Tuesday, April 7, 2015

An Author's Responsibility

Brendan O’Brien
EN 385
Maus II Post

            The Holocaust is undoubtedly one of the most significant acts of prejudice and atrocity in human history. Many authors, writers, and survivors have attempted to capture the horror of this event through their works. Books like Eli Wiesel’s Night and the film Schindler’s List have both given first hand accounts of the daily struggles of the Jewish people as they lived throughout this nightmare. Art Spiegelman’s Maus II in many ways does the same as the aforementioned works, but furthermore, his graphic novel is about the act of framing these horrific events in a way that the average reader can pick up his book and relate to them.

            The entire book is filled with stories that are difficult to read and almost impossible to imagine. But perhaps one of the most upsetting scenes in the book is Vladek’s racism directed towards the hitchhiker. Francoise is considerate and does the good deed of stopping and giving the man a ride, but Vladek immediately expresses his outrage once the man gets out. He exclaims, “I had the whole time to watch out that this shvarster doesn’t steal us the groceries from the back seat!” (Spiegelman 99). Art the narrator is quick to denounce this racism and points out that Vladek is talking of the man in the same manner in which the Nazis regarded the Jews. It is difficult to sympathize with Vladek’s character due to his constant complaints and this instance of racism. It is also difficult to reconcile how he could be so prejudiced when he himself experienced prejudice at its worst. Spiegelman could be suggesting that one, it is important to recognize that everyday regular people who had flaws and their own prejudices were the victims of the Holocaust; and two, that racism, sexism, prejudice, etc. are naturally part of the human condition. For Spiegelman, it is important to leave no detail out of his depiction of the Holocaust. Like the role of the tattoo artist or the Pacific cultural author, it is his duty to depict the Jewish tradition in every aspect possible, even if it reveals some negative attributes. Writing a book like this, and especially any form of travel literature, requires the author to abandon all biases and approach a topic, culture, or event from every angle possible.

Maus II

Molly Erlanger
Dr. Ellis
EN 385D
7 April 2015
Maus II Analysis
            The Maus series by Art Spiegelman tells the story of one man trying to recapture the story of his father’s experience during the Holocaust. Maus II details Vladek’s time spent in the concentration camps, and how he was able to survive. The narration bounces back and forth between World War II and the Holocaust and modern day, when Vladek is reflecting on his experiences and recounting them to his son. This split in narration provides an interesting twist to the story, in that the reader is given both Vladek’s personal account and memories from the Holocaust, as well as Art’s perception of how Vladek is telling the story.
            Memory is an incredibly interesting thing to consider. Multiple times in the story, Art interjects while Vladek is talking to bring up some sort of secondhand account that he had read recently concerning the Holocaust. He tries to fill in gaps for his father, such as when Art claims, “I just read about the camp orchestra that played as you marched out the gate” to which Vladek replies, “I remember only marching, not any orchestras…from the gate guards took us over to the workshop. How could it be there an orchestra?” While Art insists there was an orchestra, Vladek comments, “At the gate I heard only guards shouting” (Spiegelman 54). It is easy to consider that every Holocaust victim and survivor essentially went through the same thing, but memory does not work like that. All people perceive things differently, and their stories are made that much more personal by what their memory chooses to notice and recall for them. For Vladek, whether there was an orchestra or not in the moment was not important to him as he was in the middle of fighting for his life. For Art, however, looking back on something that he did not experience directly, he can easily take this account and allow it to shape how he tells the story of the Holocaust.
            Recounting the events of the Holocaust is no easy feat, especially for Art. In certain ways, perhaps it is seen as his duty since he is Jewish and his parents went through the concentration camps. However, his memory of the event is twisted by all of the different versions he has heard. It makes it increasingly difficult to make sense of a horrible event that was never meant to make sense in the first place. In this way, I think Spiegelman utilizing the form of a graphic novel and his animal metaphor is his way of trying to deal with telling a very difficult story. There are some things that are too horrible for words to describe, and sometimes drawings and visual depictions need to step in.
            It is easy to allow our own perceptions of people to cloud our judgment of the stories they tell, which I think is why Spiegelman includes the parts when he was trying to record his father’s story in the 1970s. Having not actually gone through the Holocaust, Art sometimes has a lot of trouble understanding why his father is the way that he is. His frustration with his father is apparent, but in comparing the way he acts in the 70s with what he dealt with during the Holocaust, it is easier for the reader to see the bigger picture. Instead of being frustrated with this man, we instead see what the horrors of war can do to a person’s character and the lasting effects it can have on the way they live their daily life.

            People affected by tragedies have these sorts of biases all the time; there are plenty of Americans who lived through 9/11 that will get very nervous if they see someone that looks like they are Middle Eastern on their flight. My father, who worked in downtown Manhattan at the time, has a very different story to tell from that day than I do. All of our stories are colored by our personal perceptions, and it seems important to share these in an effort to get a full understanding of any tragedy. The memories of people who actually experienced such things are the most important of all; secondary sources sometimes word things to make it more literary or easier to swallow for readers. Telling a story the way that someone actually experienced it, though sometimes hard to hear, is important because it could possibly help prevent atrocities in the future. Stories of tragedies shouldn’t be swept under the rug, because then people will never really appreciate the full extent of what occurred.

A Taste of Tragedy

Dana Stubel
Maus II Travel Blog
A Taste of Tragedy
            At one point in the graphic novel, Maus II, by Art Spiegelman, Art’s therapist attempts to describe the horrors of Auschwitz to Art by saying, “What Auschwitz felt like? Hmm… How can I explain?... BOO!... It felt a little like that. But ALWAYS! From the moment you got to the gate until the very end” (46). Much like Art, we are unable to truly grasp what it would be like to be in the Holocaust. Even though Vladek gives us vivid descriptions of the atrocities that he and his family members and friends faced, we are not completely able to transport ourselves to that time and place because the travesties that occurred are too unimaginable.
            Even though Art tries to understand his father’s past and current life through hearing his stories about the Holocaust, he can never fully travel into his father’s shoes because he is from a completely different lifestyle. For example, when Art juxtaposes events in his life to events in his father’s we are able to see the stark contrast between them. Spiegelman says, “In May 1987 Francoise and I are expecting a baby… Between May 16, 1944 and May 24, 1944 over 100,000 Hungarian Jews were gassed in Auschwitz. In September 1986, after 8 years of work the first part of MAUS was published…In May 1968, my mother killed herself” (41). Art knows the tragic facts of his father’s life, but still must live in the present moment and deal with his own problems. He struggles with his newfound fame, the media, and his father. Art also says, “no matter what I accomplish, it doesn’t seem like much compared to surviving Auschwitz” (44). At this point, Art is depressed and feeling unfulfilled, but it is understandable that he feels that whatever he does will never compare to his father’s amazing tale of survival. The two men are on completely different playing fields and as much as Art tries to understand and capture the feelings of his father from the Holocaust, it can never truly be accomplished. Vladek’s descriptions of the beatings, deaths, work, and people he encountered while in Auschwitz give a chilling picture of what it would be like to be a prisoner in Auschwitz, but it is only a small taste of what it would actually be like, since we are able to remove ourselves from the book. It seems that the events of the Holocaust are simply too horrid for a human to understand unless he or she was actually there.  

A 'Snap' of History

Valentina Viscardi
7 April 2015
Travel Literature

A 'Snap' of History

            I love going home for holiday breaks.  I look forward to entering my home and reacquainting myself with all the family photos I haven’t looked at, in what feels like years.  Every time, I take a new set of older and maturing eyes, I find something different to notice about it.  For instance, I see resemblance between my mother and her grand parents.  I look into the eyes of my Nanny and see my round blue eyes looking back.  Although generations apart, we are connected through that little 2x2 picture that is proudly displayed in my mother’s china cabinet.  Even if I can’t recreate the memory that is captured in that particular photograph, my mom or my grandmother take great pleasure in detailing the moment in time.  It is how our history lives on, one picture at a time, one story at a time.
            Similarly in Art Spiegelman’s MAUS II, the use of photos and comics portrays the relationship of the author and his father as well as his father and mother’s survival account of Aushchwitz.  Spiegelman’s retelling of his Father’s story is artfully crafted into a comic book, in which he utilizes the technique of breaking the frame, in order to connect his story of his father, to himself today, as well as with us as readers.  This becomes apparent on page 114 through page 115 of the text.  Notice on these pages, Spiegelman is going through his family’s photos.  But, these photos are not confined to the frame, they seep out and become the background to the entire page.  To add, on page 134, Spiegelman includes a real authentic photo of his father that is quite drastic to his cartooned, mice version of his family. 
            Admit the retelling of his mother and father’s story in Aushchwitz, Spiegelman struggles to identify with his family.  He recalls the photo of his deceased brother that hung in his parent’s bedroom, “They didn’t talk about Richieu, but that photo was a kind of reproach.  He’d have become a doctor and married a wealthy Jewish girl…the creep” (15).  From this line, it can be understood that Spiegelman doesn’t feel like he belongs to the family for he lacks their common denominator—the Holocaust.  In a way, Spiegelman is jealous of their experience at the very beginning of the comic.
            However, when Spiegelman and his Father take out the family photos, Spiegelman is suddenly a part of the family as the reader can tell by the way he portrays the falling pictures out of the frame.  They are not confined to just a frame that encompasses his Father’s speaking or character, it involves Spiegelman, and it also involves us as readers.  This is especially true when we are introduced to the real photo of his father.  At that moment in the text, we are face to face with a photo that is similar and familiar to us.

            Spiegelman, like myself, tries to place himself within his own family history.  He paints himself at his desk wearing a mouse mask with a human body in order to try to recreate the feeling his parents and brother went through (41).  In a similar manner, I always manage to ask my grandmother, to tell me how I am similar to my grandfather I have never met.  I try so desperately to imagine his voice, or ask my grandma if I do any thing to mirror his quirkiness.  Apparently I walk like him (a peppy sort of walk).  Thus photos are able not only to seek the physical resemblance between the viewer and the person in the picture, but it creates a special kind of oral story telling.  The story of that particular photo is passed from generation and generation.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Maus II: the Difference of Prejudice and Discrimination

Elesa Knowles
Dr. Juniper Ellis
Travel Literature
April 4, 2015
“Art Spiegelman’s MAUS II and EEK’s Prejudice not Discrimination”
Maus contains an ironic scene of neo-racism with the narrator’s father discriminating against an African American hitchhiker. The Jewish rat character Father sees the African American canine character and reacts negatively. The Father says, “A Hitch-hiker? And-oy-It’s a colored guy, a SHVARTSER! PUSH QUICK ON THE GAS!” (Spiegelman 98). The fact that he is a Holocaust survivor of very racist Nazi genocide and does not see himself as racist is awfully humorous. In the same car with the narrator’s wife, narrator, and himself, he says in Polish negative comments. He says, “I just can’t believe it! There’s a SHVARTSER sitting in here!” Considering Jews were banned from riding in the same cars, trains, pools, and school trolleys, it is even stranger that he would treat someone else in the same nasty manner and even go as far to accuse an individual of stealing due to his or her ethnicity (Para 99). Francoise, the narrator’s wife, echoes the modern audience’s reaction to this hypocrisy. She tells him, “That’s outrageous! How can you, of all people be such a racist! You talk about blacks the way the Nazis talked about the Jews” (99). However, the father who does not see the parallel of discrimination counters her argument. He responds, “I thought really, you are more smart than this, Francoise…It’s not even to compare, the Shvartsers and the Jews!” (99). The modern notions of every minority groups being unified against a singular, dominant majority is very misleading. Although the father’s attitude is unjust, his commentary that societal prejudice as well as discrimination is totally different things is unfortunately true because of human bias.
When I return to school, I encounter an old friend of mine. We were friends since freshmen year and spent the past two years full of happy moments and academic, political rallies. I thought we had a lot in common because we both felt strongly about defending and empathizing with people marginalized by society. As a member of a group now federally defined as Persons with Emotional Disturbance, I passionately advocate at every rally and boycott businesses that did not serve the LGBT community. I wrote poetry about the humanity of my anxiety and depression filled population. We attended every CCSJ event and community partnerships workshops. I honestly thought we were making a difference and the world would come to see people like us as not as lesser beings but functioning individuals. But I was wrong.
After my undiagnosed genetic anxiety came to re-surface, she comforted me. Then two weeks passed. I didn’t realize at the time that empathy has a timeline. She became verbally abusive towards me and was apathy towards my wailing and sleepless night. She told me to “Shut up cuz she was working on a paper”…and even when I fell over and could not get up, she walked around me and went to watch movies with her two other friends in the same room. “I liked it better when you were not retarded…cannot you just stop…. you’re making everyone sick…. No wonder your boyfriend broke up with you…. people die all the time you’re overacting…there are real people who suffer in the world, so quit exaggerating…. you’re born in the middle-class society and attending college how come you’re complaining about your circumstance” Needless to say, when I left for medical leave, we both were relieved to rid of each other. I saw her again for multiple times on campus and she was handing out pamphlet for the CCSJ’s be aware of homelessness and LGBT community, and walking on the Quad “Hands up, Don’t Shoot!”. With my health returned I was unrecognizable, she smiled at me and handed me something for CCSJ’s social justice something or other not realizing I was a member of group she discriminated against hiding in plain view.
The father shows that not all minority groups are united fronts. He shows that every individual is comparable of prejudice, which is judging a person’s character based on their appearance or ethnicity; however, he also evidences that not all people who are prejudice discriminate, which means to take deliberate action based on one’s belief against another group. In other words, all people are somewhat prejudice based on their diverse backgrounds, but not all people discriminate and commit acts of violence against people whom they fear or mistrust.  The father responds, “I thought really, you are more smart than this, Francoise…It’s not even to compare, the Shvartsers and the Jews!” (99). The attitude he shows towards, “The Shvartsers” was prejudice, but he did not action beyond verbal which no active discrimination took place in the narrator’s car. Francoise believes prejudice and discrimination that took place in the Holocaust were interchangeable. In reality that is not accurate, rather it is the post-war view of idealizing the survivors as perfect moral persons instead of regular humans with the normal prejudices. It is true that the prejudice and fear of the Jews became the foundation of Hitler’s final solution, which became the active act of violent discrimination against the Jews.  The attitude that the Nazis showed towards the “Jews” was active discrimination. The father may be political incorrect in 21st century’s context; however, he is political correct in the 20thcentury’s World War II context. Similarly, my old friend is now politically correct defending certain groups based on her experiences. She has positive experiences with other demographics and can carry that prejudice towards my demographic of emotional disturbance as long as she does not actively discriminate against others or me with my difference. To have her actively assault me would be discrimination, but for her to omit me is simply prejudice. Like Francoise, I recognize I cannot change others’ minds but I can live mine with less judgment and live of a life in spite of my prejudice and choose not to discriminate.
Works Cited
Spiegelman, Art. "And Here My Troubles Began..." MAUS II: A Survivor's Tale. New York: Pantheon, 1992. Print.