Spiegelman hates Spielberg

"Schindler’s List: Myth, Movie and Memory Discussion, from the Village Voice," a roundtable discussion. The transcript was published in the Voice on March 29, 1994.

Here is a good summary of the discussion written by Jane Sussman:

Participants (as defined by the Village Voice): Wanda Bersnen, director of National Jewish Archives of Broadcasting at the Jewish Museum, Richard Goldstein, from The Village Voice, J. Hoberman, from The Village Voice, Ken Jacobs, filmmaker and professor of film at the University of Binghamton, Gertrud Kock, professor of cinema studies at Columbia University, Art Spiegelman, author of Maus, James Young, professor of English and Judaic Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and Annette Insdorf, Chair of the film division of the School of Arts at Columbia University.

The introduction to the roundtable discussion, written by J. Hoberman, is about how Schindler’s List is more than just a movie; it is a momentous work of art that can affect the world and affect change. Hoberman ends with a quote by Stephen Schiff from the New Yorker, that says, “… I don’t want to burden the movie too much, but I think it will bring peace on earth, good will to men. Enough of the right people will see it that it will actually set the course of world affairs.” This sets the scene for the roundtable discussion.

Young: fearful of the accessible thing (Schindler’s List or the Holocaust Museum) becoming the last word on the subject because they are the most predominant. Spielberg’s hero is only good because he is hungry for power, similarly to Spielberg who seems to be hungry to make the great Holocaust film. Jews are often memorialized as children because children are the perfect, blameless victim.

Insdorf: Accessible art spurs and inspires the making of more art on the subject. Schindler’s List must be seen in at least two contexts: the political (she uses the example of a study that had come out right before Schindler’s List was made about how a large percentage of Americans did not believe that the extermination of the Jews ever took place), and the context of Spielberg himself (ie: that it was not Jurassic Park set in Germany). Even though she defends Schindler’s List, Insdorf admits that it is “simplistic” and “emotionally manipulative,” for instance, in the scene where corpses are burned with a soundtrack of schmaltzy music and choral voices. Insdorf believes that it is a strength of the movie that Schindler’s motives are never questioned, and are instead left up to interpretation. Insdorf recounts how his mother, a Holocaust survivor, was grateful that such a popular filmmaker had made this movie.

Jacobs: Nothing can depict the horrors of the Holocaust accurately, and Schindler’s List will become a historical document, much the way we see Gone With the Wind. Spielberg is creating a movie in comprehensible terms and clich├ęs so that it is in the language of the viewers. He is being attacked because he has worked within the system to create something of the system, and then when it smacks of the system it is repugnant. The scene toward the beginning where the Jews desecrate the Church seems to logically justify all that happens after that. Schindler is a romantic, attractive character, and the “Jews function as a background and pawns of this dramatic contest” between the good and evil in the world. Spielberg does not show the true horrors of the Holocaust (like the SS men throwing babies out of windows and shooting them), even in allusion “without attempting to represent.” Jacobs believed that it was a violation to be made to see through Schindler’s eyes, he did not want to be “put through emotional paces in that way.” Jacobs thought that the saving grace of the movie was when the real survivors are shown, and that Spielberg should have had more instances of actual humanity in his film, instead of the figure or idea of a Jew, and that this does a huge disservice.

Hoberman: There is a real horror if Schindler’s List becomes the final word on the Holocaust. “Right from the moment Adorno made his all-purpose pronouncement that poetry was impossible after Auschwitz, there has been a problem with representation.” Schindler’s List is pleasing because it circumvents the problem of representation. Spielberg fails to show the connections Schindler had with the Jewish underground movement and Zionist agents, which minimizes the connection he had “with other forces, including Jewish forces, that were in play during the war.”

Bershen: “This critics’ chorus” will make it impossible for moviegoers to make a decision for themselves about whether the movie can stand alone as simply one representation or if it will becomes the final word on the Holocaust. The scene where the young Jewish boy first exposes then saves a Jewish woman is an example of how Spielberg makes it seem as if certain people had control over and could conquer certain events.

Koch: Spielberg wants to have the last word, the most reverberant word on the Holocaust. The rhetoric of the film is that it is the authoritarian voice on the Holocaust; “by using all the quotations from European films, it posits itself at the end of film history.” “This is a problem in the film: he gives us the idea that if you had been smart enough, you could have survived.” Koch brings up an article written in Germany about how Schindler’s List “finally shows that all this bullshit the intellectuals tell about aesthetics after the Holocaust is just not true because one can narrate it. What Spielberg has shown the world is there is nothing that can’t be narrated.” He thinks it is very convenient for German audiences to see this film with a beginning, and ending and “the whole epoch and its horrors” squeezed in the middle.

Goldstein: Creating reality-based art is authoritarian by definition, it is one person’s or one group’s interpretation of an event. The forms are almost always more accessible than the event, which inevitably distorts the event. Many teenagers are forced to watch Schindler’s List and some have an anti-Semitic reaction because the horror in the film is too close so they turn it around on the Jews. Spielberg makes us feel like we are watching a fairy tale, where the Christian savior is Superman to the Jewish Clark Kent. She thinks that this childlike feeling is also the feeling of being a Jew, and compares it to her relationship with a Christian whom she views as her personal Schindler. Even though Goldstein did not believe Schindler’s List was a great movie, she was touched and moved to anger in a way she wasn’t before, mainly because the movie was not realism, and made her experience her own dreams of the Holocaust.

Spiegelman: America confuses film with reality. “After all, Spielberg’s value system was formed by a world that originally brought us Auschwitz. The true moment for weighing the implications and consequences of the genocide was 1945. If the world didn’t slow down then, why should we expect it to be capable of sorting things out after 50 blurring years have past?” In response to Goldstein saying that the Jews in Schindler’s list were the Jews of Europe and not of America, Spiegelman responds that he did not see any Jews in the film at all and that the film is full of stereotypes; “the juiceless Jewish accountant, the Jewish seductress, and, most egregiously, the Jews bargaining and doing business inside a church.” The film is not about Jews, but about the “righteous gentile in a world of Jewish bit players and extras. The Jews function as an occasion for Christian redemption.” Spiegelman also discloses that he has a “Spielberg problem”; Spielberg produced a cartoon about Jewish mice that he saw as a “horrible appropriation” of Maus. In response to Young’s point about children being perfect, blameless victims, Spiegelman says that that is why he had to portray his father in all his imperfections, “enmired in reality, not reducible to being an innocent. Survival musn’t be seen in terms of divine retribution or martyrology.” Spiegelman believes that Spielberg has an odd way of deciding where to draw the line in terms of what to show. Spiegelman goes on to say that Spielberg has never had to worry about “re-creation for the sake of an audience’s recreation,” which implies that that is something Spiegelman certainly worries about. In response to Goldstein’s idea of the movie as a dream, Spiegelman says, “The main dream image the movie evokes for me is an image of 6 million emaciated Oscar award statuettes hovering like angels in the sky, all wearing striped uniforms.” At one point, some of the panelists are discussing how survivors overwhelming liked the film, and Spielgelman says in response that survivors are not critics and are sometimes just so happy that someone is interested in their story and bears the burden of telling it, lifting it from them. Spiegelman thinks that the act of representing the Jews in molds instead of as humans turns the movie’s message one of capitalism: “Capitalism With a Human Face… the Businessman as hero. Capitalism can give us a health care program, and it can give us a Schindler.” Spiegelman continues to give quick witticisms, and says, “We’ve had 15 years to streamline our narratives,” in response to the comments about the movie being too easily digestible. Spiegelman concludes the discussion with another pithy yet incredibly resonant analogy, “In the Passover Haggadah we’re told of four sons, one wise, one wicked, one too young to ask why the Jewish exodus from Egypt is celebrated, and one too simple to ask. The Haggadah says the stupid son is to be told the short simple version of the story so that he can at least grasp something of what happened. Clearly Spielberg has the simple-son market sewn up.”


now the time has come

no more families

"You don't understand...at that time it wasn't anymore families." For more, see this.


snack schedule

Here is the Fellows seminar's snack schedule:

January 28 - Yumeko
February 4 - Michael Tom
February 11- Steve McLaughlin
February 18 (Spiegelman visit) - Mara, Mingo, Jessica
February 25 - Lauren
March 3 - Danny
March 17 - Jane
March 24 (Schwartz visit) - Ellie, Whitney
March 31 - Blair
April 7 - Alex
April 14 - Thomson
April 21 - Simone
April 28 (Rothenberg visit) - Matt, Cat

If you didn't get a snack date, no worry. We'll have you help with something else along the way, or we'll ask you to fill in if someone can't do the date he/she originally signed up for.


love as a language problem

In an email-only discussion with alumni about Schwartz's book The Writing on the Wall, one of the participants, Ann Hostetler, wrote about the connection between love and language. In the novel, Renata's love for her twin sister Claudia is intense. They create a secret language which builds what many twins apparently like to build - a wall of exclusive us-only meaning between themselves and everyone else. For Renata this is the essence of love. When she loses Claudia she loses the chance to develop naturally from exclusive to inclusive language. Here is what Ann wrote about this ("Alberto" is another member of the discussion group):

"I’m still intrigued with Alberto’s mention of love as Renata’s problem. Now that Al has amplified the language dimension of the book, I’m beginning to think about love as a language problem and wondering whether love can be expressed in terms of the relationship between content and form . . .

"Certainly Renata’s love for her twin sister was expressed in an exclusive language, and her sister’s rejection--or bid for independence—took the form of a refusal to use the language. From that point on, Renata becomes intrigued with languages she can’t speak to anyone else, so her love of words seems almost autistic. When she enters into what seems like her first long-term relationship with a man, just before the fall of the towers, she fears the point when he will want her to tell him her story—she fears a language that will open the channels of communication."

And here is what I wrote about Ann's comment:

What Ann wrote here (below) is just beautiful and I hope those of us who read all the messages quickly yesterday (who can blame you for that?!) will re-read this one. I've put boldface on phrases that I think are particularly helpful to us. True deep love does feel (in the Romeo & Juliet sense) like a total exclusive world in which it's necessary to keep everyone out and not "share" it with others. It becomes (in its most intense romantic phase) linguistically exclusive as well as exclusive in other ways. Not sharing language (which after all is meant to mean something, to communicate socially) is Renata's impulse in her intense love for her sister. She suffers the loss of her sister several times - first when the secret language is broken and the exclusivity is shattered; again when her twin experiences sex (incest); again of course when Claudia dies. Loss, loss, loss. Then 9/11...and POW: loss becomes social/communal. But loss for her had been associated with love's asocial quality. This is just one reason why she reacts with such intense hatred to the national rhetoric (Bush on TV, etc.) right after the event.


Eightball sends up Spiegelman

Below are links to a send-up of Art Spiegelman from Daniel Clowes's
Eightball magazine. The rest of this Pussey series is here:


According to Steve McLaughlin, who made all this available to us, it's a comic about comics/x.

Here are the Eightball panels:

[] first page of panels: LINK
[] second page: LINK
[] third page: LINK
[] fourth page: LINK


special projects


1. Look at every New Yorker cover drawn by Spiegelman and prepare a report for us that is both a summary and analysis of these. If you can include images of some of the more important covers in your report (either by inserting the actual images or by providing links to images on the web), please do. (DUE 2/04) Simone
2. Prepare a brief history of the graphic novel and describe (and assess) Spiegelman’s influence on the genre. Notice that another project entails working with Raw specifically, so don't spend too much space or time on that, but refer to Raw if you feel you must. (DUE 2/11) Lily
3. Prepare a brief history of Raw and be sure to describe Spiegelman's role in its formation and publication, and be sure also to include summaries of the careers of Chris Ware, Kaz, Gary Panter, and others. How does Maus follow or flow from the work of Raw (to the extent that it does)? (DUE 2/11) Michael Tom
4. Read the transcript (published in the Village Voice) of the symposium about Spielberg's film, Schindler's List, and create a detailed summary of the various panelists' response to it, including especially Spiegelman's. Be sure to give us a complete summary and analysis of Spiegelman on Spielberg. To prepare for this project, you will need to watch or re-watch Schindler's List. (DUE 1/28) Jane
5. Consider the whole range of written/narrative responses to the Holocaust, and attempt to describe how Maus fits (and/or does not fit). What are the ways in which Maus is very much a part of the literature of/about the Holocaust? What are common issues, problems, approaches, and means of dealing with the problem of representation? (DUE 1/28) Lauren
6. Read Little Lit and other children’s stories (e.g. Open Me, I’m a Dog) and write a report that summarizes this genre of his work, keeping in mind that most of the rest of us will never have read this material. Introduce us to it. Summarize, describe and assess. (Is this similar to other writing for children?) How does reading this kind of work by Spiegelman broaden/enhance/change your overall perception of him after having read his work geared toward adult audiences? (DUE 2/4) Jessica
7. Read Art Spiegelman: Conversations in the Conversations With Comic Artists series, edited by Joseph Witek, and report to us on these interviews and discussions. How does what AS says here shed light on the works and topics we're facing in our discussions of him. Write in such a way that will help those of us who will not be reading this book understand its contents. Here's a link to the book. (DUE 2/4) Andy
8. Read Lynne Sharon Schwartz's novel Referred Pain and write a summary and analysis of the book of the sort that will help those of us who will not have a chance to read it but will want to know how it relates to the works we are reading. (DUE 2/25) Mingo
9. Read Lynne Sharon Schwartz's novel In the Family Way and write a summary and analysis of the book of the sort that will help those of us who will not have a chance to read it but will want to know how it relates to the works we are reading. (DUE 2/25) Ellie
10. Read Lynne Sharon Schwartz's novel Balancing Acts and write a summary and analysis of the book of the sort that will help those of us who will not have a chance to read it but will want to know how it relates to the works we are reading. (DUE 3/3) Whitney
11. Read Lynne Sharon Schwartz's novel The Fatigue Artist and write a summary and analysis of the book of the sort that will help those of us who will not have a chance to read it but will want to know how it relates to the works we are reading. (DUE 3/3) Thomson
12. Read Schwartz's translation of Smoke Over Birkenau, by Liana Millu, a memoir of a survivor of Birkenau. Then read the essay about the making of this translation in Face to Face. Write a report that presents Millu's memoir in such a way that those of us who will not read it can make sense of it, especially in the context of Schwartz's struggles with the translation. And answer this: given what you know from reading Schwartz's own work, why do you think this particular Holocaust memoir was the one for her to translate? (DUE 3/17) Danny
13. Arrange to spend at least an hour talking with Max Apple about Lynne Sharon Schwartz. Interview him and find out as much as you can about his friendship with Schwartz, his views on her writing, etc. What kind of person is Schwartz? Does she teach writing? What can you find out from Max about her method of writing? How does she deal with readers who offer interpretations of her work? (DUE 3/3) Sam
14. This project is for two people who have at least a little experience making audio recordings and editing digital audio. Get lots of audio of the Fellows project this semester - classes, informal discussions, the Fellows' visits, etc. - and present to us at the end of the semester: (a) a single edited audio memoir of the course; (b) lots of individual mp3 audio files of discussion, interviews with participants, etc. (Jamie-Lee will help you with the details of this project.) (DUE 4/21) Cat and Steve
15. Look deeply (as it were) into Jerome Rothenberg's brief but perhaps important involvement with the "Deep Image" movement in poetics in the early 1960s. Write a report that summarizes what Deep Image was or is, and who was involved, and how Rothenberg entered and that departed that scene. Was there any connection between that experience and his later involvements in poetic movements? (DUE 4/7) Jen
16. This is a big and important one. What is "ethnopoetics" and what has been Rothenberg's involvement with and championing of it? Read through Technicians of the Sacred (an anthology) and Seneca Journal (a book of his poems deeply affected by his ethnopoetics). Read through the critical book In Search of the Primitive. In your report, describe these books; summarize what ethnopoetics was and is, what Rothenberg's involvement with it has meant to him and others; outline the politics and political ethics of this movement. And at some point answer this question too: Do Rothenberg's "Jewish" poems participate in ethnopoetics? Is a book like Poland 1931 part of the ethnopoetics aesthetic? (DUE 3/31) Yumeko
17. Conduct an extensive (lots of back and forth) interview by email with Jerry Rothenberg himself. Have at least one phone talk with him (if he will permit it) and lots of email. Write a report that describes these topics and any others that seem relevant: (1) his involvements at the University of California at San Diego, where he was a formative figure at a new university; where he was involved with struggles of various kinds in the 1960s; where he was involved more with a visual arts program than with a literature program; where he taught courses (which ones? what was his pedagogy?); where he worked closely with David Antin; (2) his teaching in general (what is his pedagogy?), mentioned already above; (3) his political radicalism in all its forms, directly political but also in the world of art and poetics; and (4) his support of young poets, which is legendary. Al and Jamie-Lee will help you get in touch with JR. (DUE 4/21) Mara
18. Interview Bob Perelman, Charles Bernstein, Rachel Blau DuPlessis, and Marjorie Perloff at least by email, if not by phone and in-person meetings. Find out from each what Jerome Rothenberg's personage and poetry mean to them. What is his reputation? What is their sense of his place and/or importance? What do they feel we should learn from studying and meeting JR? (DUE 4/14) Blair
19. This report fully examines Jerome Rothenberg's understanding of - his preferred version of - modernism. It is not quite the typical main narrative of modernism - akin to it, but also different. It's more international, for one. It's more political, for another. It focuses much more than the usual story of modernism on alternative book art, on alternative typography, on sound (the sound of the poet's voice, chanting, ritual, etc.), on concrete innovation, on the revolution of the word. Read through Revolution of the Word and the two-volume Poems of the Millennium and try to get a sense of JR's modernist canon (and compare it, as you can, to the more typical modernist canon). Also look at JR's own book of poems, Gematria as a good instance of the revolution of the word in his hands. Write a summary of all this for us. (Note: The student who writes this report will be exempt from reading New Selected Poems.) (DUE 4/14) Matt
20. This report focuses on Jerome Rothenberg's interest in the book as a physical object, on book art, on the poetics of the book as a part of the poem, etc. Read around widely in this area (e.g. Johanna Drucker) but be sure to focus on JR's own Book of the Book and The Book, spiritual instrument. (DUE 3/31) Alex