Thursday, December 2, 2010

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.

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