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The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman
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Nov 14, 11

bookshelves: biographies
Read from November 12 to 13, 2011

Adorno said, "There can be no art after the Holocaust." No justifiable reason to produce anything beautiful; no possible way to portray the Holocaust in anything as beautiful as art.

Lo and behold, the half-century proceeding this declaration has produced a plethora of art about the Holocaust. Isn't art the best way to be drawn in? I finished Maus in twenty-four hours. I had nightmares for two nights in a row. Books like these show me that I often forget just how harrowing it invariably is to be drawn into it.

But my admiration for Spiegelman's sense of subtlety, irony and honesty is nevertheless enshrouded in echoes of Adorno's assertion. I get it that he intended to deconstruct the delusion of separate races by parodying it. (Swedes as elk and Brits as fish!) But I can't help but sit uncomfortably with the worry of how easily it lends itself to misinterpretation, much in the same way others argue Life Is Beautiful allows for too much levity.

Cats instinctually kill mice. Dogs chase cats and are Man's Best Friend. Follow this line and you're right back at the doorstep of racism. Had every nationality been represented by animals that are not anthropomorphically stereotyped, the parody would be less vulnerable to misinterpretation. And the reduction of a Sinti woman to a gypsy moth who appears in a book about the Holocaust ONLY to tell a Jewish woman her fortune tastelessly obscures the Nazi genocide of the Roma and Sinti.

Nevertheless, I understand why Spiegelman used such an artistic medium to tell his father's story, and I understand why it was awarded the Pulitzer. Adorno's argument is significant, but ignores that art is the enemy of fascism. The countless portrayals in literature and film that have come out of the Holocaust can very well be viewed as an endless celebration of the Nazi failure.
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Kirsten Excellent points! I read Maus when I was a lot younger and did not really pick up on the animal stereotypes being quite jingoistic/racist, but I agree, that would be my biggest complaint about it now. It's a harrowing, wonderfully told story and stands out from a lot of cliche or mediocre accounts of the events.


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