Wednesday, November 20, 2013

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.

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