Okay, I don’t know why Noah Berlatzky hates hates HATES Maus so much — sometimes it seems like he hates it even more than anything by Alan Moore, or Jack Kirby! — but even for him this may be going a bit far:
“…The page is set up as a reveal. The top visuals keep your eyes focused on neutral images, and then the bottom opens up into the horrible truth. That horrible truth is always the same truth; namely the Holocaust, symbolized with a crude obviousness either by the (poorly drawn) Nazi flag, or the Auschwitz gate, or (most viscerally) by a huge pile of dead bodies. the importance of the Holocaust is emphasized each time both by its position as revelation, and by its scale. In his page design, Spiegelman tells us, over and over, that the Holocaust is huge and that it leaps out at you.
That is not, I would argue, an especially insightful take on the Holocaust; it turns it into a pulp adrenaline rush. Those pages each seem like they’d work as well, or actually better, if you substituted Dr. Doom for the Holocaust in each case. IF you’re going to set up a supervillain behind the curtain melodrama, best to be talking about an actual supervillain. Hollywood effects work best with Hollywood content; trying to add drama to an actual genocide comes across as cheap and presumptuous.”
This essentially takes Harvey Pekar’s view and replaces the concern for art, with a concern for taste. Don’tcha think? Noah, having discovered a reading that suits his own feelings about things, appears convinced that he has also unlocked Spiegelman’s own — reading, feelings, well the two are surely interchangeable — as though somehow the intentional fallacy was something that applied to what’s read, instead of what’s written. Interestingly, the one thing we never talk about when we’re talking about HU, is what the reader brings to the table to form his or her opinion of the work; instead it’s always about how the opinions reveal the work for what it “really” is, apparently because a reading is a text that must be taken just for what it is and no more, whereas any artwork is first and foremost a confessional tally of the artist’s personal prejudices.
(By the way, readers of HU may be alarmed to see “reveal” used as a verb, here, and I can only hope this doesn’t colour their impressions of my little screed…since I wouldn’t like to see their colourful impressions lodged in my private purposes. For who knows but that I would have to wear what they think of me as something I think myself?)
Anyway, it’s pretty fucking annoying. There is such pudicity here: a right way to talk about the Holocaust, a wrong way to talk about the Holocaust, a right and wrong way to be a person who has talked about the Holocaust. Down at the bottom of the comments (at least, at the time I read them), an HU reader puts it out there that among the “talking about the Holocaust” things he thinks are better than Maus…
…Is Hogan’s Heroes.
Or, sorry: not better than Maus. That’s not what he says. Tchah! Of course not, who would say that?
“More interesting” than Maus. He swiftly adds “and not just formally”. So, I guess you heard it there first:
Hogan’s Heroes is more formally-interesting than Maus.
Hey, I guess you could make the argument.
I mean: that is one poorly-drawn flag, you know what I’m saying?
It would be easy to go on, but maybe easy as well to obscure my point if I did that, and I think the point merits a certain keeping-clear. Said point being:
HU folk, you clearly have active prejudices about stuff, you know? But you never really come clean about them. You bash Watchmen because you think it puts on airs, but you never say why you think it puts on airs, what creates your idea of what “airs” are and how one can put and not-put them on…Harvey Pekar would say all these things, but you don’t, and you know something? You really should say something about the “why” of this, because without the context of that “why” you seem to be talking about form and craft and intention (hey, seriously, why are you talking about intention so much?) when you are really talking about yourself, and this disjunction could one day — one day, if it happened to produce something that finally sounded just really fucking crazy — possibly make someone feel battered enough by the dissonance of it all that they felt moved to write a slightly pissy blogpost about it on the spur of the moment. And you don’t want that. In comments on HU once, Noah vouchsafed to me that he was primarily interested in assessing his own responses to works he’s read…
…And so, that idea having retracted my claws, I patiently sat back and waited to see what would be the outcome of these investigations of his. Why did he jump instantly to “thinking about Wolverine”? Was it, indeed, that he had so thoroughly taken on the pithy maxim “talking about superhero comics for adults is like talking about porn for kids” (GOD, but I wish I’d said that, Bloggers!), that he could no longer tolerate the slightest suggestion of the mixing of the two? And that he felt fine, even freed, so long as every artwork knew what it should be supposed to be trying to be, but when it came to any blurring of those lines he experienced a kind of revulsion?
I did wait, for a little while. But since those answers never came, that context remained inaccessible, and in the end it honestly really didn’t matter that much to me…I mean, is it my place to come up at Noah and say “go on, tell me how you really feel, tell me about your childhood” or something? Over Wolverine? No, no…that would be ludicous. Wolverine isn’t real life, and I like Noah, and I’m certainly not going to try to ride herd on his likes and dislikes when it comes to his fantasy entertainment.
The Holocaust, though…
The Holocaust is actually real, and so it pisses me off to see it treated equivalently with Matters Wolverine in this way, even if they are both in the context of comics. Noah says it himself, in the comments-thread there that I urge you for the sake of your sanity not to read: aesthetics and morality must go together. Yet if they’re going to go together, wouldn’t it be safer if they held hands, instead of pretending to just be coincidentally walking in the same direction? In that post and its comments there are (it seems to me) moral judgements masquerading as aesthetic critique; as well, there are piffly little matters of taste dressed up as outrages against moral delicacy and centredness. Pudicity, pudicity, it’s all just a little too careful about its carelessness: morality and aesthetics drafting like cyclists from poorly-drawn flags to Holocaust Exploitation Genres, all the way down to The Big Reveal. And that it’s a bit of a double standard is something I think anyone can see: after all, if I were to treat Noah as he has treated Spiegelman, I could say that his review is clearly informed by his strong feelings about the policies of the Israeli government, indeed that his eternal return (sorry) to the subject of Maus‘ overratedness and Art Spiegelman’s assholery is only caused by the fact that talking about Maus is the most convenient excuse he has for talking about the Golan Heights, and Spiegelman is the substitute nearest to hand for Netanyahu. And to do that that wouldn’t exactly be fair play on my part, I admit it; but it sure as hell would be fair-is-fair play. Is Spiegelman really a shit artist? Is Hogan’s Heroes really a formally-interesting “genre or exploitation treatment of the Holocaust”? Are genre/exploitation treatments of the Holocaust really a Thing? Or are Noah and his interlocutor just tired of people bringing up the Holocaust as a sockdologer when they start bitching about Israel and is Maus to blame for that? Mark it well, Bloggers: I do NOT say that this is what’s bugging them. Because I do not KNOW THAT. And because that would be MEAN.
But it sure as hell wouldn’t be something they could do a whole lot of complaining about the unfairness of. Because they are not being upfront, see? Up in that quote from the post, Noah seems to say that Maus bears a pretty meaningful resemblance to Raiders Of The Lost Ark: glib about the Nazis, glib about the Jews, all about the WHAM! and the POW! Perhaps he is trying to draft Harvey there, but unfortunately Harvey is too far ahead of him for it to work. Because is Maus really a motherfucking failure, honestly? Even Harvey didn’t go that far. Does the fucking quality of the drawing really cheapen, in itself, the suffering of millions? I don’t know who would go that far. Reading this post, you’d think Noah was talking about Maus as written and drawn by Dan Brown…
…And it all breaks down. On one point, over here, you have the dude who likes the formal-interestingness of Hogan’s Heroes — don’t really see how that guy can be against the “funny animal” thing? But then there’s Harvey, who thinks the funny-animal thing is a shuck. Standing a little bit apart from each of them is Noah, who seems to be taking a very high road indeed, about absolutely all of it…
But where his road ultimately leads I haven’t a fucking clue, and let me tell you something:
That’s on Noah. Not me.
Because in the same gesture where he indicates Spiegelman’s agenda, he deftly rubs out his own!
With an elbow.
Well, here is most definitely an elbow back. People of HU, your erudition is laudable, your certifications are impeccable, you certainly aren’t lacking in the spit-and-vinegar department, but you seem to stub your toe on the whole “forthcoming” thing, and through that fault you access a terrible reality of basically being CSBG with bigger words. There is some advice I should give you, therefore, and I hope you will take it to heart:
Disclose your goddamn beefs.
They will never be so big, that we can’t forgive them far more easily, than the weird-ass things you senselessly swear to when you’re trying to cover them up.
And it’ll make the conversation more interesting to future generations!
SO WHY NOT DO IT