Maus house

Maus house

: I picked up Art Spiegelman’s In the Shadow of No Towers yesterday, its first day out as a book.

The packaging is as pretentious as the politics. These were cartoons that ran in Old European publications where Spiegelman says “my political views hardly seemed extreme.” But there are only a few of them — 10 to be exact — so they are printed onto hard, thick, oversized cardboard stock to beef this up and make it feel $20 worth of heavy, and even then only after the end of the book is padded with vintage cartoons from another age. It’s not a book. It’s newsprint acting uppity.

I have no doubt of Spiegelman’s own humanity and horror from that day, as he watched the terror of 9/11 and rescued his daughter from the shadow of the attacks. But even as he complains that others — namely, Bush and Cheney — politicized the attacks, he politicizes them himself, more bluntly than I am accustomed to seeing.

In those first few days after 9/11 I got lost constructing conspiracy theories about my government’s complicity in what had happened that would have done a Frenchman proud…. Only when I heard paranoid Arab Americans blaming it all on the Jews did I reel myself back in, deciding it wasn’t essential to know precisely how much my ‘leaders’ knew about the hijackings in advance — it was sufficient that they immediately instrumentalized the attack for their own agenda…..

When the government began to move into full dystopian Big Brother mode and hurtle America into a colonialist adventure in Iraq — while doing very little to make American genuinely safer beyond confiscating nail clippers at airports — all the rate I’d surpressed after the 2000 election, all the paranoia I’d barely managed to squelch immediately after 9/11, returned with a vengeance….

He writes about being “equally terrorized by al-Qaeda and by my own government.”

He writes about his daughter:

I intended to do a sequence about my daughter, Nadja, being told to dress in red, white and blue on her first day at the Brooklyn high school she was transferred to while her school in Ground Zero was being used as a triage center. I forbade her to go, ranting that I hadn’t raised my daughter to become a goddamn flag…”

He complains later, asking “why did those provincial American flags have to sprout out of the embers of Ground Zero.” And he asks: “Why not a globe?” Well, perhaps it was because we were attacked because we were Americans that we chose to fly those flags in defiance. If we run into each other in the elevator of the building where we’ve both worked, I’ll make sure to wear my flag pin in my lapel, just to piss you off.

The most glib panel shows Spiegelman himself falling from one of the towers — the most sacred of all 9/11 images, to me, instrumentalized for his own agenda — as he shows a homeless bum on the street at the bottom of the panel, surrounded by garbage and these words: “But in the economic dislocation that has followed since that day, he has witnessed lots of people landing in the streets of Manhattan.” He thinks it’s cute. He thinks it’s profound. He thinks it’s bold and brave. I just think it’s tasteless and dumb.

Spiegelman, whose Maus was, indeed, wonderful, says that “after all, disaster is my muse!” Or, in this case, merely his tool.