A paragraph from my essay on Watchmen, about Dylan, superheroes, and nostalgia

Even as it reveals the always already fragmented nature of the ideal nostalgia takes as its object, Watchmen’s preoccupation with Dylan underscores its own, ironic perhaps, nostalgic dimension. The novel makes use of three Dylan lyrics. The first two, from “Desolation Row” and “All Along the Watchtower,” Moore and Gibbons explicitly attribute to their respective sources. (I shall have more to say about “Desolation Row” below.) They serve as epigraphs for two of the novel’s twelve chapters, and therefore operate outside of Watchmen’s fictional world, as if perhaps Dylan himself never existed there (indeed, he is never referenced by name in the story itself). Much as the novel posits an American nostalgia for the simplicity of superhero morality, these references to Dylan to suggest a nostalgia for Dylan himself, for a time when Dylan made sense, or perhaps for a superheroic Dylan who could make sense of the world by simplifying its problems into anthemic songs. The novel seems to long for a world which never existed even as it demonstrates the fact that, had superheroes existed, they could not have created a better future.


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