing him with my sons when they get old enough.

Neil Gaiman wrote a nice fan letter to Moorcock a year or so ago that you might appreciate:


His influence is vast.

Kirth Gersen said...

Loved all those old Elric, Corum, and Hawkmoon tales, although the End of Time stuff always left me kind of cold.

Dang. This is making me want to listen to some Blue Oyster Cult. "Black Blade" indeed!