Not having ever read or even heard of Maus, I took first to Wikipedia, and then to the free on-line version of ‘Maus: a survivor’s tale…’, which I briefly glanced through to get a gist of it.
As something of a holocaust student, I have seen some really obscene stuff, like Ka-Tzetnik’s, ‘The House of Dolls’, which described the life of Jewess concentration camp prisoners who were drafted into the German prostitution ‘Joy Divisions’ as German sex dolls. Art Spiegelman’s comix adaptation of his own family’s holocaust experience seems positively ‘tame’ by comparison.
Spiegelman’s story seems such a matter-of-fact past and present intertwining and retelling of the terrible story of ordinary Polish Jews, with all the complicated, fraught and diverse relationships that Jews had with each other, their Polish neighbors, then the Germans and finally, the very difficult and equally fraught legacy of migration, traumatic memory and the considerable challenge of moving on from it.
The story is distilled down to a comic format that at once both simplifies and yet nuances all the threads that made the whole sad and brutal episode that was the Nazi occupation of eastern Europe and its post holocaust aftermath. I would have thought it was an ideal and vivid medium to introduce the holocaust narrative and its consequences for subsequent generations, many of whom, even after 10 years of schooling, cannot read well enough to tackle say, ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’.
Given the sort of stuff that is getting into children’s internet feeds, Spiegelman’s narrative seems so tamely ‘ordinary’; yet not so ordinary that it is unmemorable and not a potential stimulus to later further research and more mature understanding, as the reader gets older.
I think Spiegelman’s work is a victim of a society that is becoming deeply uncertain about how to mentor and governance its children, in an age of protracted deregulation and privatization of the social system and its reproductive apparatus, whose devastating impacts are now coming home to roost in the form of descuritized, unstable, unformed, poorly educated and dysfunctional social product.
There is a blind existential scramble going on to find and cling onto any piece of cultural detritus that might float in a storm, and the jettisoning of sometimes valuable artifact so that it might not sink under the weight of it. It is like the Warner Bros ‘Coyote moment’, when he knows he has gone over a cliff, and does not dare to look down to break the illusory spell of normality, as a fawn does, who starts to preen itself when ineluctably trapped in the power of a lion.
This act of school censorship (curriculum editing) gives the impression of ‘doing something’ when in fact there is nothing immediate to be done…except perhaps to undertake an enormous and protracted effort across an entire society resolved to grasp the now abandoned basics of what makes life, bringing it into the world and successfully nurturing it to maturity, viable and sustainable in the very long term.
The following is what that could look like in a postmodern devolution to Capitalism Lite and the attenuation of the nation state.