Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Krik? Krak!-Part III Analysis (late)

Part III- Analysis (posted late)


            Krik? Krak!, by Edwidge Danticat, was an incredibly fascinating and heart-wrenching look at how ordinary Haitian citizens have been caught up in the country's many political upheavals. Focusing on an island country whose entire history and culture I knew almost nothing about, Danticat forced me to open my eyes to the plight of the average Haitian. The characters in each of these short stories, who we later learn are all linked my family ties, all seem very real to the reader. As a result, Danticat's work appeals strongly to our emotions, and each tragedy, building one on top of the other, is poignantly felt by the audience.

            Similar to all the travel literature we have read this semester, Krik? Krak! served to transport its audience to an entirely new place. Unfortunately, it was not a place where any of us would want to go. In contrasts to the romantic adventures that The Voyage of the Dawn Treader took the reader on, or the appealing attitude toward freedom that On the Road presented, Danticat's novel instead depicted a country wholly unappealing and frightening. As one of Danticat's characters tells us of life in Haiti, "at night i can't sleep. i count the bullets in the dark (8). Ultimately, Krik? Krak! was an excellent reminder to me that travel literature is not just a genre that we use as an escape, or as a pleasant window through which we can view new places and experience other cultures. Rather, travel literature, as Danticat uses it, can also be a highly effective method in informing a larger audience of the injustice, violence, and evil that goes on in the world.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Maus II

Christopher McCune                                                                                             December 2, 2010

EN 384D.01: Travel Literature                                                                                   Blog: Maus II

Maus II

            Maus II is a graphic novel, written and illustrated by Art Spiegelman, which tells the story of how the author's Polish and Jewish father, Vladek Spiegelman, suffered through and ultimately survived the Holocaust. What truly sets this work apart is not only the author's choices to depict the Holocaust in comic strip form, but also that he portrays all the characters in it as animals. The Jews are drawn as mice, while the Nazi soldiers and Germans are all drawn as cats, which was a daring decision on Spiegelman's part.

            Spiegelman's interesting decision to depict the characters as animals certainly, in my own opinion, worked quite well in this book. Even seeing these terrible things being done to mere cartoon mice could not disguise how evil and gruesome the Holocaust truly was, which made the reality of it all the more disturbing. In making the Jews mice, Spiegelman did not dehumanize the mass murders of the Holocaust, but rather managed to emphasize the inhumanity of such a terrible mark on history. Additionally, this stylistic choice allowed the author to get away with incredibly powerful and haunting imagery in some cases, such as when Spiegelman depicts himself wearing a mouse mask at his writing desk, with the dead bodies of hundreds of Holocaust "mice" piled beneath him.

            Just as we have seen this year how literature can be a form of travel, so too can drawing and pictures teach us much about foreign cultures and times long past. In Maus II, Spiegelman brilliantly combines the two in a way that allows the reader to gain a partial, yet powerful, experience of the horrors of the Holocaust. Although I am not a particularly well traveled person, I have always loved literature and had an especially keen interest in world history. After going through this course, I now realize that, maybe the joy I get from reading is the same joy I could experience from travel. Somehow, over the course of this semester, the literature we have read has awakened in me a previously unrecognized desire for travel. The most surprising thing for me, however, has not been this sudden urge to travel, but rather the realization that, in my love for literature, this urge has probably always been there.

Ownership of the text... one last time

In preparing to write this post, I had a difficult time trying to discern what had been the most surprising thing I had learned in Post-Colonial Literature. The class has covered so many themes – be it the importance of history, or the way in which the meaning of a text changes depending on the person reading it – that I was hesitant to pick out one as having had the greatest effect on me. However, reading Maus has compelled me to consider once again the idea of who owns and has the right to definitely interpret a story once it has left the mind of a single individual, and in pondering this topic, I have to conclude that it was the most surprising and intriguing aspect of the class for me. As we discussed in class, the issue of who has the right to mold Vladek’s story of Auschwitz to their own creative – or capitalistic – ends, is a major ethical concern which underlines Maus. While the book is mainly preoccupied with Vladek’s experience, which he took the time to relate to Art, the very fact that Art is communicating that account to others through a graphic novel of his own, in which he chooses how to distill the trauma his father has experienced through the pictures he draws, makes the book an embodiment of multiple levels of interpretation before it is ever read by a person other than Art. One of the major points I remember from my high school World Literature class, and which is relevant here, is my teacher saying that by experiencing and making judgments on real-world events one is essentially interpreting a text. Maus, then, deals with three tiers of text – the actual, objective events of the Holocaust, Vladek’s direct conclusions about those events based on his living through them, and Art’s artistic extrapolation of his father’s conclusions.

There were some comments made in class about how Vladek’s interpretation of the Holocaust, because it is based on his immediate experience, is automatically superior to the perspective a figure like Art, who is hearing about the atrocities second-hand, gives on the situation. I think this point has a great deal of merit -- regardless of what Art has read about gas chambers, Vladek being an “eyewitness,” as he says, to the aftereffects of the slaughter that has taken place in one must be treated with a respect that Art’s academic knowledge does not warrant (69). In reading the second half of the book, however, and realizing how many descriptions Vladek relates of people with whom he has last contact and whom he cannot always fully remember, like “the French Man,” I was reminded – as Dr. Ellis mentioned once in class -- how distinct most personal retellings of truth are from the reality on which they are based (93).

I do not think that such stories are any less valuable because they are so personalized, just as I would disagree that a tattoo has necessarily lost its poignancy when it begins to resonate specifically with an individual rather than a cultural tradition, but I think this comprehension undermines a sense that the non-fiction story Vladek tells is his property. Not only, as Art’s therapist highlights and was brought up in discussion, are the tales of survivors inextricably related to the tales of the dead which cannot be told, but the survivors cannot completely recount their own personal journeys. The past, as is said in and was mentioned during our discussion on Invisible Cities, can be reinterpreted in the present, while the visceral details become muddled.


Spiegelman, Art. Maus: A Survivor’s Tale II: And Here My Troubles Began. New York, Panthenon Books, 1986.

Ellis, Juniper. Tatooing the World.

Calvino, Italo. Invisible Cities.

Wiesel, Elie. Night. Including Introduction and Afterward.

Class Discussions.

In Treatment. HBO. Television Program.

Adventures in Odyssey. “Two Sides to Every Story.” Radio Program.

The Complete Guide to Adventures in Odyssey. “Two Sides to Every Story.

Article and Discussion on J.K. Rowling’s Revelations about Dumbledore and Literary Criticism. Blog.

Maus II

Maus II presents a fascinating and innovative way to communicate both through pictures and words a narrative of historical tragedy, human darkness, and a quest to understand that which we never could. In his graphic novel, Spiegelman made a decision to use mice and other animals to depict the humans involved in the Holocaust. I was especially intrigued by the use of this metaphor because on the surface, it is a seemingly debasing and juvenile way to depict something so grave as the Holocaust. Yet Spiegelman uses the facts of his father’s story to make this metaphor rich, by portraying the Nazis as cats and the Jews as mice, to show the animalistic, predatorial hunt that occurred during the Holocaust. In the second half of the novel, Spiegelman also enriches this metaphor with more animal imagery, not through the pictures, but through his words. He explains that the Jews were transported on a train for horses and for cows, and that within this train, they “lay one on top of the other… like herrings” (85). Using this comparison to horses and cows and herrings, in addition to the images of mice and cats, reinforces this animal metaphor. All in all, this metaphor shows that the actions of the Nazis were clearly inhumane, to say it mildly, and that through this treatment both parties, the oppressed and fearful Jews, and the pitiless and brutal Nazis, lost a part of their humanity.

What is the most shocking thing I learned this semester? SO many things I could think of that would answer this question, as a learned a lot that I never anticipated learning. For one, my eyes have been opened to a completely different forms of literature. From the disorienting futuristic dystopia of Black Rainbow to the fast-paced slam poetry of the Ode to America, to the fantastical and imaginative childhood favorite the Dawn Treader, to the self-love poem Love after Love (which I still have taped to my dresser), I have been impressed and surprised about the different forms literary works can take. I also have been opened to different thoughts and ideas that I’ve never considered before. For example, I have learned that Jews as mice in a graphic novel can actually be quite profound, and tattoo is not simply a rebellious move but actually can be a form of travel and an expression of faith. This class has helped me to gain confidence in my own insights through its nurturing, respectful environment, and it has also challenged me to understand opposite and differing perspectives. I have come out of this class this semester with a new appreciation for different forms of literature, a deep respect for every single person in my class, a desire to emulate the environment and the self-travel that occurred in this class in my own classes when I become a teacher.

Maus and the most surprising thing

There is alot to say about fantasy versus reality when we think about an animal inhabiting a human's body. But when the animal is enacting a major historical event that murdered 6 million people, you have to give someone credit. I found the book really hard to read; not because of subject matter, but because it was all over the place. The illustrations were pretty basic, but I just kept getting caug ht up in them. The book is like any other hero's journey that I've read and that character Maus experiences a unique dilema. Its a lot like Eat Pray Love where the author is being paid to go soul search. Its a different form of the hero's journey, in that there is no death at the end physically. However, there does come a point like we brought up in class where you have to think what length will an artist go to for his work to be good. And I think its the wrong person in the shrink's office. I think the father should get some help too. After all that trauma, why not? Its better than what his kid is doing to him, and majing him remember crap He's rather forget about in the end of it all. Or you could view it as catharsis, but that would be too easy.

In reading the end of the book, I noticed that during the scene when they are asking to hide, the guy they are asking is a cat. And the Americans are portrayed as animals that i couldn't really place. At first I thought they were dogs... The book in its entireity is a commentary on weak versus strong. It also brings up an interesting point in using rats as Jews. It has been said that the rat population is unable to be killed, and the ironic thing about that is that the Nazis had no problem killing off 6 million people, as if they were rats. It sets up an interesting dichotomy that is relatable. the difference is that rats less important than humans. Another interesting thing that the author does is that after he turns them into humans with maks, he turns them back into rats. its almost as if he's saying, "OK you realize what I'm getting at, back to the motif."

The most surprising thing that I learned this year is how many different forms of travel there can be. Usual yo u think of traveling in a car, train or plane and that's it. Internal travel can be a lot more invigorating and at times, is not something we think about. It is more important to have self discovery through experience within yourself than to go to the beaches in Rio. While both are forms of travel, one is more profound because it can happen when you least expect it. Through experiencing it in different cultures, i have realized that it is no different from one country to another. Everyone goes through the same experiences in terms of having struggles. No one is exempt from this. that is an important thing that I realized that no matter time period or country people had and have problems. This can be dealt with through internal discovery, and at times physical travel. The idea is to use that travel to learn something about yourself.

Importance of Graphic Novels

The graphic novel, Maus II, uses its literary form to transcend that of the typical comic book image. Maus II uses a powerful medium of expression for the story of the Holocaust survivor, Vladek Spiegelman. Although the novel harbors typical qualities of a comic book in its struggle for good against evil, a super hero is not present to save the world but rather the novel depicts once man saving himself from the depths of oppression. As the novel presents a journey of survival, the reader follows this journey through the created images. This journey, tied into the placement of images, demonstrates the true importance in sharing a travel story.

The novel journeys through time allowing for images and stories of the past to be shared. Similar to most trips that are taken, images of what has happened are brought home with tales of adventures and typically positive sentiments. The structure of the graphic novel creates a sort of scrapbook feeling with the placement of images in telling the story of Vladek’s journey for survival. This scrapbook of pictures notion is particularly depicted on pages 114-115 in the placement of family pictures over top of the event that is being depicted. Having heard Vladek’s story, the family memories are added to further the journey that the characters create for the reader in their connection to the events and characters of the novel. The idea of creating a scrapbook through the characters tales and images demonstrates the importance of the events of the Holocaust for they are something that is to be preserves along with the images of Vladek’s family. Vladek states on page 115, “Anja’s parents, the grandparents, her big sister tosha, little bibi and out richieu…ALL what is left, it’s the photos.” Transcending the people of the photos, are the images themselves that are depicted. In this sense, the idea of photo images of being the last medium to show a person’s life or story increases the importance of the graphic novel. This would suggest that in the process of “scrapbooking” images of lives and thus history, the negative images and adventures would be even more worthwhile to preserve as Art Spiegelman does through his graphic novel.

Throughout this semester I was surprised by several aspects of travel literature. First off I was surprised by the overall broad range of the genre and the many different forms and types of travel. My initial thoughts as to what the class would be like very much narrowed the ideas of travel literature and I enjoyed expanding my own definition of travel and traveling through my own thoughts and journeys as the class progressed. Another surprising aspect me to was the idea of the forced journey. I feel I focused on this concept several times in my blogs for I am rather fascinated with the idea of a forced journey and what it entails, implies, and even the broad scale this journey could be measured upon. Throughout the texts I was further intrigued by the many different emotions that are involved in a journey and particularly how many of the depicted forced journeys expressed strong emotions of simultaneous dislike/hate/unkindness and love. I really enjoyed the thought provoking nature of the class, for I would often get lost in my own train of thoughts throughout the discussions, and for the fact that this class has really made me look at the ways and how I journey through my own life.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Unexpectedly Satisfying

I have about an average amount of Holocaust knowledge. I've seen a few movies, and I've been to Auschwitz. I probably also have average graphic novel experience. I've never read comic books, but I have perused my fair share of Sunday funnies and scientific adventures chronicled in children's magazines. So I had average expectations going into Maus. Now, I am leaving it with a more than average satisfaction.

In my opinion, choosing this form and depicting the characters as animals was a brilliant idea. By personifying mice, cats, and pigs, Spiegelman managed to actually "personify" people. It is one thing to read a history text or statistics, but it is quite another to see a very personal story played out on one hundred pages of comics. I found the characters to be very relatable due to their quick bursts of dialogue and the modern context in which the character Spiegelman is uncovering his father's story. Like we mentioned in class, people think in short bursts, not long paragraphs. Even reactions such as "gasp!" have slipped into our everyday speech, as dialogue, and no longer as actions.

Even though Spiegelman has drawn people as animals, the characters are definitely human. We can imagine that Auschwitz survivors took advantage of their freedom by sleeping in and treating themselves to the good things in life. We can also assume that their friends and relatives always treated them like superheroes. The truth is, these survivors and their families are still humans, despite, and because of, the horrors they experiences. Spiegelman's father, Vladek, gets up super early and is constantly busy.

Vladek: I'll get you there anything you want fo the week to eat...turkey legs, fish, whatever you want.
Art: We don't want much. We'll be leaving in a day or so anyway.
Vladek: Leaving! But you only just came! I planned you to spend with me 'til the end of the summer.
Art: We told you it was just for a few days to be sure you'd be okay alone up here.
Vladek: Sigh. Then better if you didn't come, now I got used a little to having you together by me.
Art: Bah!

I thoroughly enjoyed the exchanges between Spiegelman and his father; they are exactly the way any father-son relationship realistically would be. This passage illustrates that what Vladek really wants after all he's been through in life is to be with his loved ones. It also clearly shows how irritating and manipulating an old man he can be. In addition to characterizing a credible person to whom many can relate, Spiegelman neatly ties Vladek's quirks back to his experiences in Auschwitz. And despite this heavy subject matter, Spiegelman infuses smatterings of humor quite effortlessly into the text. A depressing and inappropriately funny moment occurs when Vladek tries to pawn off some leftover cereal onto his son, who says he should just throw it away.

Vladek: Ever since Hitler, I don't like to throw out even a crumb.
Art: Then just save the damn Special K in case Hitler ever comes back!

Perhaps part of the reason I enjoyed this book, and part of the reason that enjoyment surprised me, is my own personal lens. Just having been to Auschwitz a few months ago, and becoming close friends with a Polish girl while abroad last year, the location descriptions put me right back there, and Vladek's accent was particularly endearing. On the other hand, my grandmother is German, and was a little girl during WWII. She had little to eat and witnessed her neighbors being burned alive from the destruction wreaked in her small town by the Allies. I am one of those people who becomes very annoyed when it is implied that all Germans from the beginning of time until eternity are evil Nazis. It should go without saying that obviously I find the Holocaust horrific and a completely devasting and unnecessary event, but it has always been a particularly touchy topic for me because of the other stories that get overlooked. Mention Hitler to someone and watch their face screw up in immediate rage; ask them about the Katyn Massacre and they will probably stare at you blankly. (In the winter of 1939-40, the Soviets secretly murdered hundreds of Polish officers deep in a forest, one shot after another, and then blamed the Germans for decades.) The constant bombardment of guilt and the vast number of Holocaust memorials lose their effect after a while; seeing this individual story in Maus brought me back to the realness of what happened.

This entire semester has taken me by surprise. It's not just the sneaky rapidity with which the time has flown, but almost more how truly interesting all my classes have turned out to be. This class in particular has been an unexpectedly engaging and enlightening experience, and reading Spiegelman's Maus II was as well.