“Watchmen” by Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons and John Higgins

I used to update another blog every time I finished a book. I’d summarize the book and offer an opinion or two. An Ingenious Device For Avoiding Thought is still out there, but I’m going to discuss the books here now.

Watchmen is a 1980s comic book/graphic novel that deals with a bunch of caped crusaders, similar to Batman, in an alternate timeline in which America won the war in Viet Nam and President Nixon never resigned. There is one character with actual superpowers, the result of a horrendous accident. Watchmen has a terrific reputation:

“A work of ruthless psychological realism, it’s a landmark in the graphic novel medium.”—Time Magazine

“WATCHMEN is peerless.”—Rolling Stone

“Remarkable … the would-be heroes of WATCHMEN have staggeringly complex psychological profiles.”—New York Times Book Review

“Groundbreaking.”—USA Today

It was adapted for a movie in 2009 and an HBO series last year. I saw the movie and some of the TV series and was interested enough to get a copy of 2013’s deluxe, hardcover edition. I would finally see what all the excitement has been about.

I’m sure Watchmen would have been more interesting if I’d read the original twelve comic books when they came out in the 80s. Its “costumed adventurers” or “masked vigilantes” and their violent exploits would have been more novel back then.

Reading it in 2020, I was disappointed. It was good enough to keep reading, but overall it was repetitious and sometimes boring. There are two interesting characters (the dangerous, extremely intense Rorschach and the naked blue superhero with godlike powers, Dr. Manhattan) but too much of it has the feeling of a soap opera. The artwork is decent but the only reason I finished it (aside from a bit of Puritan work ethic) was that I wanted to see what one of the characters — said to be the smartest man in the world — eventually does to New York City. Recurring characters who hang out at a newsstand, an extended parallel story involving 17th century pirates and a troubled mother-daughter relationship were especially tedious.

So, that’s Watchmen, an entry in Time‘s list of the 100 best novels written since 1923 and, according to someone at the BBC, “the moment comic books grew up”. I guess you had to be there.

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A Few Words from Albert Camus

From The Plague (thanks to L. for sharing):

In fact, like our fellow citizens. Rieux [the main character, a doctor] was caught off guard. and we should understand his hesitations in the light of this fact; and similarly understand how he was torn between conflicting fears and confidence. When a war breaks out, people say, “It’s too stupid; it can’t last long.” But though a war may well be “too stupid,” that doesn’t prevent its lasting. Stupidity has a knack of getting its way; as we should see if we were not always so much wrapped up in ourselves.

In this respect our townsfolk were like everybody else, wrapped up in themselves; in other words they were humanists: they disbelieved in pestilences. A pestilence isn’t a thing made to man’s measure; therefore we tell ourselves that pestilence is a mere bogey of the mind, a bad dream that will pass away. But it doesn’t always pass away and, from one bad dream to another, it is men who pass away, and the humanists first of all, because they haven’t taken their precautions. Our townsfolk were not more to blame than others; they forgot to be modest, that was all, and thought that everything still was possible for them; which presupposed that pestilences were impossible. They went on doing business, arranged for journeys, and formed views. How should they have given a thought to anything like plague. which rules out any future, cancels journeys, silences the exchange of views. They fancied themselves free, and no one will ever be free as long as there are pestilences.

Unquote.

Humanists do take precautions, however. It’s knuckleheads who don’t.

Selections from A Journal of the Plague Year

From the opening pages of Daniel Defoe’s novel (the plague struck London in 1665; the book was published in 1722):

We had no such thing as printed newspapers in those days to spread rumours and reports of things, … as I have lived to see practised since. But such things as these were gathered from the letters of merchants and others who corresponded abroad, and from them was handed about by word of mouth only; so that things did not spread instantly over the whole nation, as they do now.

This last bill [count of burials] was really frightful, being a higher number than had been known to have been buried in one week since the preceding visitation of 1656.

We continued in these hopes for a few days, but it was but for a few, for the people were no more to be deceived thus; they searched the houses and found that the plague was really spread every way, and that many died of it every day.

… all that could conceal their distempers did it, to prevent their neighbours shunning and refusing to converse with them, and also to prevent authority shutting up their houses; which, though it was not yet practised, yet was threatened, and people were extremely terrified at the thoughts of it.

… the richer sort of people, especially the nobility and gentry from the west part of the city, thronged out of town with their families and servants in an unusual manner…. it filled me with very serious thoughts of the misery that was coming upon the city, and the unhappy condition of those that would be left in it.

… there was no getting at the Lord Mayor’s door without exceeding difficulty; there were such pressing and crowding there to get passes and certificates of health for such as travelled abroad, for without these there was no being admitted to pass through the towns upon the road, or to lodge in any inn.

I had two important things before me: the one was the carrying on my business and shop, which was considerable, and in which was embarked all my effects in the world; and the other was the preservation of my life in so dismal a calamity as I saw apparently was coming upon the whole city.

It was a very ill time to be sick in, for if any one complained, it was immediately said he had the plague.

… we perceived the infection kept chiefly in the out-parishes, which being very populous, and fuller also of poor, the distemper found more to prey upon than in the city…

... it was a most surprising thing to see those streets which were usually so thronged now grown desolate…

[In Holborrn,] the street was full of people, but they walked in the middle of the great street, neither on one side or other, because, as I suppose, they would not mingle with anybody that came out of houses…

Take a Visual Break from Reality with the Beach Boys

Someone going by the name Summertime Blooz has a YouTube channel that features “amazing music accompanied by colorful and imaginative slideshows”. That is an accurate description. Actually, it’s putting it mildly.

I count 28 videos on his channel devoted to the Beach Boys or Brian Wilson (there are a few for other artists as well). Here are three with some of Mr. Blooz’s comments.

This is a slideshow video for the Beach Boys’ 1964 classic “The Warmth Of The Sun”. I made this video tribute because I think it is probably the most beautiful song in the Beach Boys catalog (sorry, “God Only Knows”).

Brian Wilson and (the unpleasant) Mike Love wrote it in the wake of the 1963 Kennedy assassination. The graphics truly evoke Los Angeles and Southern California from years ago.

… a video for the Beach Boys’ 1966 song “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times” from their album masterpiece Pet Sounds. I think the themes of feeling alienated and not fitting in are universal and timeless. In making this video I gained an even greater appreciation of the intricacies of the record’s production and believe it’s truly one of the finest and most daring productions Brian Wilson ever created.

“I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times” is the climax to Pet Sounds, appearing near the end of what used to be side 2.

… a slideshow set to my edited version of the Beach Boys’ “Wind Chimes”, recorded in 1966 for the legendary, aborted Smile album. All thanks to Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys for the awesome music. Please enjoy responsibly.

More than one version of “Wind Chimes” is available. This is the older, longer version. Keep listening when the video fades to black about 3 minutes in.

Visit Summertime Blooz’s YouTube channel for more, including 17 videos devoted to Smile. 

The Story of My Avatar Instead

I need to try one more suggestion from the nice people at WordPress.com to see if it will fix the strange, somewhat embarrassing “Likes” problem this blog is having (mentioned in earlier posts). Whenever I publish something, my internet avatar magically appears, indicating I liked my post, even though I didn’t hit the “Like” button.

Out in the world, President Lysol (aka The Toddler) is doing everything he can to help corporate America while forcing workers to stay at their jobs in meat plants. Here instead is the story behind my avatar.

When we were fortunate to visit Rome some years ago, we spent an afternoon at the Vatican. Walking around St. Peter’s, I was struck by a particular statue. It’s not a well-known work of art and depicts a saint who I don’t think is very well-known either: Saint Veronica. (Let’s say she isn’t well-known in my circles.)

From Wikipedia:

Saint Veronica, also known as Berenike, is a celebrated saint in many pious Christian countries. [She] was a woman of Jerusalem in the first century of the Common Era, according to extra-biblical Christian sacred tradition [meaning she doesn’t seem to be mentioned in the Bible].

According to Church tradition, Veronica was moved with sympathy when she saw Jesus carrying his cross to Golgotha and gave him her veil that he might wipe his forehead. Jesus accepted the offering, held it to his face, and then handed it back to her—the image of his face miraculously impressed upon it. This piece of cloth became known as the Veil of Veronica.

The statue was sculpted by Francesco Mochi (1580-1654). Wikipedia indicates it’s his best-known work, but also tells us “his reputation for bitterness and irritation regarding the overshadowing of his career [by other sculptors] significantly decreased the number of commissions he received”.

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I immediately liked it (although at first, demonstrating sheer ignorance and/or a lack of perception, I thought it depicted a young man with long hair). There was something compelling about Veronica’s posture, her flowing robes and the expression on her face. Thus, Mochi’s sculpture eventually became my avatar, here enlarged (notice the simple, unimpressive rendering of Jesus’s face on the veil):

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One more thing about Veronica’s veil from a site about St. Peter’s Basilica:

The crusaders brought a “veil of Veronica” to Rome from Jerusalem. It was highly venerated, especially during the Middle Ages and was mentioned by Dante in the Divine Comedy (Paradise, XXXI, 104) and in the Vita Nuova (40,1).

Plus one more thing from the same site regarding Francesco Mochi and his sculpture:

This work received much criticism because of the excessive motion, which was not suitable for the subject or the location. [It] was the brunt of shrewd anecdotes. So it was said that when Bernini [Mochi’s famous competitor] asked where such wind came from that moved the clothes of the Saint, Mochi answered sarcastically: “from the cracks that were opened by your ability in the dome [referring to the unfounded rumor that Bernini had accidentally caused some damage to St. Peter’s].

So we can add sarcasm to Mochi’s bitterness and irritation.

PS: As you can see, the fix worked. I had to stop following this blog, which I started doing months ago to see the email WordPress generates when I publish something. Why this recently became a problem is still a mystery. Alas.