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2004-09-10 1:51 PM
Lileks on Spiegelman
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comments on Art (Maus) Spiegelman's new graphic novel In the Shadow of No Towers
I’ve always respected Art Spiegelman – for "Maus," of course, and for his role as a curator of the comics medium. I think he's a brilliant artist. "Maus" did for me what Weisel's memoir did for the previous generation; it was a sharp stick in the ribs: listen, heed, remember, understand. It made you ache. Art has a new book coming soon with a clumsy title: “In the Shadow of No Towers.” (A Zen koan that ain’t.) I’m sure it will be very well received; consult the publisher’s summary, which speaks truths we all know are manifest and undeniable:
The horrors they survived that morning were only the beginning for Spiegelman, as his anguish was quickly displaced by fury at the U.S. government, which shamelessly co-opted the events for its own preconceived agenda.
Let’s pause for a moment to recall our own anguish in those days.
What would it have taken for you to swap those emotions for anger at the government?
And swap them quickly?
As if you were almost eager to be shed of them?
Well, the attack on the Taliban, of course. That would make you forget 9/11 tout suite. Apparently Art believes that the administration had a preconceived agenda that involved Afghanistan, and could - not – believe - its – freakin’ - LUCK when the planes slammed into the tower. All this, plus a pretext to suspend the Constitution! Booyah! Naturally, Art had to take a stand and protest the war against the Taliban. Speaking to Corriere della Sera in early 2003:
For the Thanksgiving cover with turkeys dropped in the place of bombs, I chose the title 'Operation Enduring Turkey' to mimic 'Operation Enduring Freedom' then begun by America in Afghanistan. But David Remnick forced me to change the title."
That’s how bad it has become in America: the cover is printed, but the artist is forced by his boss to change the title, which few note anyway since it appears in tiny type on the table of contents. He was permitted to use the turkey metaphor, but forbidden to name it as such. Prisoner without a name, Cartoon without a Caption. He also did a New Yorker cover for the Fourth of July that featured an atomic bomb, because, you know, well, isn’t it obvious? Apparently he got some grief in the office. What form this took, who can say, but you can easily imagine someone taking him aside and saying “What’s with all the oblique anti-war lefty stuff, Art? This is the New Yorker, fer chrissakes!” It got so bad he had to resign. I can only imagine how Remnick has his goons kick Seymour Hersh half to death every other week; it’s a miracle the man has the strength left to type.
Art’s latest book has been serialized in Die Zeit and the Forward; no doubt good Germans were pleased by this panel, from "Shadow of No Towers.". Take a look. It features Spiegelman in Maus form, of course, as if the experience of the American Jew is the same as the European version, and requires no alteration of the metaphor. Our Hero was “(e)qually terrorized by Al-Qaeda and by his own government,” he writes of himself, and if there was any doubt that he had just revealed himself to be a hysterical fool, he gives us a four-panel account of his facial hair variations, filed under “Notes of a Heartbroken Narcissist.” Because when it came to New York after 9/11, it was all Art for Art’s Sake.
Note the poster that proclaims his brain “Missing, last seen in Lower Manhattan, mid-September 2001. Metaphorically missing, of course. Some other posters hinted towards more literal absences, but really, let’s not quibble about the nature of victimhood, shall we? Dead or alive, we were all dispossessed. In a way, the living envied the dead, because the dead didn't have to draw pictures about how they felt. Again, speaking to the Milanese paper:
Q. Do you consider yourself a victim of September 11?
A. "Exactly so. From the time that the Twin Towers fell, it seems as if I've been living in internal exile, or like a political dissident confined to an island. I no longer feel in harmony with American culture, especially now that the entire media has become conservative and tremendously timid.”
Exactly so. Really. Victim. Victim. Victim. Victim. Then there’s Art, who is “like a political dissident confined to an island.” Granted, he can leave any time he pleases, because, well, he’s alive, and free to come and go as he pleases. Otherwise it's indistinguishable from a coffin. Or a gulag barrack.
The interview concludes:
"Sometimes, I think I would like to emigrate to Europe; and seeing that in America they won't even let me smoke, the temptation is very great."
You wonder what his old man would have thought. The sage of Rego Park, the stooped, cantankerous, parsimonious old hardhead who survived the horrors of the camp and made it to suburban America. And now his son wants to go to Europe to be safe. You are meshuggah, Richieu. You want to go back so you can smoke? Trust me, they let you smoke.
Europe is only too happy to see a Jew smoke. They even built special places where they could do it together.
Someday some Kurdish artist will produce a graphic novel of how his family suffered under Saddam. A New York publisher will pick it up. They'll probably ask Art to write the forward. And he'll have the gall to say yes.
I haven't duplicated all of Lileks' links...just the one with the link to the panel from the book. And though it's long I thought this passage was too good to just excerpt.
On my lunch break today I saw a copy of Spiegelman's graphic novel (a novel it ain't...but it is graphic, to be sure). It's worse even than Lileks points out.
I was particularly struck by a drawing of Bush and Cheney riding astride a giant eagle. Cheney is in front, and in his hand is a box cutter, its edge bloody. He's just cut the throat of the eagle, you see, and a big gaping bloody gash is open across its throat as it squawks, "Why do they hate us? Why?!".
It's hard to do this visual justice, though I think I've done a fair job describing it.
So this is what it's come to. I could, and still do, understand some of the reasonable objections to the Iraq War (though I keep hearing people telling me that nobody seriously objected to the Afghanistand War...wink, wink...check out Spiegelman's book), and I can also understand (and have in fact engaged in) criticism of this administration. But if you really think the President and his cabinet are worse than al Qaeda, you really have lost all moral perspective, along with your fucking mind.
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