Fearful Symmetry

Photo by Marc Ignacio on Unsplash

Last Thursday, I was compelled to open up my copy of Watchmen to find one of my favorite panels in all of comicdom. And, no, I haven’t seen the HBO series, so that wasn’t what compelled me. It just called to me from my bookshelf.

It’s the symmetry of this particular panel that stays with me. I assume it was a magical combination of the talents of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons that produced it. (Photo down at the end of this post. Warning: it depicts a significant amount of violence.)

After I found it, I started to dig deeper, and found myself down a pretty deep rabbit hole. Turns out, this panel is from Chapter 5: Fearful Symmetry. The symmetry of the use of symmetry led me to William Blake.

That term, “fearful symmetry,” is from William Blake’s poem “The Tyger.” Here’s the opening stanza:

Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

Yes, I probably should have known the origin without having to look it up, but I’m glad I did, in any event. I found out a bunch of stuff about William Blake that I didn’t know before. And I plan to use that for next week’s post.

But this week, I’m sticking with the theme of fearful symmetry. So here are two fearfully symmetrical things that have occurred to me:

1) I watched the successful launch of the manned SpaceX Dragon capsule on television, while protests calling for justice for George Floyd and support of Black Lives Matter were occurring throughout the nation and beyond. I couldn’t help but draw comparison to the moonshot efforts of the 1960s, and the concurrent struggles of the Civil Rights movement. That’s the symmetrical part. As for the fear: has so little changed in 50 years?

2) Just about a year ago, I read “Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in all its Phases” by Ida B. Wells. For the symmetry here, I discovered Ida B. Wells was no stranger to epidemics. When she was 16, she tragically lost both her parents and a sibling to yellow fever. The fear is in the content of “Southern Horrors” — I am still struck by her clear-eyed account of lynchings as a barbaric means of repressing the economic progress of Black Americans. Ida B. Wells wrote this in the 1890s. Has so little changed in 130 years?


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