Comics (Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity)
In his two volumes Maus: A Survivor's Tale and Maus: A Survivor's Tale II, Art Spiegelman narrates the fate of his parents, a Polish Jewish couple who survive Auschwitz and the Holocaust. The most striking feature of the books is the trivial fact that they are comic strips in which the Jews are represented as mice and the Germans as cats. This metaphorical depiction of Nazi-Jewish relations is not a genuine animal fable, because it is much too complex. Various aspects of meaning are given in the cartoons, and there are different ways of conveying those meanings. They entail, for instance, the narratives of Vladek, the narrator's (Artie's) father, as a single male and how he and his wife Anna are separated and reunited. The narration follows the increasing severity of Nazi persecution and also describes the inner conflict a member of the post-Holocaust generation faces. The flexibility of the comic strip as a medium facilitates a reflective manipulation of the different events in time.
The presentation of a human being as an animal or with some animal features is adopted in political cartoons in order to denigrate, for instance, a political opponent or social group. Its traditional intention is to transfer some negative animal characteristic, such as laziness or stupidity, to the victim of the cartoonist and thus create and/or emphasize a negative stereotypical trait. This, however, is not the case in Maus. In this cartoon, on the contrary, two separate mental spaces, that is, the space of human beings and the space of animals (mice, cats, dogs), are blended, creating anthropomorphic creatures who represent real people, for example, Artie, the protagonist and narrator, Vladek, his father, and Anna, his mother. They are drawn with human bodies and appropriately sized mouse heads. The faces are drawn in a neutral way and show very few expressive and distinguishing features.
This creation and blending of two separate mental spaces are everyday features of verbal language. In statements such as "If I were in your shoes, I would quit my job," the speaker takes over the role of the listener and states how he would act in that hypothetical space. Such a blending process activates at least four mental spaces: a generic space, the source space, the target space, and the resulting blended space. The generic space contains a skeletal structure, which reflects the commonalities of the two input spaces.
In the above example, the generic space would be represented by a sentence such as "An agent takes a decision." The first input space would read: "The speaker quits his job" and the second input space would read, "The listener quits his job." The blended space integrates selected parts of the structure from the input spaces and would read: "The speaker quits the job of the listener."
As is seen, the blended space integrates selected parts of the structure from the input spaces. The effect of alienation (Verfremdungseffekt) has two causes: Even if readers are familiar with anthropomorphic creatures in comic strips such as Spiderman, combining Spiegelman's hybrid creatures with Nazi terror and the Holocaust may seem strange and the meaning of such a blend is open to interpretation. The meaning potential of this pictorial blending can be described as follows: the generic space contains a relative assessment of human beings together with other mammals. Depending on people's convictions, mammals do or do not have a distinct personality, dignity, a right to live, and they are or are not regarded as vermin. The first input space allots the positive qualities and rights to human beings and the second input space denies mice these qualities and rights. In the blended space the anthropomorphic mice, who represent the Jews, are denied these qualities and rights.
Because the readers of Maus know that Spiegelman is a Jew himself, it is very unlikely that they will interpret the blending in this way. It is clearly an ironic pictorial of Hitler's statement that Jews are vermin. When it is obvious that someone slips into the role of another person and acts in that role, irony is created. Thus, readers are constantly reminded of the ironic stance that the author adopts. He does so because the genocidal atrocities of the Nazis are beyond comprehension and, what is more, beyond description.
SEE ALSO Art as Propaganda; Art as Representation
Fauconnier, G., Mental Spaces. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Hünig, Wolfgang K. (1974). Strukturen des comic strip. Hildesheim: Olms.
Hünig, Wolfgang K. (2002). British and German Cartoons as Weapons in World War I. Frankfurt: Lang.
Rohrer, T. (2001). "Even the Interface Is For Sale: Metaphors, Visual Blends and the Hidden Ideology of the Internet." In Language and Ideology, ed. R. Dirven, R. M. Frank, and C. Ilie. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Turner, M., and G. Fauconnier (1995). "Conceptual Integration and Formal Expression". Metaphor and Symbolic Activity 10:183-203.
Turner, M., and G. Fauconnier (2002). "Metaphor, Metonymy, and Binding". In Metaphor and Metonymy in Contrast and Comparison, ed. R. Dirven and R. Pörings. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
Wolfgang K. Hünig