War, Not-War, and Peace: 'Maus' by Art Spiegelman

Hosted by Oklahoma Humanities and Johnston County Library
Art Spiegelman
Art Spiegelman (Wikimedia Commons)

Too often, ‘peace’ is simply the absence of active war. Ours is a country – and culture – forged in a crucible of war and conquest. What defines much of our national character is aggression, both its light and dark sides. The five Pulitzer Prize recognized books selected for this series are: 

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, 1991 Fiction finalist 

Empire of the Summer Moon by S. C. Gwynne, 2011 General Nonfiction finalist 

Maus by Art Spiegelman, 1992 Special Citation winner 

Neon Vernacular by Yusef Komunyakaa, 1994 Poetry winner 

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, 2015 Fiction winner 

These choices reflect not only the requisite scholarship, but a deep commitment to presenting Pulitzer winners detailing both the active elements of war – seen clearly in Neon VernacularMaus, and Things – as well as the long-lived legacies of war, in those periods optimistically called ‘peace.’ The fragmented peace/non-war axis is evident in all five of the texts, which span a history beginning with the Indian Wars (Empire), move to WWII (Maus and All the Light) and the Vietnam War (Things and Neon Vernacular), and culminate in contemporary time. Given the parameters of the Pulitzer grant, perspectives are as broad as possible: characters are black, white, mixed race, Indian. Male and female, blind and sighted. German, Jewish, French, American, Comanche. Even genres have been examined to undercut the idea of the Pulitzers as awards for only certain kinds of texts: fiction, non-fiction, history, biography, poetry. The result is a prism through which war and peace are refracted in multiple colors, a vivid palette of war, not-war, and peace. 

On October 18, Robert Greenstreet, Ph.D. will present on Maus. Moving outside of the circle of combat, we examine not-war’s effect even unto the next generation. The ugly scars of war impede healing the same way thick scar tissue impedes movement. This inability to leave the trauma completely behind is perhaps most obvious here, where the father, Vladek, first refuses to discuss his experiences during the Holocaust at all, until his son is able to get him started: talking about Anja, Vladek’s wife and Art’s mother. Only with this introduction is the story of the Spiegelmans’ lives able to be shared. The impact of Anja’s suicide (PTSD, no doubt – not reserved for combat veterans) on her husband, son, and her husband’s second wife is sharply drawn. And in doing so, Art Spiegelman also provides a historical framework for World War II, something the more immediately combat-centric narrative of The Things They Carried lacks.

More in this series:

Aug. 30, 6:30 p.m.

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien                   

Presenter: Ken Hada, Ph.D.

Sept. 20, 6:30 p.m.

Empire of the Summer Moon by S. C. Gwynne

Presenter: Rex Morrell, Ph.D.

Oct. 18, 6:30 p.m.

Maus by Art Spiegelman

Presenter: Robert Greenstreet, Ph.D.

Nov. 8, 6:30 p.m.

Neon Vernacular by Yusef Komunyakka

Presenter: Bill Hagen, Ph.D.

Dec. 6, 6:30 p.m.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Presenter: Glenn Melancon, Ph.D.