Wednesday, November 20, 2013

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.

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