I think I could argue that there are more important statements about Life (with a capital L) in this novel, then in something by Rousseau or Hobbes. There is something about an actual story of people trying to achieve humanity. I think it can show you more than just a narrator telling you what is the best way to achieve humanity. And Humanity (with a capital H) is a pretty important idea in Watchmen. The idea of ‘regular superheros’ is important. All these characters are us, some of us in each of them. We cannot disconnect ourselves from their lives so easily as you could superman or batman. There is so much in this story, so many important moments and quotes and ideas, that it is almost impossible to fit it all in a blog, but structuring it around the characters will be a good start.
Rorschach. If I had to pick one really important theme for this whole book it would be ‘what is good’. Yeah, about as broad as you get, i know. More detailed: I think there is a huge tension between two philosophies: Utilitarianism and that other philosophy where there is one strict moral code to adhere to. (can’t remember its name) Rorschach most often represents the latter philosophy. In one sense, his world is simple. People who do bad are bad people. If someone commits murder they should be killed. An eye for an eye. Obviously this doesn’t really make sense if a person extracts revenge through murder. It puts one on an equal plane with the criminal. I think this is the interesting thing about Rorschach’s philosophy. He despises the system he lives in so much and tries to distance himself from it, but he is the one who lives within it the most. He is disgusted by humanity, but he himself is what most people would see as disgusting or crazy. His mask is his connection to power and identity. It’s like a more perverse Batman. Still idealistic, still masked, but so reliant on that identity that there is nothing else left.
It makes sense that Nite Owl, (Dan Dreiberg) and Rorschach were partners. Although they seem like opposites they both share a similar set of values. Dan is an idealist, in a sense almost like a child. Although this is something all The Watchmen share, Dan reminds us of the childhood dream of becoming a superhero, wearing cool costumes, and just ‘doing good’ in general. Dan, and all the Watchmen, are the ones who never really grew out of that mindset.
Dr. Manhattan has ultimate power, but a disconnect from the human. He says “a live body and a dead body have the same number of particles, there is no difference.” Because he is removed from a human perspective, does this make him right? And what about the element of humanity that he still has?
So far, I’ve only barely scratched the surface of this book. Even what I wrote was very basic. But one more thing: the actual conflict. Veidt chooses to kill thousands in order to save the world from certain war. Only by uniting against a common enemy are we saved. So who is the real superhero? Is Veidt the only one that ever really “grew up”?
I love the work of Alan Moore and am really excited for the lecture and seminars.