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BARRY LAGA Maus, Holocaust, and History: Redrawing the Frame In an age when concentration camps become tourist attractions, Holocaust specials boost t? ratings, "Survivor" conferences benefit the local economy, and Holocaust films merit Oscars and pad Hollywood 's pocketbook, one has to wonder if the Holocaust has become little more than just another commercially determined spectacle. We can easily imagine a time in the near future (if it hasn't happened already) when swastikas, Auschwitz tattoos, ss insignias, and camp uniforms will sell alongside peace signs, tie-dyed t-shirts, and Mao jackets. This fear of the market's ability to detach political and historical symbols from their political significance and historical context in an effort to increase consumption, in large part, makes one wary of Holocaust representations . Clearly, however, there is a danger in not representing the Holocaust , and this danger has led many, as James Young points out, to draw ever more attention to the Holocaust. In fact, "Holocaust memory has begun to find its critical mass in something akin to a Holocaust 'museum boom.'" Young goes on to point out that "Holocaust memorials are produced specifically to be historically referential, to lead viewers to an understanding or evocation of events" (qtd. in Hoberman 24). We may be alarmed, then, when a book like Maus / appears and is later nominated by the National Book Critics Circle for an award for biography and Maus Í/ earns Spiegelman a Pulitzer. A "graphic novel," Maus Í was first serialized in a somewhat different form in the underground comix magazine Raw between 1980 and 1985, then cast in book form in 1986 under the title Maus: A Survivor's Tale, I: My Father Bleeds History. Parts of volume two, Maus: A Survivor's Arizona Quarterly Volume 57, Number 1 , Spring 2001 Copyright © 2001 by Arizona Hoard of Regents ISSN 0004- 1 6 I O 02Barr)' Laga Taie, 11: And Here M^ Troubles Began, were also published in Raw, but arrived in book form in 1991 along with a en rom version produced by Voyager in 1994 which includes interviews, color sketches, camp maps, journal entries, family photographs, and early drafts. Maus is a hybrid of sorts, crossing multiple genres. At once biography, autobiography, history, novel, and of course, comic strip, the books record the life erf Art Spiegelman's father Vladek Spiegelman, from prewar Poland to Auschwitz to Rego Park, New York. Importantly, this story is told within a self-reflexive and guilt ridden frame-tale, blurring the boundary between Art Spiegelman the artist, and "Art Spiegelman" the character. ' Conceptualizing the Holocaust in pop-form seems less historically referential, less monumental, and less likely to evoke reverence than, say, a movie like Schindlers List which, in pseudo-documentary black and white, attempts to convey the brutality and randomness of the Nazis while applauding life-saving entrepreneurial spirit. However, Maus' unusual form has not stopped many readers from celebrating its ability to represent the past accurately in some kind of paradoxical way—in its cartoon form, in its use of the cat/mouse metaphor, or frame-tales. For example, Joseph Witek argues that "by depicting the Jews and Nazis as animal figures, Spiegelman can defamiliarize his too well-known story and can sidestep the 'already told' quality of the Holocaust" (103). The effect of this defamiliarizing is a clearing away of excessiveness and inauthentic material. As a result, "the animals seem to open a generic space into a precivilized innocence in which human behavior is stripped down to a few essential qualities, and irrelevancies drop away" (111-12). Miles Orvell explains that "Maus is committed to its function as an authentic, factual record of the Holocaust" (118), and Spiegelman himself suggests that "to use these ciphers, the cats and mice, is actually a way to allow you past the cipher at the people who are experiencing it. So it's really a much more direct way of dealing with the material" (qtd. in Cavalieri 106).2 While varying somewhat in how Maus does what it does, these conclusions are strikingly similar in the way they emphasize the arrival of accuracy or contact, albeit via indirection or some other strategy.' While these readings are compelling, they...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1558-9595
Print ISSN
0004-1610
Pages
pp. 61-90
Launched on MUSE
2014-04-02
Open Access
No
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