As we begin our adventure into Watchmen, it strikes me how far we’ve come in Contemporary Fiction. We’ve met numerous approaches to telling stories. The numerous kinds of reading that this implies is interesting. Kinds of reading.
We began the discussion with the idea of reading a comic panel. I threw an abstract series of squares up on the board and quickly got hit with the idea that the panels in Watchmen reveal a strictness of geometric form in the sense of architecture. Yi-Fu Tuan in his book Space and Place writes that architecture can teach in the sense that it is humanly designed environment. Watchmen, like any story, is designed, but the kind of design that it is will direct the reader into reading according to a specific form, in this case the dialectic between visual drama or composition and textual rhetoric. I would argue that this creates a different kind of meaning for the audience much as music is “read” differently yet “means” something. This happens in chapter one in the discrepancy between the detectives’ conclusions about the Comedian’s murder and the intermittent panels which reveal a different story. Yet Rorschach is also on a mission of detection or decipherment. We could conclude that this similarity or parallelism binds Chapter 1. Will he, like the detectives, be thrown by the clues he is limited to? If the reader is a detective in a sense, will we also be thrown by the play between the art and the writing, the clues that we are given to decipher?
Consider this act of sight reading. In Watchmen we are going to “see” that the Comedian and Dr. Manhattan are similar creatures. In this culture we determine difference through ethnicity, size, history, place, and norm. Dr. M is different because he is not exactly human. How? In a particularly interesting scene, Laurie wakes up to two Dr. Manhattan’s feeling her out and she reacts as we would expect, with revulsion. Yet, Manhattan doesn’t appear to get why she would react so viscerally to his perverted approach. He doesn’t “see.” She flees to Dan, who is “human.” Dr. Manhattan, for some reason, is amazing. He can change form, shift matter, and time. But he cannot “see.”
Sight is a metaphor for understanding. Do you “see” what I mean, is a frequent turn of phrase. In the scene mentioned above Laurie is humanized, while Dr. Manhattan is read as simply odd, at a distance to Laurie’s humanness. Like the atom, which is far beyond our understanding as an object that makes up reality, Dr. Manhattan as a character is “beyond” Laurie. In a sense, so is the Comedian, rapist, killer, and perpetual ironic figure. But we will get this reading by deciphering the panels not just by following the text. We will see that Dr. Manhattan is immense, distant from understanding, and this will make Laurie and Dan that much more readable, and the story of Watchmen that much more interesting.