Dr. Manhattan and the idea of distance

Friday, October 31st, 2003

Susan wants me to answer her assertions about Dr. Manhattan. Here’s a summary of the disagreement. She asserts that DM reveals human qualities. I argue that while he tries to fit in, he can’t, because the distance from his humanity is too great: here’s Susan’s argument:

I am still convinced that Dr. Manhattan is more human than you think. Although this viewpoint was established on the same day my alter ego has reflected on her own lack of emotion, it is not made in the vein of comparison, which might make Dr. Manhattan look like an effincrybaby. It is through evidence within the Watchmen itself, both visual and textual.

Chapter 3, p. 16both visual and textual, an obviously upset Dr. Manhattan says, I said to leave me ALONE! (surprising with that much angry emotion that he didnt burst his blue text bubble!)

Chapter 3, p. 5, middle row, lst panel on leftwhere you can see both Dr. Manhattansand both are wearing different expressions, one of pleading and concern, one with brows knitted in concentration with his work.

Chapter 3, p. 20,21p. 20, lower left, bottom row, sense of change or loss, and p. 21 top row, upper right: Just look at that face and tell me he talks like a robot!

There is much, much more to substantiate his human responses. Though I wouldnt call him sensitive either.

My theory? He was blasted to atoms, reconstructed himself by gathering atoms from here and there, with evidence of human sexual need stolen from some poor men, why not atoms of the limbic system of the brain that controls emotion as well?

I have nothing to contradict any of this really. I’m not disputing that DM doesn’t react or act in human fashion. He does deside that he must exile himself to Mars, reasoning that he’s a danger (which is, of course, a reactive choice and the “wrong” decision, but since his action had already taken place, it doesn’t matter). He shows remorse; he shows concern for Laurie and the need to explain himself; or is he just “letting” things occur because for him they already have occured.

Problem is he is “beyond” human by degrees. He’s a superman, not quite close enough to Laurie, and not quite able to change because “things have already happened.” He can go to Mars in a snap. Normal people can’t. He can’t resolve this. The logic of this character dictates that he will know how Laurie will react to his two selves, how things will happen, which leads me to conclude that we have to read him as Susan does, as a struggling man, but not quite able to synthesize the past, present, and future. He may feel but he doesn’t understand those feelings, because he never has the time to do this: he has no “fixed” position by which to reflect, because the time for reflection has already past. Note that as he “flashes” back and provides backstory, he never emotes: he relates events, and then he analyzes their significance as they relate to time and proportion.

Manhattan would never speak as Lear or Gloster would in King Lear.

To the gods we are as flies to young boys, Gloster says in paraphrase, they kill us for their sport.

Manhattan is totally beyond human concept; this is the source of his wretchedness: metaphorically, he can never touch Laurie. He “feels” yet he can never “touch.”


12 responses to “Dr. Manhattan and the idea of distance”

  1. Susan says:

    I think we are in general agreement then, with some compromise on certain details. I understand what you are saying, and back down on insisting that he is just like ushe obviously is not. I would say that there are degrees of perception that in turn alter the understanding of what is human that again affect our evaluation of a Charles Manson or Jeffrey Dahmer, the Comedian, or the corporate executive down the street as to their varying levels of genuine ability to feel as well as display their humanness through emotion and rational thought.

    One night of love don’t make up for six nights alone
    But i’d rather have one than none Lord,’cause i’m flesh and bone
    Sometimes it seems that she ain’t worth the trouble at all
    But she could be worth the world if somehow you can touch her at all

    (If You Could Touch Her At All, Lyrics by Lee Clayton)

    Thanks! p.s. Can you manage just a drop of warmth in your next reading portrayal of Dr. M.? Even if it is a mimicry of humanity, I think he is intelligent enough to know he needs it to fit in.

  2. ersinghaus says:

    Here’s a touch of warmth toward DM. He teaches us what isolation and loneliness “look” like. He is a teacher: the poor fool.

    Note that the Comedian is his opposite: the Comedian can touch, but he doesn’t feel.

  3. Neha says:

    This lil’ comment goes up at the risk of sounding a fool. My ignorance could not possibly be any greater, but I just had to get my two bits in.
    Again, I know nothing of the text being discussed here, but Mr.E, from what I gather of your comments, DM sounds so much like Frankenstein’s monster. According to you, he is “beyond” human degrees and not able to change things because they have already happened, but he does go into exile. Also, you say, that he is totally beyond human concept and that is the source of his wretchedness. My question is, would his or the monster’s wretchedness arise out of being shunned from humanity?
    Redundancy is key here… I know nothing.. but from where I’m standing, this sounds really good. Any extra copies around?

  4. Susan says:

    I would say that Frankie had more of the essence of humanness than Manny can ever achieve. Frankie discovered that his attempts at rejoining the mainstream after his own reassembly of various parts were indeed hampered by his looks and subsequent reaction to his appearance by others which led to his own reaction of less-than-nice behavior toward them. Manny was blessed with a super intelligence and tendency towards detail and was, as Mr. E. says, above and beyond any real concern for humanity. His appearance, while blue, was not his biggest problem because it was overwhelmed by his abilities–in other words, people had to respect him and kept their private opinions to themselves. He may have given them the skeevies, but they had to admit he was smarter and more powerful than them. I would liken Manny more towards an extreme, exaggerated corporate type who places his work above all else and dedicates his time and energies to that work. Or actually, anyone from scientists to computer gamers to writers who are absorbed totally with their interest and withdraw emotionally from society.

  5. neha says:

    Thanks Susan..although I have to remind here that Frankie wasnt the monster. He was the creator, but turns out you’re right..your description of DM sounds like Dr.Frankenstein, when he locked himself away. Or more like an assimilation of the two.Comments?

  6. Susan says:

    I don’t remember if the monster had a name, or what it was, so I took the liberty of referring to him as Frankenstein, who of course, was the good doctor who created him. I am influenced also obviously by the Hollywood image that has branded him (the monster) as F, even going so far as coming out with “The Bride of Frankenstein” etc. etc. In my post I really was looking at the monster, not the doctor. It’s been a long, long time since I read Mary Shelley’s (?) original version of the text.

  7. Neha says:

    No chastising on my part.Just a reminder.I’ve been guity of harboring the same misconception before I actually read the novel.And yes,it was Shelley.

  8. Susan says:

    No problem–I knew at the time I wrote it I was wrong, but got carried away with my own Frankie and Manny theme and was too lazy to look it up (also called “research”). So what was the creation’s name? Did he have one?

  9. Neha says:

    Oddly enough,”he” didnt.I have a feeling he was meant to be “everyman”.Or that’s the way I perceive it anyway.

  10. I would have to agree with the conclusion of the post here. Dr. Manhattan does still have his humanity within him, which is what makes him so troubled, so flawed. If he didn’t he would not bother with the trappings of human life.

    I think that when you look at the things he does, he is still motivated by his humanity, still reacts as his humanity would have him, but that part of him still operates on a chronological timeline, where his entire mind exists pan-chronally (Making up words is fun.) Take, for example, when he tells Laurie that he will get upset when she tells him she’s been sleeping with Dan. He ‘knows’ it already- he told her about it, yet he is still upset, since it is the first time that human, chronological part of him found out about it. That part of him is the same as it always was, but there is another objective part outside his humanity that is incapable of feelings, since feeling have such a limited ’cause->effect’ type existence. It is the same reason he bothers with a ‘love life’ when he knows they will break up eventually.

    Oh, ok, here we go- think of it this way. The part of him operating outside of time is like another person. In this respect, “Dr. Manhattan”, the one who makes emotional responses, the one who makes decisions, is just another person on the timeline. He makes as much sense ot this objective mind as does the Comedian, or Laurie, or any other person. Since this outside mind cannot understand why he does the things he does, it does not attempt to change them, it merely lets them occur. Like Manhattan lets the Vietnamese woman die. Hence he could tell Laurie about when he will find out she’s cheated on him, but still gets upset when he finds out. Hence he could go into ‘exile’ to protect the world, even though, ultimately, he knows what will come of it. Hence he can begin a relationship with Laurie even as he knows they will break up- it’s not that he is able to ‘come to terms’ with the fact that they will break up, but the part of him that makes the decision to love her is not aware of the breakup. That’s the human part.

    Does that make any sense?

  11. Ok, I just realized I may have posted about things you have not gotten to yet. I stink. I’m sorry.

  12. neha says:

    No you dont stink. Your post is the exact reason the first name that popped in my head was Shelley…or her monster.

    My take on Frankenstein’s monster was the same..somehow,he still had a shred of humanity in him.He wanted to find the creator he was abandoned by, yearned for love, felt remorse to an extent when he harmed a life, and longed for a companion.In his beginnings, he was gentle, much like a child.

    As you say with regard to Dr.Manhattan, he would not involve himself with the trappings of human life were he not humane. I felt that the same was true of the monster. Grotesque as may have been, his “creator” gave him a “heart” which made him feel – and blame.

    I wonder if they use the novel in Psychology majors…