‘Why mice?’ is a chapter from MetaMaus by Art Spiegelman, a follow up to his graphic novel Maus.
(click here for excerpts).
It is interesting to mention that Maus and MetaMaus have been classified as both fiction and non-fiction, memoir, history, biography, autobiography and a comic book.
Art Spiegelman called himself Art Spiegelmaus.
More about that later.
Then, there is a mouse with existential issues – a Dostoyevsky character from Notes from the Underground :
‘with all his exaggerated consciousness he genuinely thinks of himself as a mouse and not a man. It may be an acutely conscious mouse, yet it is a mouse, while the other is a man, and therefore, et caetera, et caetera. And the worst of it is, he himself, his very own self, looks on himself as a mouse; no one asks him to do so; and that is an important point. Now let us look at this mouse in action. Let us suppose, for instance, that it feels insulted, too (and it almost always does feel insulted), and wants to revenge itself, too. <_> Apart from the one fundamental nastiness the luckless mouse succeeds in creating around it so many other nastinesses in the form of doubts and questions, adds to the one question so many unsettled questions that there inevitably works up around it a sort of fatal brew, a stinking mess, made up of its doubts, emotions, and of the contempt spat upon it by the direct men of action who stand solemnly about it as judges and arbitrators, laughing at it till their healthy sides ache. Of course the only thing left for it is to dismiss all that with a wave of its paw, and, with a smile of assumed contempt in which it does not even itself believe, creep ignominiously into its mouse-hole. There in its nasty, stinking, underground home our insulted, crushed and ridiculed mouse promptly becomes absorbed in cold, malignant and, above all, everlasting spite. <_> Maybe it will begin to revenge itself, too, but, as it were, piecemeal, in trivial ways, from behind the stove, incognito, without believing either in its own right to vengeance, or in the success of its revenge, knowing that from all its efforts at revenge it will suffer a hundred times more than he on whom it revenges itself…’
Inferiority complex seems to be a national Russian trait.
Gogol introduced the Little Man as a (Russian) literary hero. ‘We all came out from under Gogol’s Overcoat’ is a quote attributed to Dostoyevsky.
My mouse is not insignificant but discreet, unassuming but firmly going about it’s business. A certain anonymity and littleness can give a freedom of movement, or is that a leftover from my Soviet mentality?
My parents are garden gnomes in our summer house. My inner rodent likes mushroom hunts and has mouse parties with nuts and sunflower seeds. When I print photos I am a mole. The owls from the cemetery next to our summer house believe that my dachshund is a rat. My father was nicknamed ‘hedgehog’ for his prickly character. We have a hedgehog collection.
A hedgehog is a mouse with an overcoat.
Since I came to the Netherlands I grew taller, 5 cm at least – let’s call it integration.
I always wanted to have a pet and my parents got me a dog – a Dachshund with a hare lip. It was called Zayats (that means ‘hare’). The dog is very sweet, but that is absolutely no use to me – it chose to ignore me from the very beginning and is devoted to my father with all it’s body and soul (see now, who is the head of the house!). They have the same characters, the same way of walking and they always show how much they love each other.
Then I owned a parrot, which was far too stupid to communicate with. It was an idiot from birth – it spent it’s time staring in the mirror and being moody, so I gave it away to the neighbours who like to take care of sick ones.
My next choice was for a turtle – a reasonable pet, slow and portable. Anyhow, the dream-turtle never became a reality, instead I found myself in possession of a three-weeks-old grey rat that looked just like an ordinary mouse so Mouse it was called.
My parents started to take care of it from the first minute. They said that such a baby needs a lot of space, attention and fun, and installed it on a kitchen table, where it could always find food and company. Mouse was to sleep in a sugar-bowl – such freedom I was never allowed when I was small. They tried to teach it tricks like appearing out of the bread-basket when we had guests. They took it out to the summer-house to get fresh air and vegetables.
My father believes that everybody should be friends, so he did his best to befriend Mouse with Zayats: he took them out for walks – Mouse riding on the dog’s back trying hard not to fall off.
Then the tragedy came – Zayats’ instincts woke up – he bit the rat when it happened to stroll under it’s nose: Mouse was so small and tender that a slight bite turned out to be fatal. Very sad. Another example of unsuccessful friendship.
My father was so upset, that he blamed me for my incapacity to take care of anybody, myself included.
What kind of animal I am? – a rodent.