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I recently finished reading the graphic novel, Watchmen, by Alan Moore (illustrated by Dave Gibbons). Alan Moore has achieved widespread fame and recognition for such work in the comic book/graphic novel genre as V for Vendetta, Swamp Thing, and certain installments in the Batman epic.

Dave Gibbons can be most readily recognized for his work with DC Comics’ Green Lantern series, of which a movie has been produced, set for release on June 17, 2011:

(Prediction: A Hal Jordan that is a poor imitation of the Tony Stark/Iron Man character, only without Robert Downey Jr., and thereby doomed to suck)

Now, there is something you should know. Alan Moore seems to have lost his mind. That is not to mean he has lost grasp of every aspect of reality, nor that he is incapable of excelling in the field that he has chosen for this reality; simply that, on those issues that are most crucial to establishing and maintaining sanity, he has decided to employ a more, well, flexible grip.

In the documentary The Mindscape of Alan Moore, Mr. Moore reveals that at the age of forty (1993) he decided that he would be a magician; that is, a dedicated advocate of the occult, not to be confused with a showman or entertainer.

We can take encouragement from the fact that Watchmen‘s publication (1986) took place before Mr. Moore’s mystical conversion, and that he may have yet been able to communicate some seed of wisdom before he decided to spend the remainder of his life dabbling in tarot cards and pentograms.

That being said, about 2/3 into Watchmen, a conversation takes place between two of the work’s “superheroes”: Dr. Manhattan/Jon Osterman and Silk Spectre/Laurie Juspeczyk that captured my attention.

It resonated.

I’ll try to set the scene a bit: Manhattan and Spectre are having their conversation, by way of a somewhat complicated series of events, on Mars, where Manhattan (the only superhero among the “Watchmen” who actually possesses supernatural abilities; abilities which are limited only by Manhattan’s imagination) is providing oxygen for Spectre by projecting a kind of “aura” around her.

The purpose of the conversation is relatively important: Spectre is trying to convince Manhattan to save the human race.

As they debate back and forth, Manhattan is finally convinced to do what he can to save humanity, an event reached at by a single conclusion:

Manhattan: “…in each human coupling, a thousand million sperm vie for a single egg. Multiply those odds by countless generations, against the odds of your ancestors being alive; meeting; siring this precise son; that exact daughter, until…of the thousand million children competing for fertilization, it was you, only you, that emerged. To distill so specific a form from that chaos…like turning air to gold, that is the crowning unlikelihood. The thermodynamic miracle.”

Spectre: “But…if me, my birth, if that’s a thermodynamic miracle…I mean, you could say that about anybody in the world!”

Manhattan: “Yes. Anybody in the world. But the world is so full of people, so crowded with these miracles that they become commonplace and we forget. I forget. We gaze continually at the world and it grows dull in our perceptions. Yet seen from another’s vantage point, as if new, it may still take the breath away…You are life, rarer than a quark and unpredictable beyond the dreams of Heisenberg; the clay in which the forces that shape all things leave their fingerprints most clearly.”

Some could argue the real miracle is that Moore wrote this masterful little piece of prose. But let’s leave him alone.

This scene brought an image to my mind. That of a picture taken when I was 11 or 12. Where I stand on a front porch with about 20 or so of my other cousins. Standing at the peak of this small crowd is my mother’s mother – Grandma – smiling beautifully, peering through pink-rimmed glasses, arm-in-arm with some of the oldest of her grandchildren. If you could see the picture, there’d be no need for explanation. It shows the accomplishment of a woman who had seen nine American decades involving back-breaking work, economic collapse, hard-fought survival and two World Wars. In an interview conducted by one of my uncle’s (one of Grandma’s two sons), she mentioned how, as a child, they typically had one meal a day which consisted almost primarily of those items that they could grow themselves. My life (in terms of years lived and effort expended for survival) is currently a fraction of what was her own. She passed away some time ago.

This image made me think of our Lord and the humanity He pieced together. It made me think of the dynamics of humanity. How, of the infinite possiblities of survival that God could have conceived for us, He chose reproduction, a process that allows the child to carry the genetic data of the parent, perpetually intertwining us, generation after generation. A process in which every person is simultaneously independent but also possessing a heritage centuries deep.

It made me think of salvation, redemption, adoption.

How, upon the act of redemption, the Holy Spirit – the temple’s Holy of Holies – indwells within us. We carry around within us the movement of the Father. How God, upon creating humanity, desired to have a people of His own, whom He could live among.

Jeremiah is a storehouse of information on the subject.

” ‘But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,’ declares the Lord, ‘I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.

‘They shall not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,’ declares the Lord, ‘for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.’ ” (31:33-34)

” ‘As the host of heaven cannot be counted and the sand of the sea cannot be measured, so I will multiply the descendants of David My servant and the Levites who minister to Me.’ ” (33:22)

John wraps it up nicely,

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them,

and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.’ ” (21:3-4)

Those first things, they will pass away. There will be things after the first things. Better things, apparently.

But here, in the midst of those first things, I am arrested by the clarity by which we can identify the working of a God simultaneously devastating in His glory and saving in His love.

Here’s to a New Year. New First Things.

daniel

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Watchmen came out on DVD today. Go watch it, if you haven’t already. Or heck, even if you have. One of the most intelligent superhero movies I’ve ever seen (of course, I’ve only seen like, maybe 12). Dripping with political/social theory. Not exactly a family film, so don’t invite Grandma.

While you’re out browsing, you may as well take a look at a couple of films directed by Guy Ritchie: Snatch and RocknRolla. Not indie films by any stretch of the imagination; these films star A+ actors like Brad Pitt, Gerard Butler, and Jason Statham. Personally, I just enjoy the filmmaking style. Fast-paced and gritty. Delightfully masculine.

Enough of my cinema pitch. Let’s talk philosophy, folks.

The other day my brain fired up the grill, cooked, and ate the Bhagavad-Gita. Since that meal, digestion has completed and I’m beginning to feel the nutritional value seep into my perspective.

One thing about the Gita is that it is repetitive. Apparently, one can say many things about a single truth. The kernel that I plucked is in regards to the fruit of action. What I’ve gathered from the Gita, and what my mind has organized in my understanding is this: Krishna regards discipline in action to be the highest form of devotion to God.  That is, sacrificial action that is done out of devotion to God. Doing what we do for God, basically. The Bible offers the same advice:

1 Corinthians 10:31
Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

Do everything for God. The Gita expounds a bit on how this might be done: detaching oneself from “the fruits of action.” In the setting of the Gita itself, Arjuna faces what Krishna calls his “sacred duty”: fighting and killing his family members in order to regain control of his kingdom. Krishna tells Arjuna that he can do this act righteously by not doing it for what will come it, the consequences. Instead of fighting because you’ll be king, or because you’ll be taking revenge against your cousins, or whatever, do it for God. In this way, Krishna advises Arjuna to detach himself from the fruits/consequences of his actions. Krishna calls this discipline.

Now, I’m not completely certain about the soundness of Krishna’s advice. Followed strictly, one could use the argument as a justification for any kind of behavior. So, how did this prove useful to me?

Because I am a selfish little twerp.

I do a lot of things because of what I get out of it. Even acts that may seem like they have been performed “righteously,” are usually done because of how I will feel, the self-satisfaction I will receive, the respect I will gain from others. So, being consumed with myself and my desires the way I inescapably seem to be, how can I ever hope to do anything truly good, truly selfless, truly honorable? The only solution would be for a foreign agent, unstained by human depravity/weakness/selfishness, to enter into the formula that is our universe and inject us all with righteousness. Sound familiar yet? I’ll continue. This righteous agent would have to come in a form that could communicate to us, but in a way that would not forefeit our free will (the agent’s ways are higher than our ways). It couldn’t just turn the sky into a giant TV and start broadcasting the steps to righteousness, like some cosmic Chick tract. It would need to come in, under the radar, get past our defenses, get close to the heart itself. And release the antidote to our ingrained self-destruction.

(I wonder if Ayn Rand, what with her anthems to the self, Objectivism, and philosophically justified self-absorption, is doing somersaults in her grave yet…)

This agent may even have to solidify the claims of its antidote by providing a concrete example. In this case, the claim it is making would have to be the rejection of the self. Another name for this is sacrifice. In a magnificent, incredibly meaningful act this agent would bring its claim full circle by performing an act of complete sacrifice.

And even if the sacrifice kills it, it would be given new life.

Yes, Alex, the answer would be “Who is Jesus?” I’ll take “Potential Explanations for the Universe and Everything It Contains” for $500.

Jogging down a beaten path today, these are the throughts that throbbed in me. Maybe whoever wrote down the Gita was on to something. Maybe rejecting the fruits of my actions could really lead to something great. I will love you, not because of what you give me or don’t give me. Not because of how I will feel after having loved you successfully. Simply because loving you is my beautiful, sacred duty. What would happen if I loved someone simply as an act of devotion to God, rather than because I need to love someone or I need someone to love me?

The other eventual question to raise, “Do we forego of all these delicious fruits? If so, why do we have them?” Why do we have incredible rewards for a good marriage? Incredible rewards for good parenting, good acts, honorable behavior? Are we expected to abandon all these fruits? To abandon the enjoyment of our actions? Should everything be considered a “sacred duty?” Without passions, doesn’t action begin to feel dry?

This, I’m afraid, I do not have a clear answer to. It is, most likely, a flaw in the Gita‘s argument, and it’s also one of the reasons I’m not a Hindu. That, alongside the fact that Krishna basically tells Arjuna that as long as people are worshipping something, they’re kind of worshipping God, and how that’s just downright admirable. Krishna digs that. Perhaps I’m naïve, but I would think that God would lead His devotees to Himself, not to an incorrect approximation of His attributes/His qualities. I would not be cool with my wife hanging out with another dude because “he reminds her of me.” I am me, be my wife. I really hope God shares this sentiment.

In other news, I would love to publish some poetry. I think that would be just smashing. So, I’ve got to start from the beginning, and people tell me the beginning starts with a little book entitled 2009 Poet’s Market. As I write this, I am handing out my credit card number to Amazon. Now all I have to do is actually read the freaking thing and broadcast some poetic loving.

“High hopes, he’s got hiiiiigh hopes, he’s got high-apple-pie-in-the-sky hopes…”

I am sarcasm warmed over. Microwaved green beans. Honey bun sitting on the dashboard of your car for five hours.

Talk is so cheap. So wholly, completely, totally cheap. Discount grocery, past expiration date, off-brand-coupon-in-hand cheap.

But action…well, action’s where it’s at.

daniel