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 Post subject: Watchmen's Narrator
PostPosted: Thu Feb 04, 2010 7:35 pm 
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I've been reading that new Watchmen As Literature book, and the author made an interesting point about the narrator. Most people feel, as did I before reading what she had to say, that Watchmen has no narrator.

But then she pointed to the supplemental material. The excerpts and clippings. These often contain notes that include, "reprinted with permission." She makes the point that, who is this person who includes these items and why would they need permission? Is the narrator the publisher of this story? Someone who, after it's all over, knows the truth?

One of her hypothesis is that Seymour is the narrator. That what we're reading is what he compiled after picking up and reading Rorschach's journal. She explains that this is also why, throughout the novel, snippets of Rorschach's journal appear - as this is how Seymour found out about everything.

She comments on his name as well. That it references the fact that his, of all characters can "see more" of what is going on around him. See Veidt's plot as exposed by the journal.

Has anyone else thought about who the narator of Watchmen is? Any one else have a different idea?

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 Post subject: Re: Watchmen's Narrator
PostPosted: Thu Feb 04, 2010 8:23 pm 
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It's an interesting hypothesis. Pity it doesn't work.

The narrator is the entity telling the story. The narrator sets the story's POV, but Watchmen has so many different Ps of V that it makes a single narrator impossible. Chapter II alone has scenes from the perspectives of Sally Jupiter, Veidt, Dreiberg, Moloch and Rorschach.

There's also the matter of the Mars scenes. Chapter IV is very clearly narrated by Dr. Manhattan. Chapter IX seems to be principally narrated by Laurie, though the recurring perfume bottle shots would suggest that Dr. Manhattan has at least a partial share in the POV role for that chapter. In any case, both chapters contain events and caption boxes that would be totally and completely unknown to Rorschach and Seymour.

And what about Chapter VI? Malcolm Long serves as our eyes and ears on this one (with a partial narration share from Rorschach), so how could Seymour have obtained Malcolm's notes?

And last but not least, there are chapters XI and XII. Rorschach's notes cut off when the journal is delivered to the New Frontiersman so if Seymour was narrating, the story would have gone straight to the squid attack and the rebuilding effort without ever going to Antarctica. Then, in Chapter XII, Rorschach dies. If he was the narrator, the story would have ended there. And then Dr. Manhattan goes away. If he was the narrator, the story would have ended or followed him.

The question of who or what gathered the supplemental material is an interesting one. However, the story is so deep and wide, told from so many different perspectives that a single narrator telling all of it would be impossible.

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PostPosted: Thu Feb 04, 2010 8:57 pm 
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I haven't read the book yet, so I can't speak intelligently about her all her justifications for the assertion, but I will say I am skeptical for a few reasons.

1. Several chapters have their own narrator. In Watchmaker, for example, Jon is speaking directly to the reader from Mars. It isn't possible that Seymour, for example, would ever know of it or be able to reproduce it.
2. Sally's letters and clippings are on Mars. They would not be available to a specific narrator for inclusion unless that narrator were Dr. Manhattan himself.
3. The shifting narration seems to belie the idea of a single narrator. Even if Jon were the narrator, it seems unlikely that he'd be able to properly convey the raw subtleties that Moore gives us with Rorschach's own words.

As for the permission to use Hollis Mason's work from Under the Hood, I think this is Moore not yet knowing quite where he was going with it (as he confesses he didn't until issue 3) and trying to lend the meta material a documentary feel. In other words... it's just there... a little bit of a screw up from a false start.

I love the idea of cohesiveness and like the thesis as presented, but I don't see any way to see it as true.

I am even more skeptical of the idea that Seymour is the narrator. We've discussed the play on his name "see more" for many years, and clearly Moore chose it purposefully because we are Seymour. At the end, Alan is leaving it entirely in our hands.

Moore is a fan of Burroughs' cut up method and utilizes what I can only call a fully purposeful duplication of it resulting in a similar crystaline structure to the storytelling demanding shifting points of view and multiple narrators. Moore goes to a great deal of elaborate plotting to make us feel like we are getting random bits from hither and yon that build into a coherent and mightily impressive whole richer in theme, symbolism, and thoughtful imagery than anything else in the medium.

But I find the thesis of a single narrator with a larger point of view compelling and will put the book on my list (currently reading Rebecca Goldstein... which makes me think a "What are you reading now?" thread might be interesting.


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 Post subject: Re: Watchmen's Narrator
PostPosted: Thu Feb 04, 2010 10:26 pm 
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I changed my mind, I would say that Bourquin and Fine are the closest things to narrators.


Last edited by WJK on Fri Feb 05, 2010 3:09 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Watchmen's Narrator
PostPosted: Fri Feb 05, 2010 7:31 am 
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meh, i say the narrator is Moore himself. the narrator doesn't have to be a character.

either that or a nameless future historian,

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PostPosted: Fri Feb 05, 2010 9:29 am 
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Vynson wrote:
I haven't read the book yet, so I can't speak intelligently about her all her justifications for the assertion, but I will say I am skeptical for a few reasons.

1. Several chapters have their own narrator. In Watchmaker, for example, Jon is speaking directly to the reader from Mars. It isn't possible that Seymour, for example, would ever know of it or be able to reproduce it.
2. Sally's letters and clippings are on Mars. They would not be available to a specific narrator for inclusion unless that narrator were Dr. Manhattan himself.
3. The shifting narration seems to belie the idea of a single narrator. Even if Jon were the narrator, it seems unlikely that he'd be able to properly convey the raw subtleties that Moore gives us with Rorschach's own words.

From Watchmen As Literature...
Quote:
As Seymour does not have omniscience, nor was he present to view each of the scenes expressed throughout the novel, the contents of the panels are, at most, Seymour's estimations or predictions of what the journal describes through words. The images and dialogue found in the panels of each chapter that do not directly involve Seymour are hypothetical. The journal takes precedence over the pictoral narrative in the panels, thereby reversing the narrative levels: the journal becomes extradiegetic and guides what is pictured in the panels rather than the pictures in the panels guiding what parts of the journal are included, as is potentially the case with a narrator who is an "other" outside the world of Watchmen and has the super-human ability of omniscience.

Hurm...

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 Post subject: Re: Watchmen's Narrator
PostPosted: Fri Feb 05, 2010 9:58 am 
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that sort of makes sense, i guess it depends on just how much Rorschach writes down. he might literally write everything down, obsessively, including the two bernies stuff, and thoughts on what might be happening at certain points, and he does do a lot of hanging around as kovaks early in the book.

but if this was true, or should i say, if this is what AM/DG intended, would you not have expected to see him writing more often?

also seymour would have absolutely no idea what happens after the journal was dropped off, so the whole ending would have to be massive speculation on his part.

i still think future historian would be a better guess, since they could have got Ror's journal and a lot of other information that seymour would not have had access too. but i guess seymour could BE that future historian.

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 Post subject: Salt to taste
PostPosted: Fri Feb 05, 2010 11:15 am 
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OK... I still haven't read the book, so take this with a salt lick, but:

Is the chick missing a button on her trench? Is she seriously suggesting that Moore intended to tell the story from the perspective of a single narrator (other than Moore himself)?

Wow. I think she needs to read the story again... and again.

And I thought Rorschach was sucking on a bent straw.

This is where Intentional Fallacy gets us. Now where the hell is RLS when we need him?


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 Post subject: Re: Salt to taste
PostPosted: Fri Feb 05, 2010 11:46 am 
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Vynson wrote:
OK... I still haven't read the book, so take this with a salt lick, but:

Is the chick missing a button on her trench? Is she seriously suggesting that Moore intended to tell the story from the perspective of a single narrator (other than Moore himself)?

Wow. I think she needs to read the story again... and again.

And I thought Rorschach was sucking on a bent straw.

This is where Intentional Fallacy gets us. Now where the hell is RLS when we need him?

She does not state in the book that Seymour is the narrator. She simple comments on all of the possible interpreted narrators (The omniscient "other," Seymour, Rorschach via the journal) based on evidence within the pages of the graphic novel which may support those conclusions. I thought the Seymour evidence was interesting and the topic is certainly worthy of a thread.

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 Post subject: Re: Watchmen's Narrator
PostPosted: Fri Feb 05, 2010 11:54 am 
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Oh, it's absolutely worthy of a thread. It's just completely wrong.

Let me see if I have this straight: If the entire story of Watchmen is told with a single narrator, then anything that doesn't involve the narrator is just his best guess at what happened? Doesn't that cheapen the whole thing?

Watchmen is a very intricate and detailed story with countless interlocking and interdependent parts. That's part of what makes it Watchmen. I don't see any room for chance or guesswork with visuals and story details that are so precise in nature.

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 Post subject: Re: Watchmen's Narrator
PostPosted: Fri Feb 05, 2010 12:04 pm 
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I agree with Curi.

The idea that the entire telling is the work of one of the characters or an unknown other character doesn't seem to hold up.

And the idea that Seymour wrote Watchmen is like saying... that Seymour is as smart as Alan Moore.

Hurm. I certainly didn't interpret the character that way.

OK... I still haven't read the book... and am sort of leaning toward not reading it at this point.


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 Post subject: Re: Watchmen's Narrator
PostPosted: Fri Feb 05, 2010 9:59 pm 
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Sara J. Van Ness, the author of Watchmen As Literature wanted me to post this here as she's having trouble registering...
Sara J. Van Ness wrote:
The intention of the chapter is in no way an attempt to simplify the complexity of the narrative structure, nor is it an attempt to give definite answers to questions about who or who is not the narrator. In fact, it is an attempt to show the text's intricacies by raising some hypothetical questions. The chapter attempts to describe the reading process, how readers are thoroughly engaged by a narrative voice that simultaneously becomes more and less clear by the end of the narrative (i.e., the last panel in the book opens up new possibilities for the narrative's construction).

I expected that the chapter would be quite controversial as it is proposing a variety of hypothetical scenarios, none of which can be proven, but this is exactly the point. It is intended to start debate and discussion about various details of the text particularly because some of these scenarios seem more likely than others, yet none are definite. The end of the chapter perhaps provides some insight about the intention of the discussion: "In order to arrive at the three narrative scenarios described here, readers need to speculate about events that occur beyond what is explicitly in the text, and two of these interpretations are based on what readers believe could occur after the last panel of the novel .... The narrative, by its very structure, creates indeterminacy, and would be challenging to sustain any one reading of the novel as having a definite or clear narrative voice. This is not to say that this is a flaw in the narrative, nor is it to say that this takes away from the narrative in any way. Rather, the purpose of the narrative's structure as ambiguous is to encourage readers to think" (75). I understand that the assertion of Seymour as one potential narrator seems simplistic and absurd out of the context of the chapter, but again, the purpose is to raise questions and spark discussion, which I guess this discussion forum has begun to do!

I am so glad that members of the forum find the topic interesting and that that there are some distinct opinions on the narrator. As a reader, the narrative voice and cyclical nature of the text's construction (one that begs rereading) were aspects of Watchmen that I personally found intriguing, and this process of reading and rereading is something I sought to explore more in this chapter. Thank you to everyone who posted, and thanks to "The Watcher" for posting this thread. I hope that clarifies things a bit.

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 Post subject: Sara
PostPosted: Fri Feb 05, 2010 10:19 pm 
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Sara, first I just want to say that it is extremely cool that you thought enough of the discussion your book sparked to come here and post. Thank you and welcome.

But, as I keep disclaiming, I still haven't read the book. I was leaning toward not reading it. But because you have the class and passion to come here... and so I don't sound too stupid as I try to keep up with the conversation, I will seek it out this weekend.

Cheers to you.


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 Post subject: Re: Watchmen's Narrator
PostPosted: Fri Feb 05, 2010 11:43 pm 
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I was wondering when the author herself would show up. I'm glad she decided to chime in and DD has my appreciation for passing the message on. When Ms. Van Ness gets through her registering difficulties, she will of course be welcome here.

Anyway, I confess that I haven't read the book either (currently unemployed and running drastically low on disposable income, though I do have that B&N coupon...), but it sounds to me like the point being made has less to do with the possibility of a narrator and more to do with the nature of the overall narrative.

To call it indeterminate would be precise, as the moral ambiguity of Watchmen is its heart and the uncertain fate of Rorschach's Journal plays a key role in that ambiguity. For that matter, we don't even know for sure how Veidt carried himself or acted after his little chat with Doc Manhattan, do we?

On a completely different note, there's the matter of HJ, whose fate remains unknown and whose identity was only speculated upon. Some think that he was found and killed by the Comedian. A select few among us think that he survived and then ran away with Cpt. Metropolis (whose death was somehow faked) to live happily ever after and glimpsed in I.25.4.

We may have a few hints for how these turning points turn out, but we still don't know for sure what happens afterward. We don't know, we may never know and if we ever find out for sure, it would probably ruin the entire story. To that end, these sequences can never be told. Throughout the story of Watchmen, many characters take the mantle of narrator, but they must all be blind to certain events in the world of Watchmen to preserve its story and its precious ambiguity.

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 Post subject: Re: Watchmen's Narrator
PostPosted: Sat Feb 06, 2010 1:41 am 
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Sara wanted me to tell you the book will not be on sale until May, so don't run out to the bookstore looking for it. It can be pre-ordered on Amazon, etc.

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 Post subject: Re: Watchmen's Narrator
PostPosted: Sat Feb 06, 2010 8:18 am 
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DoomsdayClock wrote:
Sara wanted me to tell you the book will not be on sale until May, so don't run out to the bookstore looking for it. It can be pre-ordered on Amazon, etc.

......

okaaaay

I ordered it through Barnes and Noble so I guess I'll either get it early or get a notification that's it's not out yet or something...

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 Post subject: Re: Watchmen's Narrator
PostPosted: Sat Feb 06, 2010 11:26 am 
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Hello all, this is Sara. I was finally able to register after repeated error messages last night. Although I frequently browse the message boards, I rarely have the time to contribute, so please bear with me as I work my way through!

First, I'd like to say thanks to DD for posting my clarification and thanks to Vynson and Curiosity Inc. for the welcome!

Curiosity Inc.: Your post is interesting about the ambiguity of the narrative's structure, and is, in fact, something that I discuss in the book. Yes, the book's focus is on many aspects of the narrative rather than on any clear claims of a distinct narrative voice (which you rightly point out is impossible to claim). What I am most interested in throughout the book is the reading process, how images and words combine to create a complex narrative structure, one that can arguably be more engaging and challenging than a narrative composed of all words.

Also, according to the publisher, the book is not officially released until May. I'm not sure why on some websites it says it has already been released or is simply "out of stock." I've brought this to the publisher's attention, but just so you all know, my guess is that copies that have been preordered will be sent in May. If anything changes I will be sure to let you know.

Thanks, all!

-Sara


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 Post subject: Re: Watchmen's Narrator
PostPosted: Sat Feb 06, 2010 6:18 pm 
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Sara, I'm delighted to see that you're publishing literary criticism on Watchmen. There isn't a lot out there, and what there is, to be blunt, is junk. I look forward to something rigorous and serious.

I have a question a propos of your narratological reading. Do you distinguish between textual and pictorial narrators? I ask because to consider Seymour the narrator, even as a facetious provocation, would require you to suppose that he's responsible not only for the text but also, somehow, for the images. Do you anchor your reading in narratological theory?

More broadly, can you tell us some of the critics who inform your work? On formalist grounds, do you move beyond McCloud? When you speak of social constructionism - I think I remember that correctly from the publisher's blurb - whom do you marshall? I'm trying to get a sense of your methodology.

Finally, isn't it special pleading, and kind of sad, to say that "[graphic narrative] can arguably be more engaging and challenging than a narrative composed of all words"? Do theatre or film critics feel the need to justify the medium they study this way? It seems to me that comics criticism has moved beyond this, but maybe I'm wrong. Still, do Thierry Groensteen, Jan Baetens, or Benoit Peeters defend their interest in bandes dessinees like this? Need we?

Good luck with the book, and welcome to the boards. Are you close to the end of your graduate study?


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 Post subject: RLS ex machina
PostPosted: Sat Feb 06, 2010 7:27 pm 
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I love it when people pop out of the genie bottle on cue.

Kind of an overwhelming post there, RLS. You sure you don't want to know her favorite ice cream flavor and the weight of her spleen in grams as well? :)

Sadly, the defense of an interest in comics seems increasingly unnecessary in the mainstream if only because most people don't read much of anything. In more literate circles, Maus, Watchmen, Persepolis and a sad few others have given the medium some respectability.

I recall having this conversation with my philosophy chair in 1986. He was, in that magical year, unconvinced of the worth of the medium. I tried to tempt him with an issue of Moore's Swamp Thing. I do not know if he ever read it.

But here in 2010, my daughter at Berkeley is studying Maus for a history course this semester.

Still, an interest in comics is seen differently from reading a graphic novel. As I originally read Watchmen one monthly issue at a time, I still tend to refer to it not as a graphic novel but as a comic book. The experience of reading it and then waiting a month... reading it again while the month ticked slowly by... until the next issue came out... it was a wonderful experience. There had never been anything like it and almost everything else in the medium paled. It was altogether different from reading it as a collected edition.

But, still, I agree with RLS, that we need offer no apology for our interest or enjoyment or work in any medium. In the early days of Hollywood, "serious writers" viewed screenwriting as hackwork. Still, it is difficult to make the opposing argument even to one's self when standing at the local cineplex... or the local comics shop.

The overwhelming majority of work in cinema or comics is sub-par if not horrible. Until recently, the guardians of prose publication were more vigilant out of economic necessity. Even with genre fiction like romances and sci fi, reading a book is an investment of more time and money and I would assert that the casual moviegoer who keeps Michael Bay and his ilk in business and picks up a dime-thin monthly comic filled with lightboarded photoreferenced art once in a while... knows no parallel at the bookstore.


Last edited by Vynson on Sat Feb 06, 2010 7:41 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Sat Feb 06, 2010 7:34 pm 
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Vynson wrote:
Now where the hell is RLS when we need him?


Ask, and ye shall receive!

RLS wrote:
I have a question a propos of your narratological reading. Do you distinguish between textual and pictorial narrators? I ask because to consider Seymour the narrator, even as a facetious provocation, would require you to suppose that he's responsible not only for the text but also, somehow, for the images. Do you anchor your reading in narratological theory?


Oh, the way you talk! My heart's all aflutter!

God, I'm such a sycophant.


Sara, I remember speculating once about whether the flashback scenes in Watchmen (Rorschach's in particular) were meant to be read as purely objective (and therefore free from prejudice and partiality) as opposed to subjective, where the narrator of the particular flashback could color or mask certain aspects of their story. In that vein, and while it may not be the main thrust of your book, the supposition of a single narrator (especially Seymour as amateur detective compiling old notes and photos) is an interesting one and certainly food for thought.


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