The Polyphonic Poetics of Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons and Its Ontological Implications

Roy Auh


Polyphonic poetics is a reaction against authors dictating the thoughts of characters to support their own worldview and denying them a human being’s innate free consciousness. Soviet litterateur Mikhail Bakhtin saw that Dostoevsky’s poetics conceived of characters’ consciousnesses that resisted ideological immanence by continually reacting to any limiting descriptions placed on oneself. Humans, therefore, are what Bakhtin calls unfinalizable. My research first argues that the poetics of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s groundbreaking graphic novel, Watchmen (1986-87), is also polyphonic. However, polyphony expressed in the graphic dimension brings new layer of meaning to philosophical implications of polyphony. How Moore and Gibbons conceive of characters through their revision of novelistic polyphony reveals an alternative explanation of unfinalizability than the one Bakhtin articulated about Dostoevsky’s characters. Through a close reading of Watchmen and engagement with multiple theories of graphic novels and polyphonic poetics, my theory concludes with an explication of Watchmen, which suggests that unfinalizability is not an innate quality reminiscent of a soul, but a result of the consciousness being an impersonal site for different societal narratives to dialogically engage with each other. A person’s consciousness remains elusive because for every narrative the mind evokes to help frame a particular memory or vision, a counter-narrative springs up to disqualify it. This paper contends that Watchmen’s polyphonic poetics is based on an ontological viewpoint that reinterprets Bakhtinian human consciousness within postmodern philosophy.


Bakhtin; Polyphony; Watchmen

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