As I read J. David Bolter and Richard A. Grusin’s “Remediation,” I could not help but think of my favorite graphic narrative to read, to teach, to obsess over: Art Spiegelman’s Maus.
Bolter and Grusin begin their article by analyzing the film Strange Days and arguing for its use of remediation: “In addressing our culture’s contradictory imperatives for immediacy and hypermediacy, the film enacts what we understand as a double logic of ‘re-mediation.’ Our culture wants both to multiply its media and to erase all traces of mediation: it wants to erase its media in the very act of multiplying technologies of mediation” (313). This double logic reminds me of an ongoing debate about Holocaust literature and art. Seventy years later, as survivors and scholars continue to grapple with the question of representation, there is both a desire to capture individual, unique memories and the need to ensure proper remembrance through specific, appropriate media.
In Maus, which won the 1992 Pulitzer Prize, Spiegelman sketches his interactions with Vladek, Spiegelman’s father, as he tells his son about his experience as a Jew in Poland during World War II. Throughout the narrative,Spiegelman portrays both the process of interviewing and interacting with his father in the 1970s and 1980s and the memories Vladek shares about his early life and the Holocaust.
Much of the graphic memoir fits within Bolter & Grusin’s framework of hypermediacy. They quote William J. Mitchell when they explain hypermediacy as a visual style “that privileges fragmentation, indeterminacy, and heterogeneity and that emphasizes process or performance rather than the finished art object” (327). While the majority of the content of Maus consists of Spiegelman’s cartoon drawings of mice, cats, and other zoomorphic characters, there are several noticeable breaks in this physical portrayal. The first comes in the opening volume with the inclusion of “Prisoner on the Hell Planet,” a cartoon first published in 1973 depicting – with human drawings and very different sketching – the suicide of Spiegelman’s mother, Anja. Spiegelman also scatters several family photographs from the first half of the 20th century throughout the text. The dedication page of the second volume contains a single black-and-white photo of Richieu, Art’s brother who died during the war, and black-and-white picture of Vladek in his Auschwitz uniform appears in the first volume. Much has been written about the representation of humans as animals in Maus, especially because different religions and ethnicities are portrayed as different, sometimes controversial, species. Critics pay far less attention to these significant breaks in the zoomorphic mode, which serve as reminders of the fluidity and inexplicability – the hypermediacy – of Spiegelman’s work. Maus consistently rejects a singular medium of communication, even as it embraces the traditional formal conventions of comics. Continue reading