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From: Alex David Groce <Alex_Groce@gs246.sp.cs.cmu.edu>
Subject: Re: (urth) Watchmen comments
Date: Thu, 16 Sep 1999 12:38:39 

Aha.  My own classification (which I avoided giving in the original post
to get a feel for whether anyone was interested) is that the difference
between Severian and Veidt can be broken down into a few main categories.

(1) is probably (for me at least) the most emotionally relevant:  Severian
lacks Veidt's triumphant <glee> at the results of his actions.  It is
impossible to imagine Severian, as Veidt does, "mugging the camera" and
shouting "I DID IT!"  While Veidt does have concerns about the harm he's
caused, he is usually able to dismiss them; Severian seems more genuinely
disturbed by the destruction.  Case in point:  the people Severian personally
kills in BOTNS have varying degress of guilt.  Some of them are probably
less "deserving" of death than the Comedian.  However, although Severian
often takes a great degree of pride in his execution techniques or combat
skill (much less the latter), he never seems to simply enjoy having 
triumphed over a personal enemy.  In fact, Severian's "foes" fight for him
in the end (Baldanders is the best case in point here--although Severian
tries his best to kill him, one is fairly sure he'd be grieved if he did so).
Veidt expresses an odd kind of respect for the Comedian, but it's clear from
the images of the murder and from nuances like the NOVA EXPRESS interview that
Veidt got a personal charge out of defeating the man in combat--there is
a reason he didn't just shoot Blake.  It's this personal glee, and Veidt's
apparent (probably justified) hate of Nixon/Blake and the political 
machinery that, for me, lifts him from being wrong to being evil.  He hates
his enemies (while respecting them) and thinks that he, by contrast, really
is perfect.  It's impossible to imagine Severian giving "the Autarch's 
method" for becoming perfect or shilling action figures (in one sense, 
Rorschach is right to dimiss Veidt's depth, but wrong to underestimate his
cleverness, in the first chapter.)

(2) Veidt, by virtue of faith in his own smartness, seems much more 
convinced that an end to not just the political tensions of the moment, but
to fighting and war and all bad things, is right around the corner as a result
of his cutting the Gordian knot.  One has a feeling that at least part of
the reason Veidt chose such a weird, lateral, (psychopathic) plan was 
precisely because it was something "only he could think of" and thus it 
must lead to, not utopia, but something sounding suspiciously like the
Happy Good End Time of all the other 20th century efforts to "immanentize
the eschaton."  But we the readers have no reason to be certain that
Veidt's faith is justified--the assumption that the possibilty of nth-
dimension Cthuluoid horrors would unite mankind forever in peaceful unity
(even if Veidt plans on nastily repeating the threat every now and then
to remind everyone to be nice) isn't axiomatic.  The subtext strongly implies
that like Alexander, Veidt may have united the world briefly, but he has
limits and may cause things to get <worse>.  Severian, on the other hand,
who has much more impressive reason to suspect that the path he's chosen
is right (Master Ash's future, the Green Man, Tzad) and fairly clear 
indications that the Increate is "on his side" is still far from Veidt's 
hubris.  Severian's aware that whatever is going on is not completely in
his control, although he, in some ways, has more power behind him than
Veidt does (for instance, Severian has some genuine knowledge of the future,
while Veidt blocks the only access he has--Dr. Manhattan).

(3) The last point is that Veidt precipitates the crisis.  Perhaps Veidt
has done some amazing psychohistory by watching his TV screens and knows
war is coming, no matter what (or, more likely, suspects that Dr. Manhattan is
eventually going to go build his own worlds), but from what we see, the 
crisis (long, long planned, mind you--he hired people years before the
present of WATCHMEN in order to give them cancer) is a direct result of
Veidt running Jon off the planet.  It looks suspiciously like Veidt is 
doing the equivalent of the Wodehouse story where Bertie Wooster pushes
some kid into the lake so his friend can save the kid from drowning and
impress a girl.  Only Veidt is pushing the world to the brink of holocaust
so he can "save" it.  Besides the obvious usefulness to throwing Rorshach off
the track, I think this same motivation is what pushes Veidt to hire the
assassin to kill himself--he wants to show that he can't be killed.  Severian
certainly didn't cause the Old Sun to slowly die, and, as someone else said,
seems to be chosen to save the world, rather than deciding that the world has
to be saved, and he's the one to do it.  Severian, I would argue, generally
does the just thing (with lots of exceptions), and ends up accidentally 
saving the world.  His means, in fact, seem to determine the ends--the 
implication is that had Severian chosen a ruthlessly goal-oriented approach
to bringing the New Sun, he would have failed and only ended up another Typhon.

Veidt, on the other hand, subjugates his moral concerns, and the just action
of the moment (and Veidt is clearly aware, as evidenced by his last question
to Jon, that his actions have been unjust in this sense) to his goal of
saving the world--but in the end, it seems that (A) he may have been the only
reason it needed his brand of saving and (B) he may not have saved it after
all.  I suppose though, that in the end it boils down to a conviction that
no just order can be built on, in Mandelstam's phrase "mounds of human heads."
Rorshach, who is "crazy," seems to be the only Watchman who intuits that 
by the logic of story, at any rate, that the monstrosity of its foundation
will pervert the resulting world.

You really have to hand it to Moore, though, for balancing things nicely--
given his politics, to make Rorshach as hero a very plausible interpretation
of WATCHMEN really is brilliant.  It shows that he, like Wolfe, is not
a simplifier of human complexity.  And although he's evil, at least Veidt's
much closer to good than our friend Typhon.  Typhon may or may not be a
sadist, but I'm pretty sure he would never have asked Dr. Manhattan if he
did the right thing (Veidt's most redeeming moment).  It's easy to understand
how one could see WATCHMEN as on Veidt's side.

"And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." John 8:32
Alex David Groce (agroce+@cs.cmu.edu)
Ph.D. Student, Carnegie Mellon University - Computer Science Department
8112 Wean Hall (412)-268-3066

*More Wolfe info & archive of this list at http://www.urth.net/urth/

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