metamaus, by art spiegelman

I don’t remember when I first read Maus. I think it was probably the year I lived in Ireland, when I went on my first big graphic novel binge, but it feels like I read it earlier than that because it has become so much a part of me. Did Marie Suchting put it in my hands? Seems like the sort of thing she would do. Bless you, Marie, wherever you are.[1]

Maus is kept in the same area of my memory where I keep Olga Horak, a docent at the Sydney Jewish Museum who told me the story of the blanket in which she was carried out of Auschwitz. Olga’s blanket is made of a mix of animal and human hair.

Olga said to me: “I survived Auschwitz. One day all the survivors will be dead, and then there will be only you: the people who have met a survivor. Now it is your responsibility to remember and to tell the truth about what happened.”

Because I stand in this once-removed relationship with WW2, I am as interested in Art’s story as I am in that of his father. You can’t be a sheltered white Westerner and read history without knowing the terrible price of your peaceful, privileged life.

And of course Adorno was right: no poetry after Auschwitz. You can’t engage with the death camps in any meaningful way and then walk away feeling hopeful about human nature, or God, or life, or anything else at all, really. Ask Primo Levi.

But you can’t despair, either. What you do is you become Schroedinger’s human, both hopeful and hopeless. Everyone is a potential genocidaire; I, too, am a potential genocidaire; therefore I must do my work and be kind to other people and raise my children well. Or as Beckett put it: I can’t go on. I’ll go on.

It’s the human condition. This is what MetaMaus is about. It is the story of the story of Art, and of art. It is the impossible poetry after Auschwitz.

[1] Oh, Marie. I’d been meaning to call. I am so sorry. I hope you knew what you meant to me. You did your work and you were kind to me and raised me well.

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