(Book cover art courtesy of Pantheon Books.)
When the second volume of Art Spiegelman’s “Maus” (“Maus II”) made it onto The New York Times’ best-seller list in 1991, in the fiction column, Mr. Spiegelman voiced his protest famously writing to the Times, “I shudder to think how David Duke … would respond to seeing a carefully researched work based closely on my father’s memories of life in Hitler’s Europe and in the death camps classified as fiction.”
As the story goes, one Times editor had responded, “Let’s go out to Spiegelman’s house and if a giant mouse answers the door, we’ll move it to the nonfiction side of the list!” However, the Times, following its publisher, Pantheon (which had listed it as both history and memoir), ruled with Spiegelman.
By now most readers are aware of the genre bending work of Art Spiegelman—his drawings of Jews as mice, Nazis as cats and Poles as pigs—that make up his Pulitzer prize-winning “Maus.”
Recently it had a 25th-year anniversary and to mark it, the author has given us “MetaMaus – A Look Inside A Modern Classic.”
Within the pages of “MetaMaus” are historical photographs, letters and documents along with a DVD housing both books, recordings of interviews with his father—all providing an overview on the making of “Maus.”
But by having a DVD lend a blend of media to the mix, we’re perceiving history via the world of the postmodern, where to represent or refer to the world is done so, in a way to draw attention to the very codes and discourses by with they’re communicated.
Indeed, since the time “Maus I” was published in 1986 and with advances in new media, the handful of venues to learn about the Holocaust have grown exponentially. No longer are there just books and movies (like when I was a kid in the ‘60s), but an increasing number of museums dedicated to the subject, as well as a multiplicity of websites, blogs and social media pages. Mirroring the growth of mediums, is also the blurrier line separating fact from fiction and artwork from historical document (as the above commotion illustrates.)
To Mr. Spiegelman’s credit, his books are extremely (excessively) well researched. He had consulted experts and survivors and based his illustrations on drawings, photographs and maps to detail and obsessively portray the truth.
But according to Art and as he states in “MetaMaus”, his reasoning makes this point clear, “I felt we need both artists and historians. I tried to explain that one has to use the information and give shape to it in order to help people understand what happened—that historians, in fact, do that as much as any artist—but that history was far too important to leave to historians.”
Commenting on commentary is as old as our people and in fact, his publisher has called this new perspective on his old masterpiece a “vast Maus midrash.”
Still, the larger question becomes, do reproductions of reproductions prompt readers and viewers to seek out the original? Or, do they come to accept the vast array of copies in place of it?
Abe Novick is a writer and communications consultant and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.