Academic journal article Shofar

Art Spiegelman's Maus: A Survivor's Tale: A Bibliographic Essay

Academic journal article Shofar

Art Spiegelman's Maus: A Survivor's Tale: A Bibliographic Essay

Article excerpt

This bibliographic essay on Art Spiegelman's Maus: A Survivor's Tale serves as a broad survey of Maus criticism based on ten thematic categories such as trauma, postmemory, generational transmission, and the use of English. As much as this essay examines the wide range of scholarly interests surrounding Maus, it also highlights the problem of repetitive concentration on certain themes that dominates and restricts discussion on the text. This overview of Maus criticism thus not only provides a useful summary of the studies currently available, but also serves as a suggestive guide for future scholars in their attempts to broaden and enrich the field with an eye on expanding the critical discourse.

The growing popularity of the study of the graphic narrative as a critical literary exercise is visible in both university classrooms and many other academic venues. As evidence of this, at least three literary journals,1 plus this special Jewish comics issue of Shofar, have devoted issues to graphic narratives. Scott McCloud, one of the leading critics in comics studies, was a keynote speaker at the 2008 International Conference on Narrative. The 1998 edition of The Norton Anthology of Postmodern American Fiction includes excerpts from Art Spiegelman's Maus: A Survivor's Tale,2 the Pulitzer Prize-winning Holocaust narrative told in comics form, along with two other graphic works by Jay Cantor and Lynda Barry. Indeed, Maus has proven to be a seminal text in graphic narrative studies and has been taught in many undergraduate and graduate courses worldwide. More than twenty years since its publication, Maus continues to draw much scholarly attention, including the two most recent critical pieces by Paul Eakin3 and Tal Bruttmann4 in 2009. This enthusiasm for Maus is likely to continue with the upcoming publication of Meta Maus, a book with a DVD about the making of Maus. The critical success of Meta Maus, however, will largely depend on how effectively this project reshapes and further reinforces one's reading of Spiegelman's graphic text.

The critical space Maus occupies in graphic narrative criticism is crucial not only because it had won a 1992 Pulitzer Prize - specifically, for Special Awards and Citations-Letters - but also because it is so richly textured, both at the formal and thematic levels. As the confusion surrounding the genre placement of Maus suggests - is it a memoir, a testimony, or an autobiography? - its constructed hybridity becomes a central question. Maus is about a Holocaust survivor, Vladek, who lived through the concentration camps at Auschwitz and is still bound by what he witnessed and experienced. But it is also about a survivor of another sort, Vladek's son, Artie, who struggles to find his way into his father's Holocaust memory that has become a significant part of the family history. Artie, as a second-generation survivor of the Holocaust, is burdened with the fallout of the historical event while not having encountered it firsthand. As much as Maus is about a representation of the Holocaust, it is also about a story of one family whose image is reflected through this historical representation. The text is a historical document based on testimony and facts, but it is also an autobiographical creation of the author, who artistically projects himself onto one of the narrators, Artie, in the text. Most interestingly, however, Maus interweaves all these thematic complexities within a hybrid form of the visual and the verbal. Although the scholarly discourse on Maus over the past eighteen years does reveal a wide range of critical interests, a strong (and almost repetitive) concentration on certain themes - trauma, (post)memory,5 (post) history,6 generational transmission, and ethics of representation - dominates and even restricts discussion of the text. More specifically, Maus criticism is sorely lacking in substantial examinations on issues surrounding gender, race, religion, and critical pedagogy. …

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