MAUS by Art Spiegelman: To survive or not to survive

“The death of one man is a tragedy, the deaths of millions is statistic.”

— (allegedly) Joseph Stalin.

For the sake of brevity, let’s just say it’s Stalin’s.

Who would’ve thought Stalin’s infamous remark on genocide is actually an insight of our own human nature? Yes, we are as cold-hearted as Stalin, apparently. More often than not, some of us regard Holocaust as tragedy because we’re being told that it is a tragedy. That genocide is horrific and anyone initiating that should be condemned to hell. And so on, and so on. We’ve been agreeing so because we’ve been told to, not because we actually feel the grasp of how horrific it actually is. Well, no one’s to blame here. Not Stalin, not even Hitler, just our own human nature.

But Spiegelman’s MAUS is here to give us faces and names onto what we’ve known to be horrific only in numbers. Spiegelman not only successfully proves Stalin’s infamous “a death is tragedy, thousand of deaths is statistic” invalid. No, he reverses it. In this semi-autobiographical graphic novel, the survival of one individual is exactly why it’s a tragedy, and makes these fragments of story worth retelling.

Spiegelman poses as protagonist, tries to choke first-hand Holocaust story out of his father, a Jewish survivor.
Here, we’re being given a face that effectively renders the statistic once more into humanistic tragedy. Even more, the face we’re seeing here is not at all an ordinary one. Spiegelman’s father, Vladek, literally had witnessed it all–and escaped it all. From Sosnowiec to Auschwitz. From gas chamber to cremation pits.

Dead relatives was not an unfamiliar sight for him to see. Dead people was out of question of being extraordinary, indeed. Hunger lurks from every corner that he has no longer sense to eat normally. But that’s not all. As the reminiscent goes along, we eventually see another ‘gift’ from the war that Vladek has yet to carry.

In parallel with his father’s reminiscent, Spiegelman let us see how Vladek had turned into a harsh, bitter, anxiety-ridden character in life after war. Though leading an economically decent life, Vladek still refused to spill even the tiniest bit of food. When Vladek ran into supermarket in order to exchange a box of cereal leftovers with new one, Spiegelman was out of words. His life and body may have escaped the war. His soul, apparently, has not.

Spiegelman carefully maintain the flow in telling this two-sides of coin. He cleverly chose not to expose it all in one shot. Stories about Nazi in the first book, MAUS #1: A SURVIVOR’S TALE: MY FATHER BLEEDS HISTORY isn’t all that gripping. But the strained father-son relationship that’s extensively shown bugged me enough to think, this must leads to something. And the second book, MAUS #2: AND HERE MY TROUBLES BEGAN shows me why.

Spiegelman’s decision to depict involving races in animal representation is also laudably effective. Although told from the perspective of an individual, we hardly can ignore the bigger picture of racial politics that went on. Other than the obvious polarized parties, Jews as mouse and Germans as cat, there was also Poles taking role as war scavenger. Thus, Poles are portrayed as pigs. The symbolism perfectly shows how, in the time of crisis, human are reduced to rely on their beastly instinct.

Overally, beyond its perplexingly tangled motives, MAUS differs from other holocaust-retelling by questioning whether is it better ‘to survive physically yet mentally-wounded’ or ‘to die in your old sane self’. Who are we to answer? MAUS has sewn an irony of its own.


The boy feels it in the air: this is the moment.
He has a good sense of premonition, he always does.
He doesn’t need to explain it in words—he just knew
through his primal instinct.
Often, he complains on how the instinct dominates him more than his logic does.
Like, when that night it gave vigour to his hands to reach for the girl’s head—and kiss her on the lips.
His logic cursed him afterwards.
The girl giggled at this.
But I like it, she said.

The boy is assured this is the moment.
Once missed, never comes back.
So he decides to grab it, hold along the rope, and jump.
He stretches his hand for the girl to catch.
But the girl stays still.
“I can’t,” she says. “I belong to the earth.”
The balloon moves upward. Constantly so and never hesitates.
The time is running out. In split seconds there’ll be no chance to convince her.
There’ll be no chance for her to change her mind. The boy hoped she knew this.
But she knows this. And she doesn’t falter.
Earth was the only soil she knew she could grow upon.
And yet for him it’s only the sky that could freed his ever venturing soul.
He goes further and futher from the soil she lays her feet upon.
Until he is nothing more than a single dot in the sky, for the girl to see.
Until he’s lost to thousands of ancient dots that’s been shining since the beginning of time.
The earth has the girl stands still:
Feet fixed on the soil she could grow upon
Head tilted upwards
Eyes pierce throughout spaces she has never been through.
Possibilities beyond comprehension
throw sheer light on her heart,
made it a soil so fertile for stories to grow
on, and on, and on.

An Afternote of #pilpres2014: At least he smiles big time…

Surprise not, I changed my choice in last minutes. But still not a firm one, apparently. Few minutes after I put my ballot paper into the voting box, vague uncertainties eventually crept within me.

At times I often wish I this voting matter came to me as easy as it was for those non-overtly-skeptical minds.

I wish I could easily reduced this act of making choice to simply ‘became ignorant to your idol’s defect’, like a chauvinistic fangirl did. Yet I strayed from that collectively-popular frame, perhaps too extremely. Cynicism became my main state in scrutinising both candidates. Well, the cynicism goes a bit one-sided though.

This is my most basic premise:

If well-educated people who vote for Prabowo are deemed to be brain-washed minds who see violence as “mere excess” of New Order,

then aren’t those educated beings who vote for Jokowi weaklings for being oblivious and prone to media’s doctrine?

I am very much familiar of how deceitful media could be.
Pretending to be partial towards ‘greater good’ whilst in fact no more than mere extensions of malicious interests. Blowing up only what’s sensational, cut out the context if necessary, because bad news is good news.
And how not-so-noble people in it work.
Our journalists. They aren’t really working their asses off to provide contextually accurate facts. In the field, they’re no more than savages swarming for scraps of information that’s potential to blow hype for their medias. Sure, this doesn’t applies equally the same to all heads. But those who are sane and possess correct sense of morality in heart are not that many in number. And here we’re speaking about a society that values quantity over quality, whose people enslaved under the utopicly propagandic word, ‘democracy’.

It is thence natural for me to frown on whoever came to be bloated out of proportion by the media.

And there’s this guy.

P1180385 copy

Loved by the media too dearly.

Right after voting he gave few lines of commentary speech.

And I thought, Wow this guy really suck at public speaking.

But enthusiasms kept people from reading into his words–which contain nothing. Some voices echo “Jokowi is The President!” right after he finished giving speech.

People were desperately trying to reach over him. Tried to get their hands tainted by a glimpse of his, get through the bodyguards, willingly risked themselves get stomped over by bunch of barbaric journalists. In order to shake his hand.

And you know, what was embroidering his face all the time he’s escorted throughout all the commotion? Smile. A big wide one.

I was strucked.

I formerly was more into the other candidate. Presentation-wise and decision-making-wise, he has this reassuring firm and decisive manner. Just like the popular belief would say. I almost can justify his authoritarian tendency, born as a consequence of his superior intelligence. Not all people deserves to be heard. Not all voices matters. Not all brains can think.

But Prabowo got no suavity in delivering what he think is right. He got no eloquence in giving the impression of ‘listening to his people’. Noted, he tend to resort mostly to his own mind, but at least he can act like as if his decision was compounded from people’s voices.
There’s just a big absence of diplomatic ability in him.

Most chronically, he got no suavity in front of the media. At all.
On the election day, after voting session is over, he made a fuss by throwing hatreds towards medias politically opposing him.

I pitied him incredibly. He just does not know how not to jeopardize him further into negative sentiments. And it’s such a great loss if a leader knows not to bring himself diplomatic-wise.

His contender, Jokowi. At least seemed to have automated response to smile.
At most times, a single smile is more than enough to shut people off.

* * *

I still believe neither of the two came out as a really good choice.
Yet I got reassured once more of what I’ve chosen.

If the two paths eventually lead us ashtray, let the people be fooled by the illusion of having made the right choice.

Of really having changes.

Because people don’t really need proof of changes. They just need to feel the impression that there are changes. People does not need a sense of objective reality. They fabricate their preferred own. They will sort out only pieces of information that serve justification on what they believe. They like to produce the evidences to convince themselves. That’s why there are medias and advertisers.

All the society need is to be dipped deeply into big sauce of illusion.

P1180419 copy

But I’m here to be proven wrong.

(Dream) Stockholm-like Syndrome

July 6th, 2014

We were biking through the alley and are running out of time. There were two of us.

In the middle of the alley, there are bunch of bandits who seem disturbed that we passed through them.

They stood up in our way. We were halted.

Before they bombarded us with further questions, I excused ourselves,

“We were going to a friend’s birthday party. Our friend has been waiting for us.”

I was grabbing a crumpled white paper.

“You’re lying. You think we didn’t know?”

“We’re not!” And we quickly got on our bike and pedaled with all our might.

We’re getting at the end of the alley. The end of the alley was sealed with high iron gate, though there was small opening through which one person can pass.

None of the houses on both side of the alley were familiar to me. Which is weird. The house should be around here.

I opened up the crumpled white paper. A rough sketch written with black ink, we were staring at. It was meant to be guiding route. On the middle there was a circle, and an arrow pointing at it.

My heart sunk.

“We took the wrong way,” I said to my friend.

The thought of having to pass the bandits again horrified me.

“We could use this way.” We passed through the small opening of the iron gate.

We pedaled with all our might.

On our way, I caught a glimpse of familiar person from the corner of my eyes.

It was one of the bandits. He’s the one who accused us of lying. He knew. How could he caught up with us so quickly.

He knew I spotted him. He smirked. I looked back to the front. I have to get there in time. Judging from the sky, it must be around 3. Or 4. Until when it opens? I don’t know. I have to get there as fast as possible.

I cheated on the route. He lost us.

We encountered him again. How could he managed to caught up with us so quickly.

Our bike ran side by side. I did almost an acrobatic move and cuddled him.

He was surprised but then again not resisting.

We were arrived at a building. We were at its fourth floor. We got up through the stairs. After the separating door glass, there are rows of desks and chairs, like they had in offices. Desks, without cubicles. People were typing, making calls, hidden behind piles of papers.

I entered.

“Excuse me, may I meet Mr.–?”

“Oh, he hadn’t arrived yet.”

“That’s weird.”

“Yes, he should’ve come. He should collect the—“

“Oh, are we still able to submit the—?”

“Yes, but you should wait until he comes.” So we waited. Outside the office room.

Behind the glass door. One of the staff called my name. He seemed to know me. I can’t remember who he was.

“How do you know me,” I said.

“Mr.— mentioned two writings to me. One is the— about the—. One is writing about India and its landscapes. Animals, topography, and trees, and detailed others. He applauded these two writings. He mentioned your name when telling me about the second writing. You’re the one who write it, right. I read it. It was laudable.”

“No, I don’t,” I recalled this familiar remark. “There’s someone who think of me as the writer, too, few days ago. But I said I don’t write it. I’m not the writer.”

The secretary-like female staff, that sat behind the male staff I was talking with, glanced at me. Her look was not pleasant.


(Dream) How can I pass

July 5th, 2014

I thought it was somewhere on the side of some random train railway. It was night.

On the one side  of the railway, it was the train station. Dim-lighted one.

I was on the other side.
The side, that had stalls of night market, rowing in two opposing rows. The arrangement of the rows created some sort of path leading to a dead-end—because the end of it is the railway.

I was looking for specific thing in this market with my friend—my theatre club mate. He’s the chairman of the theatre club. As usual, he wore black plain shirt along with long black capoeira pants. We were looking for specific something, when he mentioned, “…but we couldn’t pass through. Because of that.”

“That—what?” I said.

He pointed to certain poin in the direction of the railway.

It was night. There’s no sight of train. No road lamp either. Lighting came only from the stalls and the dim-lighted train station.

People were walking to-and-fro freely across the railway. Some were crossing the railway. There’s no sight of train.

I tried looking at the direction he’s pointing at.

“That, what?” Again, I asked.

“Can’t you see the hand–?”

I squinted and I can see—

In between people walking to and fro across the railway, there’s this figure stood out grotesquely.

That thing resembled a cojoined two naked human bodies.
One serves as the lower part: it walked, it carried the other body, but the head was unseen. The other body was carried on the shoulder of the first body, but it only consists of hips downwards—it had no head either. It had penis. And this penis kept on sprinkling sperm to people who’re passing by. Both had pale skin that radiated greenish-white and is luminescent in the lightless night.

I turned my head back. We went to meet our other friend not far from there.
The railway route was formed in u-turn shape. Our friend waited for us at this u-turn point. There’s this dim-lighted public toilet. She sat on the stairs of the public toilet.

She is the chairman’s girlfriend. She was also in her usual attire.

She closed her ears with her hands and closed her eyes very closely.

“Let’s go,” one of us said.

She replied, “How can I pass through if there’s that thing?”

The train came. It took u-turn on a very slow speed.

[Next scene involved the girl lying on the railway. Twice her shirt (along with few lumps of her flesh) stuck in between the train wheel. But she got out alright.]