Thursday, November 21, 2013

Maus and Final Thoughts

This reading reminded me of Krik? Krak! because the interactions between the writer and his father were similar to the interactions between the mother and her daughters in the last story of Krik? Krak! The mother had heartbreaking stories to tell about Haiti, but it was difficult for the younger daughter to understand or sympathize, because she was born after the mother had moved to the United States. The mother was frugal, especially with food, because it was how she survived back in Haiti. Similarly, in Maus, Vladek is constantly worried about managing his finances and conserving his food, because these are things that were very difficult for him to control when he was a prisoner in Auschwitz. In both cases, the interactions between the parents and their children are heartbreaking, because the children are incapable of understanding or sympathizing with their parents because they have never experienced the kind of suffering the parents did.
            From the parents’ point of view, the fact that their children will never have to suffer the way that they did is a blessing, and something to be grateful for. At the same time, it separates the parents from their children, because there will always be this tremendous pain separating them. This is where the aspect of storytelling comes in. By telling the painful stories of their past, the parents find a way to reconnect their past lives with their children’s futures. And although the stories may be painful or at the least unpleasant to hear, they are still not as painful as actually living through the horrors the parents suffered through.
            This class has completely opened up my view of the world. Before this class, I had never realized that I actually had no idea where New Zealand was located geographically, not to mention the culture of both New Zealand and also the Pacific islands in general. This also gave me a new perspective on the lasting effects of colonialism after the colonized have supposedly regained independence. Colonialism can completely scar a culture, leaving both painful and sometimes beneficial changes.

God within each other

One of the things I've struggled with this semester and since returning from El Salvador is where God can be found within immense suffering. People can suffer in many ways, of course, but I'm specifically thinking about the collective suffering of some type of group persecution. When people are surrounded by such devastating human-inflictde suffering, it's possible to lose faith that anything good is left in the world. What went so horribly wrong? Who is to blame? Where is justice?

But the question of where is justice should not be indiscriminately tied to the question of what is justice, I am just beginning to come to terms with. I think this discussion of justice's origins, practicality and potential is what has stood out to me most in this class.

Maus II shows more of the relationship between Art and his father Vladek that I expected, and I appreciated the conversation of how someone is supposed to handle the guilt of not having to realize something that is so central to the life of someone you're close with. It's certainly an invitation for empathy, but it's also noteworthy on a cultural and systemic basis. How do societies decide what features of their story become part of their history? Who has a right to tell these stories within the culture?

While Maus II seems to add to the questions in a lot of ways, I think it also surprises us with some comfort in knowing that wherever people are looking out for each other as much as they're capable of, justice is being served and God is being made manifest. When Vladek brings back fitting shoes for his friend Mandelbaum, God is alive in the Jewish people. It's amazing to me that amid mass-scale suffering like the Holocaust, so many people were able to see these limited moments of grace as a sign of God's presence; I wonder if now when things are better for everyone if we will notice God's work more often in our lives.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


            In the very beginning of Maus II when Artie was making his remarks about his father and how much he irritates him, I couldn't help but think about the phrase, “You’ll miss me when I’m gone”. Not only is this a narrative of the holocaust, but storytelling is what kept Artie and his father’s relationship alive. Throughout the comic, we witness Artie clinging onto his father through these stories, because it is the only time that he seems calm. We also witness Artie’s counseling sessions discussing his father, and finally he admits to his wife that he already has enough regret towards his relationship with his father. Artie tells the story of his father to remember his father as a chance to hold onto the little memory he has of his mother; the drawing of the grave at the end stands in place of an “in memory” dedication.
            While we see Artie reach out to his father through storytelling, it is also important to notice that Vladek does the same to keep his son around. Vladek cared so much for Artie that he did so much as lie about illness to get the chance of him visiting. Some of his last words were, “So…Let’s stop, please, your tape recorder…” (Spiegelman, 136), signifying that he was done sharing his stories. Vladek also never openly told these stories unless he was asked to do so, hinting that he typically did not enjoy revisiting the past but did it for the sake of keeping his son around. These two characters stand as foils when it comes to family bonding, the son hides his desire to be around his father, later regretting it, while the father openly wants his son around and dies peacefully having shared everything he had. While different, they met in the middle through storytelling.            

          The most noteworthy concept that I have taken from this course has been that you do not have to physically travel to have the experience of travel. Traveling can be granted to you through the stages of your life, others’ stories, different environments, and so many more. Whether you are physically traveling or not, you still gain from both the physical journey and the internal journey, and the internal journey stays with you forever while making new physical memories.


In my abbreviated posts on Krik? Krak! I noted the absurdity, for lack of a better word, of the prevalence of normalcy - particularly normal, everyday problems - in the face of something as violent, tragic and life-altering as civil war or genocide. In Maus II, I saw the same thing - the issues of normal life cropping up amongst the stories of horror during the Holocaust. My pediatrician growing up was an elderly woman named Anna Sandberg who eventually became a kind of grandparent stand-in as mine were far off in Minnesota. Always clad in nice dresses, well-coiffed and perfectly made up, Dr. Sandberg had a certain presence about her - almost as if she were a figure from the high society of a different time ago. She had a thick Austrian accent, but she never told us where she was from or anything about her family, no matter how close to her we grew. Before she passed away, she had to trade in her pretty dresses for hospital garb and we noticed a tattoo on her lower arm. Only at her wake did we find out from her best friend that they had escaped Auschwitz together. She shared an anecdote with us. Young Anna Sandberg had brought one pretty blue dress with her when they dragged her and her father to the concentration camp. It was her pride and joy, and she managed to hold onto it and wear it for the first few weeks at the camp. After hanging it to dry one day, she found someone had stolen it. As the appel was being called, she stood shivering in her barracks as her friends pleaded with her to swallow her pride and go out to be counted naked. If she didn't, she would surely be killed. She refused - I can't remember exactly what she told them, but the gist was that even after being treated as vermin, she still deserved a little dignity. By some miracle, they didn't notice her absence and she went on to survive, escape, and later be one of very few women at the time to earn a medical degree.

I've told this story many times, mostly for its shock value and to show how incredibly brave Dr. Sandberg was. I think of it now, though, and realize that it has connotations besides bravery. When Vladek mentions cigarettes being used as a form of payment, Art is shocked ("They issued a luxury like that?") (p. 224) Before that, Vladek discusses the issue of ill-fitting clothes: something obviously problematic but which I would not have even considered to have been an issue when every moment was a life-or-death situation. On the other hand, I saw how the situation was also reversed: things that, in everyday life would have been abhorrent or a cause for mourning are noted matter-of-factly. After telling Art about a friend or relative, Vladek off-handedly mentions that they were killed, or that he never sam them again, and moves on with his story. Both of these types of situations say something about the nature of war or genocide. The emotional normalcy of regular life vanishes - people are killed and there is no grief - and regular life tries to exist within the confines of tragedy, whether it is the dignity of a donning nice dress or the promise of a "luxurious" three cigarettes.

As the child of two anti-tattoo sticklers (lord knows why, after all they are ex-hippie artists/poets), I must say that the most interesting and exciting thing I learned in this class was encompassed by the Tattooing section - from its history in Oceania to seeing everyone's hypothetical tattoos chalked on the board. When we discussed our reactions upon seeing a tattooed person, I didn't know what to say. I had always been somewhat judgmental, unless the tattoo was something which I considered artistically beautiful, but learning more about tattooing and especially tatau changed my outlook, I think for the better. I may not have dropped by judgments completely, but it is really tattoo as a form of travel that struck me - even if it's a poorly drawn Disney character or a heart with "Mom" written inside, that tattoo (and that person) has a story, and with my new outlook, I think I'd like to hear it.

A Passport to the Other Side

Death travels. Death travels well.  Death is a well-versed, first-class traveler who has landed at every destination.  When we think of death, we think “the ultimate equalizer” or “an inevitability” or “a spiritual catharsis;” but rarely do we associate death as a traveler.  It traverses every one of us and transcends life’s abodes by acting as an antagonist.  Death, as we understand it, acts as the antithesis to life.  We see light, we see darkness, we see life, we see death, but this dualistic approach does not attribute death with enough credit.  Death, as a traveler, visits everyone who has ever-lived; if life traveled, it would not visit everyone who ever died. Right?  There is a substantial difference between breathing and bleeding, and living.  But death holds no prejudice.  It will pack its bags and pay you a visit; mark on your schedule that you are going to have to pick death up at the airport on your last day.  If traveling had a score sheet or a record, death would be undefeated. 
            Art Spiegelman illuminates this point.  Death as a traveler is not a restricted concept; death’s impression on history, ideology, and consciousness is profound.  What Spiegelman does, is refresh the readers minds with a repackaging of death.  The Holocaust epitomizes the busy travels for death; it darkens world history, faith in humanity, and overall human consciousness.  The absurdity, the utter disregard for humanity, the calculated genocide, all accumulate for an astounding representation of death’s travels.  He was jetlagged in Auschwitz; they must have lost its luggage.  The horrid and gruesome nature of the Holocaust baffles people seventy years removed from the atrocity.  Is it a matter of mass death or the manner in which they died?  I would usually side with the latter, but for this piece, for death to be a traveler, it is just mass death.  People want to hold on to ideals about life, about flourishing freedom and luscious love, but pay little attention to the travelling entity, that we call death.
            This book, Maus II, conjures up a very interesting installment and account for the horridness of the Holocaust.  Nazi’s extermination of Jews is shocking and puzzling.  But from the perspective of our consistent and undefeated traveler, it was just another hectic travelling day(s).  Unfortunately, the absurdity of genocidal extermination exists in human history, but it is also unfortunate that it clouds our minds.  It dilutes or distorts our perception of death as constant, reaching the destination of each individual at some time or another.  Yes the Holocaust was shocking and awful, but events like this distance our appreciation for the traveler.  Ernest Hemmingway once said, “Every man’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another.”  I won’t interpret this quote or muddy its understated brilliance.
            For this piece, death answers every question for it is the last truth.  The traveler busily rushes from town to town, it takes a breath and realizes it has all the time in the world, it gladly remarks that there are always new destinations.      


Catlin Castan
20 November 2013
             Similar to Krik? Krak!, in Maus II, Spiegelman introduces the theme of transcendence in relation to time. As we frequently observe, memories are inherited by the subsequent generations while also working to bridge gaps between the past and the present. In doing this, the past equally becomes the present—history is preserved within the mind.
            In addition, I found it interesting that Maus II is a graphic novel. Aside from Spiegelman’s obvious talent as an illustrator, I think his choice in literary medium is both deliberate and intentional. It calls for a specific form and structure that provides insight to Spiegelman’s purpose as a writer. More specifically, the historical context that which he writes—the Holocaust-- is an extremely sensitive subject matter. It is for this reason that I think Spiegelman chooses to tell his story through pictures: a way to less concretely discuss a rather difficult time in history. Although Spiegelman does provide some text within his novel, he encourages us to rely on the images that he provides us with. These visual representations are in many ways more powerful than words themselves. Perhaps Spiegelman chooses graphics (opposed to words) because he feels that words are unable to convey the entirety and complexity of his subject matter; or maybe just simply the Holocaust is still too difficult to talk about in terms of words. Similarly, I think the graphic style and use of animal imagery contributes to an additional layer in easing Spiegelman’s content, in addition to highlighting a technique of understatement—one that works to actually strengthen the text’s meaning.
            Lastly, the most surprising thing I learned during our class this semester was that the individual has the ability to “rename” his or her tattoo—his or her identity. Also, I felt that learning about the origins of tattoo helped me to better understand (and accept) the tattoo culture that exists today. 

Maus-animals and human emotion

There is so much to talk about with Maus that it is hard to begin. I hope to cover a lot with my presentation tomorrow. I have read many books about the Holocaust, Number the Stars, The Diary of Anne Frank, Survival in Auschwitz, and I have also seen movies about the Holocaust, one of my favorites for how moving it is, Schindler's List. I was so incredibly caught off guard by how emotional this graphic novel would be. It's not that I thought it wouldn't be emotional because of the pictures, I think the drawings allowed me to experience the novel on a whole different level. The images of the mice (Jews) in pain was so heartbreaking to me. Spiegelman didn't draw much facial expression on his characters but somehow I managed to have sad feelings towards what was going on in the novel. I think this is a great feat on the author's part and a memorable experience of reading this book. Even though I was so sad that I almost cried when I was reading Maus, I like that the book brought me to feel like that because I think that's what books are supposed to do. Books are meant to arouse human emotion in in us! I also had strong feelings about the father and son relationship in the book. I felt so bad that Vladek's son wasn't appreciating spending time with his father, especially since his father was old in age and losing his health. Art really had no idea about his father's experiences in Auschwitz and it's something he will never understand. Art said that he felt guilty for not understanding what his father went through but at the same time Vladek is guilty for surviving. What an amazing statement. He survived the Holocaust, which is something right there, but to feel guilty for surviving something that took lives from so many away for the rest of your life is just so terrible. I was struck by Vladek's habit of holding onto things, like the teabag he had saved from breakfast. This habit was something he did while he was in Auschwitz. Since the prisoners didn't have much, any bit of extra bread helped. Reading Maus definitely brought a whole new perspective on to me on what Holocaust literature is. It is interesting to say that there is such a thing as a Holocaust genre, but these books are what allows us to somewhat grasp what people were feeling and experiencing during WWII and the Holocaust. We will never know the pain thousands went through, physically and mentally, but to enter into their world through reading a book about their experience allows us to share in their pain and brings us closer as a human community. This class has taught me to appreciate different cultures and people from all over the world like I haven't before. Reading books from all over the world is the perfect way to build this appreciation because reading opens worlds and so I was traveling to these worlds by reading the pages. I love using the escape metaphor with reading because I think it is so true and it happens to readers everywhere. We read to escape from our everyday lives, and even if it's just for a little, reading about someone else can be quite refreshing. After the class ends, I hope to pick up other books from the Pacific area or from around the world to continue this way of traveling. Maybe if I travel enough through reading I will be prepared enough to travel on my own someday.