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.

We Didn't Wear Watches

The concept of time is something that I have written about previously, and it is a concept that is very much present in Art Spiegelman’s Maus II. Part way through the work, Spiegelman’s character Art is obsessing over finding a precise time-line for his father’s stay in Auschwitz. Art and his father go back and forth, his father offering the time frame he knows while Art dissects the arithmetic of the number of months. “BUT WAIT!” is Art’s response when the months his father outlines do not add up correctly. Art is not at all focused on the magnitude of the subject that his father is speaking of. Art has just found out that his father spent somewhere near to 10 months in a Nazi concentration camp. Nearly one year of toiling in desolate conditions, with death as a constant companion at his shoulder, watching those around him disappear, and Art can only focus on exactly how much time was spent at each job. This obsession with time as a measure is not unique to Art, but this example allows one to see how the obsession can blind a person to what is truly important.
As we travel, regardless of whether we are on a special trip or going through our daily life, we follow a schedule that allows us to make it to each and every place we want to go in a reasonable fashion. Knowing precisely what time it is, from year to month to day to hour, is paramount to functioning in our society. The measurement of time is taken entirely for granted even whilst it worms its way into every part of our lives. Art’s father did not have the luxury of knowing what time it was in Auschwitz, and his lack of knowledge most likely liberated him in a way that Art and the reader could never understand. Art’s father must rely entirely on his memories to form a chronology of what happened to him in the concentration camp, and in doing so is able to present an outline of his stay there that is completely and totally his own. He cannot rely on the measure of time to tell Art what happened. He cannot say that on x day of x month, this this and that occurred. Instead, his travels are made so much more enlightening and meaningful because he has total autonomy in deciding how to remember what occurred. Time fetters Art and all of us where it cannot fetter Art’s father. According to Art’s father, “In Auschwitz we didn’t wear watches,” and perhaps this very happenstance is what will forever divide Art from his dad.

The most important idea that I will take away from this class is the power of mental travel. I have never before truly considered travel to be anything other than physical, and now I can say without a doubt that mental travel oftentimes covers miles to physical travel’s inches.

The Creative Force of Language

          I began reading "Maus II" by Art Spiegelman with the hope that the concept that language enjoys a particular relationship with reality might be touched upon within the frames of this story. Within a few pages, the caricatured Art says the following: "I feel so inadequate trying to reconstruct a reality that was worse than my darkest dreams", and in the next frame "I guess I bit off more than I can chew. Maybe I ought to forget the whole thing". Of course, the "whole thing" is far from forgotten. Spiegelman proceeds to craft a literary and visual (for the first time this semester, discounting some illustrations in Lewis) recreation of the experience of the Holocaust. 
           There is something unique about the experience of reading a written caption that describes the imagery sketched out by Spiegelman. "The others had to jump in the graves while still they were alive" reads a caption depicting one instance of genocide in the graphic novel. And after the meaning of those words takes hold, it is then that the reader recognizes the image for what it is, and in so doing really visualizes the horror. The sudden discovery that perhaps you are not quite as jaded as you once thought by mainstream media's fascination with violence is always a little shocking. That is the reaction that I encountered when reading "Maus II". Despite the effectiveness of films such as "The Pianist"and the opening sequence of "Inglorious Bastards" (amongst many others) in visually representing the atrociousness of the Holocaust, there is almost a sense of reassurance that results from realizing that genuine emotional reaction to the depicted reality still occurs. 
          That such reactions do occur, I believe, is a direct result of the efficacy with which language is capable of describing reality. When we visualize an image, we experience an emotional reaction to (this is a truism) a picture. These reactions are often violent, overpowering, inspirational, and highly affective. But when we read words that cause an emotional reaction, what we react to is not a presented image but rather a conceptual understanding. To read the words "the others had to jump in the graves while still alive" is to understand a conceptual proposition of true horror. We see images, and we "feel" images, but we do not understand them as deeply as we understand language. When we are overcome by words, we are overcome by the power of an idea and that is a mode of emotional connection that I am not sure visual imagery is capable of constructing. 
          My favorite idea that we touched upon this semester concerns the power of language to shape reality; that is why I was looking for a segue within the text of "Maus II". A few semesters ago I spent many months studying Wittgenstein's philosophy of language. In a few words, he believed that words form propositions, and propositions are truly pictures of possible realities. Later on in his life, Wittgenstein came to assert that these propositional pictures possess an internal sense, which is to say that propositions do not need to be compared to reality in order to ascertain their truth (they make sense within themselves), and that language contains its own meaning apart from reference to the external world. For Wittgenstein, how we talk about things necessarily impacts how we think about things: linguistic concepts are inseparable from mental concepts. 
          When that semester ended, I believed that I possessed an adequate, though underdeveloped, appreciation for Wittgenstein's philosophy. But I did not. That appreciation finally arrived this semester, as I read "Our Sea of Islands" and put serious thought into the idea that language is capable of shaping reality. I am slowly working my way through Wittgenstein again, and like all genuine encounters with good ideas, my literary and philosophical beliefs are slowly adjusting to what I think is true. 
          There is a real world out there, and language is how we relate to it. When we use words to describe it, we paint pictures. The pictures that we paint must be true, but we possess the ability to determine which truths are essential, and which less important. Yes, there is evil in the world, and in the modern age there are all sorts of appeals to ugly mechanistic determinisms such as evolution and economic necessity and natural inequality. But we paint our picture of reality through the words we choose, and just as all pictures possess perspective, so we too enjoy the power to accentuate the better elements of our world. When we paint, might we not relegate the ugliness of the world into the chiaroscuro and tenebrism that illuminates the power of light through contrast? 

Maus II

The first thing that struck me about this “survivor’s tale,” to use the label given to the work on the front cover (aside from the unexpectedly beautifully crafted depiction of the characters as animals, of course), was the self-awareness of this text. During various moments of the text, we learn that Spiegelman is writing this tale of his father’s time in Auschwitz, and his time after the concentration camp. Spiegelman also depicts scenes of interviewing his father, adding a level of awareness for the reader that the author is acknowledging his task. Further, there are sections in which Spiegelman is talking with his wife about the difficulty of the venture he is undertaking and in which he discusses with her which animal he should draw to depict her (11-12). And finally, there is a moment where Spiegelman is depicted as a man wearing a mask of a mouse, an acknowledgement on the part of the author that his choice to depict the characters as various animals was a distinct and intentional one (41). So basically, Spiegelman is a man writing about himself as a mouse who knows he is really a man writing about himself as a mouse writing about his father’s time in Auschwitz through interviews with his father.
These various aspects of the text’s awareness of itself are fascinating to me, as most self-aware texts operate on a much more singular plane. The author acknowledges the reader, for example, or the fact that he is writing about his own life. I am struck by the intensity of this work, and how much more potent that must be for Spiegelman. I am wondering how he came to the conclusion to tell this story in this particular form, and especially how he came to include all of the details of, for example, the car ride with his wife or the appointment with the psychiatrist in which he describes the process of writing the book, which is the thing we hold in our hands physically as read about the very process that created it. In our collaboration seminar we have been discussing product vs. process, and I am wondering how this played out in both of these scenarios. Did Spiegelman write his father’s story, and then intertwine the stories of the interviews and the outside moments? How did he decide where to weave into a full narrative, placing us into the camp with his father, and where to maintain the interview setting? As someone who is naturally drawn to these complex issues of the awareness of authors and texts, I found this reading to be one of the most compelling throughout the semester.
            One of the most surprising things I have discovered this semester is that travel can be found and experienced in even the most everyday moments. I have always believed that someone can bring herself out of her comfort zone even while in a place geographically comfortable to her, but thinking about this in the context of travel has made me see this in an entirely new light. I want to work harder to live each day as a traveler, as an explorer, of myself, of the world around me, and of the intersection of those, which is this beautiful life I have been given.

Identity in Maus

           Identity is central to Maus. Art Spiegelman is seeking it from the novel's first page, when he is sketching out various human figures in animal forms (Spiegelman 171). He is trying to draw his wife, as if she were a cartoon animal in his comic universe. A frog? A moose? A rabbit? A mouse? What is she? If she is a mouse, that would rank her among the Jews, who are depicted as mice in Spiegelman's comic universe. But she's only just "converted" to Judaism (171). Is she truly identifiable as a mouse, as a Jew by birth, descended from Jewish parents? The questions are ceaseless and to a point self-defeating. And, who cares? Does it even matter? Well, yes it does matter, and it is Art who cares. And it is Art who plumbs away at this enigma of identity through the form of a graphic novel, in which he hopes to both identify (seeking identity) the human condition by identifying (giving identitiy) man and the human condition through animal imagery. By making men mice and dogs and cats, he hopes to mine out their human identity.

             Art is a traveler in this sense, seeking a solution, seeking identity. His life to this point has been at odds. He has inherited both the horrific and inhumane past of his parents and also been given the beautiful and liberating opportunity of a future in America. In the center of these two forces of past and future is he, Art Spiegelman, who hopes to stitch the two disparate eras together with artistic representation.This question, which compels the novel's narrative, is the crux of his efforts and the solution to this question is the linchpin to his family's two disparate eras: "How am I supposed to make any sense out of Aushwitz ... of the Holocaust?" (174). Art's enormous task is to make identifiable, make recognizable the event and the people involved in the event that effaced people's identities with crytpic numbers scrawled down their arms, dehumanize them with inhumane treatment and persecution, and, with gas, with bullets, with starvation, with disease, wiped them out, some 6 million plus.

          Art approaches his question in what seems a very childlike matter, by drawing animals and having them talk. However, this is far more sophisticated than what it appears. Art is identifying humans with animals, not vice versa. In this way, he mines human identities, which the Nazis have been made obsolete, out of these animal representations. For example, the Jews, which are perceived as a nameless, general mob are depicted as mice. Often throughout the text, the facial expression of these mice are depicted as uniform. Such is the case in the panel where the faceless mob, some alive and some dead, are burned with gasoline. As a scrum of mice yelp in pain, the text box reads: "the fat from the burning bodies they scooped and poured again so everyone could burn better" (232). Their expressions are of monolithic pain, their identities dehumanized and converted to fuel for fire, their identity as Jewish people burnt out and blown as smoke. They seem without identity.

          However, it is exactly in this non-identity that the read perceives identity, for the act of making them all the same causes the reader to ponder how awful it was that they were made nameless and humanless. Within this blinding sameness, the reader immediately attaches to any character that exhibits personality and garners sympathy for them. Art's father is one natural choice, but also Abraham, Mandelbaum, the priest are especially interesting for the reader. In this seemingly faceless and unhuman representations, the reader finds a human identity and, thus, the human identity, in the body of an animal, is that much more salient. And humanity too becomes that much more salient and special.

        Therefore, though Art perhaps does not reach a definite resolution to his question, he at least finds a clue or two. Humanity, it seems, is more than just a corporal form. There is something metaphysical about the human condition that is instantly recognizable, even if that man is drawn as a pig or a mouse. Making sense of the Holocaust, therefore, is accomplished by finding what glimmers of humanity are to be perceived, even if just in a word of hope or in an insight to one's individual plight, and hoping to build, glimmer by glimmer, a narrative that might bring to light the humane in the inhumane, identity in non-identity.

The most interesting concept I came across this semester was in how art can be a conduit to travel. Like when Eustace is vacuumed up in the painting. Art, representation, yields to traveling and finding a peace within Eustace. And just as the painting performed that travel for Eustace, the writings of various authors can do the same for us.

The Paradigm of Storytelling

          The instance of traveling seen in Maus II is not very much different from the traveling we, as a class of readers, do. As author Art Speigelman traces his father's experiences at the infamous concentration camp of Auschwitz, detailing his own journey into the stories and how he escapes (or does not escape) them, he is simultaneously drafting the reader's perspective. He encounters his father's story on a walk with a few curious questions, most likely with reservations about dredging up the emotions that come part and parcel with such a traumatic experience. But as the novel progresses and the father comes closer and closer to his reunion with his wife, Art becomes feverishly involved as a necessary component of the story. He pursues his father with a tape recorder while insisting that the details be laid out and the saga be completed so that he may know as if he was there. His father burns the records so that the story may die but Art redrafts them so that the story may live.
          Though a reader may sit removed and at first impartial to the story, s/he rapidly takes a journalistic dive into the morbid challenges of the human spirit, genuinely interested in the lives put on display. It's voyeurism with a heart of good intentions. We know how the story ends right from the introduction of the book: the father lives, the mother survives but kills herself and son Richieu is dead. The only interest left for the reader, then, is to pursue the story the way Art did, to let it swallow them until they appear as nothing smaller than children. Art relinquished his ownership of the story before the deals and commercialism came knocking at his door and he maintained it long after the story's conclusion; we are expected to follow suit. The graphic novel essentially demonstrates the divorce between story teller and story, between author and reader, and all other paradigms that might exist in any form of storytelling.
          Readers may draw from a story what they will, deconstructing the parts and reorganizing them into theses and criticisms and commentaries and other curious examples of “listening”, but ultimately there is a tacit submission to the authority of the one who owns the story. We are visitors, i.e. travelers, to an exhibit established by the storyteller and the line is drawn there. Art may never recover the correspondences between his father and others, or the pictures-never-to-be of his relatives, but what he cements into his books—the story and picture of his father—is all that he has seen, or can see, or rather, to extrapolate, what his father prefers we see. Likewise, we may not enter a book and alter its contents, only benefit from what the storyteller believed was important to impart to his/her listener.

The Same Story Through Different Eyes

Vladek’s story of the Holocaust in Maus is a riveting one, but it is also one that nobody can truly understand. His life is one of such suffering that it is beyond the scope of anyone’s comprehension that has not experienced it him or herself. This is not to say, however, that it is impossible to properly empathize. During our discussion of Krik? Krak!, it was noted that all humans know suffering. Although some people’s suffering, like that of Vladek’s, is more profound than that of others, the human capacity of empathy relies only on caring. Although neither Art nor the reader can ever understand what Vladek experienced, we can feel suffering along with him.
            Since we, along with Art, are unable to truly understand the conditions through which Vladek survived, we bring our own experiences and emotions to our interpretation of the story. For Art, Vladek’s accounts of his past serve as explanations for his current self. Through the stories, Art is able to see his father as he once was instead of the irritable old man as he is today. Art is also further able to understand the worship his parents had for his deceased brother and the suffering the experienced at his loss. There was guilt in Vladek’s own survival and he was left with a son who could never fathom what he had been through. Art sees his fathers past through the lens of his own childhood experiences.
            I also experienced Maus in two separate ways. I read the graphic novel in full last year while I was studying abroad in Glasgow, Scotland for a comparative literature class on “the hero.” I experienced the story completely differently because I was looking for different things than I was while reading it in the context of travel literature. Instead of viewing Vladek as a hero for his survival and commitment to helping his family, I looked at him as more human, linked to others in their shared suffering. I saw how the commonality of suffering brought people together when their worlds were falling apart.

            From this semester, the most fascinating thing I learned was the social norm behind tattooing in the Pacific. I found this so interesting because tattoos are seen completely differently in our own society. Instead of being a symbol for endurance and adulthood, tattoos here are seen as somewhat counter culture. 


I don’t have any tattoos.  My concept of a tattoo is a deliberate permanent marking to symbolize, commemorate, or advertise an idea.  I have one in mind, but I don’t have the motivation or boldness to get it.  However, I do have two slit-shaped scars on my pelvic area from the hernia operation that I had when I was three years old.  I was born with it, and my mom noticed the little bump of the hernia when I was in the bathtub.  I obviously had no idea the severity or seriousness of the situation; I just went to the pediatrician’s office a few times and knew that I had to go to the surgeon in February, and he would fix me.  The morning of my surgery I was calm.  My parents both drove me to Einstein Hospital in the Bronx, and I only remember clutching my Tiger stuffed animal.  The anesthesiologist told me that he would put me to sleep and made me count to ten, but I don’t remember making it to ten.  The next thing I knew there were lights and a clamp that tracked my pulse on my big toe that I kept kicking off.  I was wheeled into the recovery room where I watched my favorite movie, Sleeping Beauty, and the boy in the bed next to me played video games.  I was surprisingly calm, accepting, and compliant throughout the whole process so far, but of course at this point I was growing either restless or irritated; I remember sitting there crying—sobbing—to my mother to take me home.  Please just take me home.  She would try to calm me down, but I was just so insistent.  I remember the anxiety crawling up my throat, exiting me through my shouts and tears.  When I returned home, my grandparents and aunts and uncles were waiting at my house with gifts and balloons.  I was happy to be home because everything was going to go back to normal—except for the bandage covering my stitches right under my belly button.  My mother is a nurse, and in true medical fashion she was inspecting it all the time, nagging me that the bandage needed to come off soon.  One day that day came, and the bandage came off, revealing my Siamese-cat-eye slanted scars that I have until this day.  That is my only tattoo.
            A very small passing aspect of Maus II is the reference to the Auschitz prisoners’ tattoo they received when they first arrive at the concentration camp.  Similar to my scar from the surgery, they did not choose their permanent marking, but they were coerced to get it.  The experience was also terrible and painful in which the room smelled like burning rubber and fat.  The sight of it brings back the vivid story of how it got there in the first place.  Vladek can retell the story as if it had happened a few days ago; he illustrates the in depth essence of the experience at the camp.  The tattoo, just like my scar, evokes a detailed stream of consciousness back to the exact moments.  We are transported back to the experience and are able to retell our story.
            These memorable marks are not limited to my personal account and the plot of Maus II but rather extend throughout the string of all of the works that we have studied throughout the semester.  Though each work does not explicitly employ “tattoo,” the common theme is that there is a connection to the past and there are pieces of the past that are permanent and progress with the characters.  Whether it is tangible or intangible, there are ideas that are carried with the characters that force them to hold on to something in their past and affect how they handle the future. 

A Picture, No Words

   "A picture is worth a thousand words." We have all heard this saying numerous times through-out ours lives but it was until recently that I actually understood this meaning. Pictures allow us as viewers and as readers to understand an aspect of a story that may have been lost in words. In pictures and photographs we have the opportunity to travel with the author in a different way; we physically get to see what they see or imagined.
    Recently, through multiple facebook posts and status, I discovered an amazing story. A photographer documented his wife's fight with cancer through photographs. Him and his wife both believed that those around them could not begin to understand the horror and pain the two of them were going through. This man controlled the images of his wife that the viewers could see but instead of just showing the happy and positive times, he opened us to a world full of pain and tears. Those who have never experienced cancer or had a love one go through cancer could finally see and feel everything that this couple went through. These pictures spoke loud and strongly went words and sentences never could. If you would all like to see the pictures, you can at this website
    Art Spiegelman could have just wrote down his father's story with no pictures and with no imagery of cats and mice. Instead, he choose to take us on this journey through how he imagined his father's struggles during the Holocaust. Most of us are familiar with the relationship between cats and mice; the cats chase while the mice run. In this case, it can be seen how the cats are the Nazis and the mice are the Jews; the cats want to capture the mice and in this case, the Nazis captured the Jews. But there is another way to view the images Spiefelman gave us. The most famous example of a cat and mouse chase is the show Tom and Jerry. In this classic cartoon, Tom, the cat, chases the mouse Jerry but does Tom ever succeed? The answer is no; Jerry is too clever for Tom to be caught. In this interpretation of this relationship, it can be said that Spiegelman used cats and mice to show the cleverness of his father. His father constantly found his ways out of certain situations, such as lying about how much experience he had with certain skills and hoarding his cigarettes to bribe an soldier to bring his wife over. Spiegelman utilized images instead of just words to prove a point; yes cats chase mice but mice can easily outsmart cats. We may have not received this idea if Maus was not a graphic novel.
    The last thing I would like to mention is the final picture we are left in Maus: his father's grave. Grief, as stated in my post about Krik Krak, is a powerful emotion than can take us from the past to the future. By leaving his readers with an image of his father's grave, Spiegelman is showing us that this is his father's story and it will continue to live on and inspire after he is gone. Furthermore, at the end of the photographer's story that I mentioned early we are left with the following picture. The emotions here are still the same. His wife and her story have inspired him and others to fight cancer. A grave can be a powerful imagined and that is why I think both stories choose images instead of words to depict their stories.

cancer battle


Reading Maus was a completely new and interesting experience for me personally. I had never previously heard of the book so when I opened it for the first time and saw the comic style format, I was surprised. I never actually read through anything that was composed entirely of illustrations and word bubbles. However, I must say that I found it to be a enlightening way to read a story. Any Holocaust books that I have ever read were typically very historical with a lot of facts. Maus offered something entirely opposite, it took the reader along the journey and the visual component contributes greatly. When reading a history book that gives photographs, numbers, and statistics there is no way to put yourself into the shoes of those during that time. Spiegelman solves this problem by providing a very simple solution which is creating a story.
Artie’s narration provides a familiarity because of the way he talks about his dad and pushes him to tell the stories of his time in the camps. He takes us from a more modern time and lets the father take us into the time of the Holocaust. As he describes specific situations like the people he met or how he would purposely wound his hand to be put in the infirmary, it makes everything a bit more easy to understand. Just like anyone who is reading this book, Artie is struggling to understand the suffering that his dad went through. In an effort to bridge that gap between those who did not experience and those who did, Artie takes it upon himself to use pictures as well as ask his father about specific things. His main focus is to learn how Vladek and Anja made it out alive and eventually found each other. However, before this can happen Artie encourages his father to explain all the details. These specific stories allow the reader to travel to that time because now they get a real sense of what it was like and the things people would go through on a daily basis. The visual aspect really adds to this because of the way animals are utilized to represent the people. Clearly dehumanization is an all encompassing way to describe what happened in Auschwitz, so what better way to portray this than by using animals. It really makes you look at the human race in a whole new way and really ask what makes it any different than animals. Today, unfortunately people still perceive those who are different than their own race to be completely separate. Humans are constantly classified by class, gender, race, etc. Spiegelman really takes it a step further by not just describing it, but by illustrating it for everyone to see.
The style of Maus is what makes it unique and stand out among all the other works that we have read in class. Although its format draws attention, it still is doing everything that all the other authors we have read have done. Spigelman is telling a story that is meant to bring you on a journey in an attempt to help the reader better understand. Just as Danticat did this by providing a bunch of stories and CS Lewis by using a fantastical world, Spigelman does the same through his comics. I actually found it to be easier to lose myself because I would look at the pictures and really envision jumping into the page. This book really grabs whoever is reading and makes the transition from reality to the reality on the page an easy one. 

The idea of travel has never been something that I ever put much thought into until this class. It was a very literal term that I associated with going on vacation. All of the works we read this semester have opened my eyes to a completely new way to look at the world but also the different methods of traveling. The most interesting point that sticks in my mind is that we are constantly traveling as every minute passes. We are moving through time to the future without even realizing it. So although it may not be physical, it can be mental. This is something that I would have never realized prior to this course. Now that I am going to study abroad in Australia next year, I feel that I have so many new perspectives to take with me. I will definitely leave America with a broader understanding of what it means to really experience travel, not just in the literal sense. 

Taveling through class

I love to travel.  Anyone who knows me well enough will tell you that it’s true.  I’m no expert, but before this class I undoubtedly would have been able to provide you with, what I would have thought, a reasonable definition.  I would have told you that travel is a physical action, a movement from point A to point B.  I would have said that there is a destination, and a point of return.  Yet from this class, I have learned that travel is so much more, and in ways, so much less than that physical motion I once thought to be so intrinsically tied with the word.  Travel is a matter of perspective; it is what the traveller decides it is.    

We have encountered all sorts of travel in this class.  For me, the most expected were the long distance journeys, such as those we experienced in Kerouac’s On the Road or Lewis’s Voyage of the Dawn Treader.  What I never dreamed of were the other types of travel we studied.  Travel through education (Kolvenbach and King), travel through memory, storytelling, and survival (Fiegel, Danticat, Spiegelman), or even (get ready for this one) travel through tattoo (Wendt, Hau’ofa, Ellis).  These were things I never anticipated; actions I would have never deemed “travel” before this class.  Yet now I understand, as Calvino suggests, travel is all about perspective.  It is about observing life and deciding what to do with it.  It is about awareness, reflection, and empowerment.  You never even have to move in order to experience it.  From what I’ve learned, travel is the most beautiful, most transformative, expression of self-centeredness a person can experience.