Thursday, 2 April 2009

Dr Manhattan and Yahweh

Is the god-like Dr Manhattan from Alan Moore's Watchmen a parody of the God of Judaeo-Christian tradition? (That last phrase itself is a strange chimera.) It seems to work backwards - Dr Manhattan comes into existence by being 'unmade man' in a quantum accident, a single human body reassembled as an omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient being, a parodic inversion of the Incarnation. The 'Intrinsic Field Separator', in which man becomes god is a metal chamber that might well be a skit on the medieval typological commonplace of the womb of the Virgin Mary as the 'New Ark'. Covenanted to the Nixonian US as Yahweh is to the people of Israel, Manhattan fights in their wars, mercilessly blasting the Viet-Cong to bits. Compare Joshua 5:13-15, in which Yahweh himself appears:

13 And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, behold, there stood a man over against him with his sword drawn in his hand: and Joshua went unto him, and said unto him, Art thou for us, or for our adversaries?

14 And he said, Nay; but as captain of the host of the LORD am I now come. And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and did worship, and said unto him, What saith my Lord unto his servant?

15 And the captain of the LORD's host said unto Joshua, Loose thy shoe from off thy foot; for the place whereon thou standest is holy. And Joshua did so.

This is clearly softened, an angelic epiphany: scholars agree, I believe, that in older tradition it was undoubtedly Yahweh himself who appeared as a man with a drawn sword. (As Harold Bloom points out, we know what Yahweh looks like - he looks like us, or rather, we look like him.) We also see Dr Manhattan having one representative of the human race to whom he is bound, and to whom he speaks - Laurie Juspeczyk is Watchmen's female Moses, and Mars is her Sinai, in which she argues with the Lord as an advocate for his people. In his gloomy self-exiles, affect-driven rages, and intermittent disgust at humanity, Dr Manhattan is startlingly like the God of the early books of the Tanakh. And of course, the novel continues its reverse trajectory, ending with a renewed Genesis: Dr Manhattan leaves our galaxy, contemplating creating some human life of his own.

This kind of thing is characteristic of Moore's richly ironic imaginative capacity, of course. My friend Peter pointed out to me last night that in Moore's Victorian fiction mash-up The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, we arrive at the Island of Doctor Moreau: the reader may or may not realise that Moore has made Moreau's animal-human hybrids, brilliantly but unobtrusively, into the characters from Mary Tourtell's Rupert Bear stories.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I dunno ... couldn't his epiphany mark a shift from a classical deity to a Judeo-Christian one?

Oh great, there are no page numbers in the bloody thing, so, Chapter IX, page 18 of it, where he is trying to extol the virtues of his 'Olympus', or 'excellent desolation' (nice tension there). It's all about the Big Picture, swathes of eternity, etc. Inhuman because supra-human.

But on 26-27, in accepting every human being is a thermo-dynamic miracle, he enters into a true relationship with the Human; you might say, the relationship which was forged between the deity and humanity in the figure of Christ. The human is the significant entity of consideration and care, not the natural desolate universe.

And as for the flip side: Oooo, Dr Manhattan thinks we're all brilliant! We're the centre of eternal high regard, not the dull planets, not timeless Nature. Sentimentality, ego-inflation, and a form of belief which is itself humanised towards a kind of Freudian 'family romance', kitchen sink drama.

Or maybe even a Hindu kind of epic universal fate who's struggling to be a bit more Yaweh-like? By putting humankind on a pedestal, ironically ... perhaps deifying it in a way. If we're the miracle ... then what is god? Maybe he can float off and do his own blue thing and we'd never know the difference.


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