Malraux, (Georges-)André (Vol. 4)
Malraux, (Georges-)André 1901–
A French novelist and a critic and philosopher of art, Malraux has unceasingly pursued the possibility of the individual's transcendence of his mortal fate, his triumph over silence and death, and his subsequent ennoblement. He sees Art as man's dynamic search for absolutes. His fiercely intelligent novels of ideas are considered among the world's most important contemporary work. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 21-22.)
Malraux's techniques depart radically from those common in France. His themes are universal: human suffering, human solitude, humiliation and human dignity, the constant imminence and irrevocability of death, the inanity of life. His heroes are rarely French: Perken, Kyo, Kassner, Garine, Manuel, and Vincent Berger are either people of indefinite origins, or of mixed blood, or foreigners. And the values Malraux deals in are perhaps less remote from us than from the French. Action and violence are not radical departures for us, at least in literature. (p. viii)
Malraux is a writer whose ideas are as important as his emotions. His novels are a product of both intellect and sensibility and, even more, of a need to establish an equilibrium between intellect and sensibility with respect to … "the political problem." For the central, crucial experience of Americans and Europeans alike has been the familiar political choice between passivity and revolution, and Malraux's name is high on the list of writers who moved away from democratic capitalism in the 'twenties and 'thirties, only to move back again…. His novels had their first and greatest success as the work of the most distinguished of French fellow travelers. They are nourished by the imperious need he felt to clarify his experience by transposing it into art; their special excellence lies in his ability to feel the relations between politics and the characteristic ideas, preoccupations, apprehensions, and anxieties that torture our time. (pp. viii-ix)
Critics like those of the British Scrutiny group deny that Malraux's six fictions may properly be called novels at all. In one sense they are right. Certainly these hurried stories, often overpopulated, always embarrassed by the size of what they try to contain—hard, brilliant, nervous, and closely related to drama as they are—are the antithesis of the kind of narrative which is defined by the unhurried thoroughness of its method. They are not patient, massive, rich; they seem to be deficient in Ortega's "thick texture of life." Malraux's fictions do not "create a world" of their own so much as they illuminate the hidden nature of a world which already exists. They mean to "reveal reality," as Lionel Trilling thinks a novel should, but to reveal it in flashes, with great demands upon the visual imagination of the reader as well as upon his comprehension, and probably not at all in the way that Mr. Trilling has in mind. Yet such strictures merely make it clearer than ever that what Malraux tries to do with fiction requires a special form—one, precisely, which will permit establishing a balance between sensibility and intellect.
Malraux rather luxuriates in the epithet "intellectual" and clearly delights in ideas. But "intellectual" does not have to mean "philosopher." We grant the title of intellectual to a man if "ideas mean a lot" to him, if what he does betrays his preoccupation with them. His ability to align them in the form of rational discourse is not what makes him an intellectual.
Only by such a definition can Malraux be counted among the intellectuals. His ideas are deeply felt but not, properly speaking, thought. Rarely has he chosen—or perhaps been able—to develop them discursively. When he tries to do so, as in the books on art, his prose does indeed have unity, but not because it develops a rectilinear argument. It owes such unity as it has to the fact that every paragraph is related, if not always to the paragraphs adjacent, to the eternal, unchanging preoccupations of his mind. The style is oracular; ideas are juxtaposed to other ideas with scant attention to those little matters of conjunction and subordination which make such a difference to the reader. The parts of The Psychology of Art, for example, were so far out of rational order that the new version, Les Voix du silence, is an improvement less because of its added materials than because of its superior clarity and coherence. So long as The Psychology of Art succeeds as well as it seems to be succeeding now in making readers aware of the significance of styles in art and of the relations of various arts to each other, the weakness in its structure is not fatal. It is merely a detriment, and hardly important to us here. What is important is that when we look back to this "intellectual's" novels after reading the art books, we see that the novels are incoherent in just the same way.
The logic of the stories—of situation and circumstance and inevitable outcome—invariably leads in one direction, to one conclusion, and the conclusion is invariably unpalatable. La Tentation de l'occident (which happens not to be a novel but which contains an implicit story) demonstrates the inanity of Occidental life; The Conquerors demonstrates the absurdity of all life, East or West; The Royal Way presents the final ignominy of death; Man's Fate illustrates our inability to rise above the human predicament and our inability this side of death to achieve a fitting dignity. And so on, with the exception of Days of Wrath, through the whole Malraux canon. Malraux does not reject these conclusions—how could he?—but he turns their logic, juxtaposing to them some picture, figure, image, or poetic symbol which affirms, oracularly, the opposite of what the rational discourse affirms. Thus in Man's Fate the manner of Katow's death makes the reader forget how thoroughly both he and Katow are subject to human bondage. The technique here is the technique of the art books: it consists of omitting links—of not setting down, for example, a reason why Katow's behavior as he goes out to be burned in the locomotive is at all relevant to what we have seen, for several hundred pages, to be man's fate. But in the art books we call this incoherence a defect and in the novels we call it an artistic technique. His craft is a craft of ellipsis. (pp. ix-x)
Malraux's … characters … are motivated by inner, obsessive drives, and what most frequently obsesses them is an idea. A given character acts as he is forced to by his attitude toward death, sex, human dignity, power, liberty, or something similar. He appears at once as an individual and as the incarnation of his special drive. Thus he becomes easy to label: Garine is The-Man-Haunted-by-the-Absurd, Hong is the Terrorist, Gisors is the Paralyzed Intellectual. Such labels reek of allegory, and it is a tradition of Western literature that allegory should teach a lesson.
But looking in Malraux's novels for clear lessons is as fruit-less as asking them to be conventional novels, and extracting theses from them is like extracting theses from Shakespeare. The mere fact that he returns to worry the same old ideas, twisting and turning them over and over, should be a warning. As a matter of record, he is a man of a very few seminal ideas, though [a] few are important [and to] them he comes back like the dog in the Bible: Les Noyers de l'Altenburg and The Psychology of Art take up again themes already present in 1925 in La Tentation de l'occident. In view of the technique of ellipsis which is natural to him, we have to accept the fact that the novels are extremely slippery documents on what, at the time of writing, Malraux thought.
They are excellent documents on how he felt—which is to say that his work should be treated primarily as the work of a poet. It is dramatic poetry by an intellectual, for whom ideas become themes. (pp. xi-xii)
The poetry of the novels … rises out of the tension created by Malraux's craft of ellipsis. The logic of events in his novels is opposed by the magnificent picture of the human individual, placed in extremis by the events, which he juxtaposes to the logic. For this juxtaposition to be plausible, obviously, the character involved has to be of a certain size. (p. xii)
Politics is only one of the contexts in which man's nature stands out with great clarity. Malraux makes anthropology another….
[No] serious treatment of Malraux's work can avoid anthropology, because Les Noyers de l'Altenburg not only identifies its hero with a mythic type dear to cultural anthropologists, but also contains a specific invitation to the reader to look back and find the fundamental mythic experience recurring in Malraux's previous books. With this much to guide a rereading, at least three of the earlier novels turn out to have characters in them who have undergone the same experience. And when, after the novels, we re-examine the legend of Malraux's life of action, it becomes clear that the hero of the legend has had the experience also. (p. xiii)
Critics have always been tempted to read The Conquerors and Man's Fate as though these novels were eyewitness accounts of the events they describe. They know that there is much autobiography in The Royal Way, Man's Hope, and Les Noyers. They assume that there must be autobiography in the other novels (except Days of Wrath) as well. They speak of Malraux as "le témoin capital" and allow the words to imply that the witness was always physically present. The transition from such assumptions to the belief that all of Malraux's books involve an element of journalism is easy.
Now "eyewitness" (or "journalist") is not necessarily a term of disparagement. But to treat as a kind of reporting these novels which are actually built not of historical but of imagined action is to fail to recognize the nature, if not the quality, of Malraux's achievement. If we know that the ferocious violence of The Conquerors and Man's Fate is in these books because Malraux's fictional world needs to be violent to be complete, and not just because he saw torture, suffering, and death while he was in the Orient, we know something decisively important about his peculiar originality as an artist. (pp. 9-10)
His first novels are dark with the apprehension of death and sad with the vanity of life, and haunted by the inevitable, tragic defeat of man's attempts to impart real meaning to what he does. They contain hardly a hint that in some way life may acquire meaning through the fraternity of revolutionary action and sacrifice. This suggestion will come in 1933, in Man's Fate. (p. 34)
Malraux has never written a book in which violence has not been an element of man's fate. His novels need it so that whatever acts the hero is forced to perform will have the necessary quality of decisiveness: what he does must be irremediable. For most of his protagonists a life of violence is the only satisfactory one. Violence provides them a field where action is possible despite their feeling of rupture and separation from their fellows. (p. 56)
These acts of violence are closely associated with the technique of ellipsis which is a permanent aspect of Malraux's writing. They form a part of the corrective picture in which he juxtaposes to the evidence of man's weakness the poetic proof of his tragic stature. (p. 57)
One may well agree with Marcel Savane's judgment [in his André Malraux], that Man's Hope will endure into the twenty-first century as one of the best revelations to later readers of what it meant to live in the twentieth. But if so, it will survive more by its value as a document than as a piece of literature, and by its appeal to the comprehending intellect rather than to the emotions. Its confusions, its loose ends, its diffuseness, may even increase its documentary interest. In its consciousness of what the fighting was about, Man's Hope towers above the book that is inevitably compared with it, For Whom the Bell Tolls. But Hemingway's book has the tight unity, the coherence, the constant emotional tension, and the finish, that Malraux's does not. The difference is that Hemingway intended a novel while Malraux intended a novel and something more. The books are thus not entirely commensurable. If Malraux's book outlasts Hemingway's, all that will be proved is that novels are not necessarily the most durable of books. (p. 125)
W. M. Frohock, in his André Malraux and the Tragic Imagination (reprinted with the permission of the publishers, Stanford University Press; copyright 1952 by the Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University), Stanford University Press, 1952.
As a twentieth-century thinker, [Malraux] has illuminated his way through his investigations with his own intense, blazing light; his aim from youth has been to apply a half-dozen key ideas he selected at the start to the decoding of civilization and what he calls its great myths, meaning all its dominant invisibles, such as religions, systems of ethics and political faiths, and to make his report on man—on his singularity, his scope, the condition and the meaning of his life, and his tragedy (happiness has not been one of his studies)—using himself as creator, artist, fighter, witness, critic and microcosm. For the French, his genius lies in his rare intelligence, in his quintessentially French gift for complex ideas, in his capacity for formulation, for creative, unconventional deduction, and in the subtle perceptiveness of his thinking, often more lucid than logical. They feel that, unlike those of most creative thinkers, his intelligence and his emotions are equal—and both present in almost superfluous quantities. He has arrived at his eclectic erudition by a private way, choosing and studying, as he has proceeded through life, only what has fascinated him. His mind, now richly overloaded, seems to be divided into compartments, in each of which he functions separately. His novels are built on a world scale, achieved in part by the omission of women, since his male characters, depicted in fatal international, martial or political crises, are elevated above the domestic, the daily and the ordinary, and thus above the interferences of love.
Janet Flanner, in her Men and Monuments (copyright © 1947, 1951, 1954, 1956, 1957 by Janet Flanner; reprinted by permission of Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc.), Harper, 1957, pp. 56-7.
Twentieth-century Western man, according to Malraux, is deprived of God, and many values once worth fighting for, were there a God, have now also disappeared. (p. 7)
If Malraux were to be classified in any known category in regard to his religious position, he should be called what he says he is, an agnostic, but (something he does not say) bred of postulatory atheism. This atheism … is the only position compatible with his belief in the autonomy of man. (p. 11)
Christianity is, for Malraux, the first religious rupture with the absolute…. The result is that Western man is delivered into the individualism that finally played him false.
It would seem, then, that the Incarnation, for Malraux, finally ended in the triumph of man over God. To teach a man his worth as a man, because God thought him worth the price of His own Son, encouraged man's pretensions; and in man's gradual awakening God recedes into the world of dreams. (p. 20)
With the demise of the absolute, enter le destin, l'absurde, and l'angoisse. Le destin is Malraux's word for all that we cannot escape and crave to escape: it is fatality, necessity, all the forces of deriding determinism. (p. 23)
The impact of destiny for Malraux is coincident with the resurgence of the irrational as a force in life. (p. 24)
What has brought on this fascination with the irrational? Precisely the crumbling of any mental structures able to make sense out of life. (p. 29)
The condition humaine is a word, a cry, with no recourse to philosophical arabesques: man cannot live according to his hopes. (p. 33)
[As Kurt F. Reinhardt wrote in The Existentialist Revolt, "if] the object of anguish could be … determined, man might be able to rise in defense, ward off the danger and regain his security." It is more the sense of the nothingness of things in our regard, the deception in formulas, that brings on the anguish; and in it all is what one might term the modern mystery of negation. (p. 34)
When all the poetry is stripped away and all the modern descriptions of destin are reduced to their quintessential element, there emerges the oldest and most recurrent of human themes: that the immortal will ever be stranger amid the mortal, that the finite cannot ever be filled except (paradoxically) with the infinite, that unhappiness is precisely not having what we are made for, and that happiness, even now, is only partially attainable, and that precisely in being sure that we are on the way to what we are made for. It could be that Malraux and other moderns say this better than it has ever been said, but one is annoyed with the suspicion that they frequently prefer the saying of it all to the solving of it. (p. 36)
Except in Le temps du mépris Malruax has never presented a straightforward theme; he would seem unable even to leave unsaid the things that contradict his chief lines of thought. A man of deep human sympathy first, he seems to find enough justification in the pattern of tragedy to publish books that are emotionally disturbing and intellectually unclear. He repudiates the great intellectual who is interested in absolute truth and the complexity of things. "He is … anti-Manichean by definition, by nature." Malraux is not an intellectual of that stripe; addicted to a message of action, he thinks that "all forms of action are Manichean … every true revolutionary is a born Manichean" [L'espoir, p. 279]. It is as though Malraux, long passionately believing in man, knows only too well that that belief will always be a bittersweet thing: an absolute humanism must necessarily be pregnant with tragedy. (p. 88)
Malraux has long abandoned violence and individualism; and as his thought has developed, it has passed from the nobility of the individual to the fullness of fraternity. Now [with Les noyers de l'Altenburg] it is going to fan out over history until it formulates an eloquent appeal to belief in mankind. (p. 99)
Malraux's thought, from Les noyers de l'Altenburg on, becomes more and more difficult to unravel because he continues to talk to his reader in the same concrete, poetic terms that belonged quite naturally in the novels, but which, when he becomes "doctrinal," render the thought that much more impenetrable at first reading. Were he, of course, to become philosopher-sans-poetry in his direct discourse, he would lose much of his force; but the reader sometimes pines for some straight, prolonged explanations instead of flashes of intuitions in fiery language. (p. 106)
Malraux, among moderns one of the most sensitive to the discoveries of archeology, ethnology, and history, has, surprisingly, seen in the intrusion of historical consciousness into modern man another, and the latest, destiny. It is essential that we understand which concept of history he considers a new imposition of fatality on the modern mind…. [History] is either a progress, or it is a meaningless series of accidents, the only constant being that there are always civilizations.
Malraux is convinced that the "progress" idea has no play today. It is the meaninglessness of history which now weighs on us. With the death of the absolute and the rejection of any Christian meaning to history, we have plunged back into time, and come up with the poignant discovery that civilizations are unrelated, that they play their appointed time and lapse into nothing. We are now obsessed, not with man's permanence, but with his dissimilarity [dissemblance]. (pp. 119-20)
For Malraux man is always an accident of the universe, and there are always the age-old questions of death, old age, and all the forms of destiny, including the twentieth-century form, which is historical determinism.
It is the modern artist's fundamental acceptance, along with all thinking men of this age, of the fact of destiny that has driven him to an interest in what seems "fundamental" art (that of the insane, of children, of "popular" art) and in "savage" art. The modern artist, engaged in a conflict between the supreme value that he sees in art alone and what to his eyes are pseudovalues, usurpers, thinks he finds a kindred soul in the artist of the night, of the stars and of blood. The world of destiny is a cold, hard, unavoidable fact, and the "devil" now exists again; and the honesty of the arts that accept this fact, or portray it, is a world the modern artist understands. (pp. 193-94)
Art is a chorus of the past, of other men drowning out the voice of the same destiny that crowds us. We are united with all the effort of the past, through art, to resist destiny, to make it man-sized, to give at least an ephemeral importance to life, because it is in this resistance to destiny that man is at his noblest. Thrilling to the chorus of art, we sense the possibility of "the first universal humanism" in history. (p. 200)
Malraux's enthusiasm for art is sincere. He means desperately to move us to turn to it to find a new belief in man. His sincerity will gain disciples. But culture will never be a universal religion. (p. 216)
Malraux has come far. The thirst for action, because of the value of courage in accepting the absurd, yielded early to action for estranged, humiliated mankind, which in turn engendered a faith in mankind that sent Malraux hunting mankind's great moments in art. There it is that he finds the rebuff to the "meaninglessness of history," and in the autonomy of the artist Malraux sings of a valiant anti-destin. (p. 222)
Edward Gannon, S. J., in his The Honor of Being a Man: The World of André Malraux, Loyola University Press, 1957.
Malraux is that rara avis, the genuine political novelist. Like [D. H.] Lawrence he has not confined himself, in life or in literature, merely to fiction. And his ultimate work is a critique of art whose vision surpasses, strangely, the achievement of his novels.
In La Condition Humaine, as the title comes to suggest when set against the novel, action at once illustrates and incarnates idea: motive and act, attitude and character, will and destiny, become one under the purgative extremity of a revolution….
The coherence of Malraux's idea is fictive enough to be independent of any specific communist platform. His fictional vision, while inseparable from its leading political idea, has a temper and incisiveness unattained by even such perspicuous communist parables as Aragon's Voyageurs de L'Impériale.
In L'Espoir the vision of a purpose underlying individual destinies is made too explicit. Random documentation in this novel supplants the diversified analogies of La Condition Humaine. In an earlier novel, Les Conquérants, Malraux casts his burden of social idea not so much in the plot—otherwise similar on a simpler scale to the situation of La Condition Humaine—as in the character Garine. In China, where Garine has come for just this vision of pure action, he finds politics as existential as Malraux would have them. But the vision of reality is still fictive. And Garine's notion, "beyond good and evil," is nonetheless a moral idea, the end of a soul-searching, opposed in the novel to the mindless power functionalism of Garine's antagonistic henchman, Borodine….
For Malraux, fiction is an unparalleled instrument for mirroring the elusive nature of the historical process.
Albert Cook, in his The Meaning of Fiction (reprinted by permission of the Wayne State University Press; copyright © 1960 by Wayne State University Press), Wayne State University Press, 1960, pp. 175-77.
Better than any other figure of his epoch, Malraux anticipated and crystallized the postwar Existentialist atmosphere that has become associated with the names of Sartre and Camus. Man's irremediable solitude; his absurd but unquenchable longing to triumph over time; his obligation to assume the burden of freedom by staking his life for his values; his defiance of death as an ultimate affirmation of "authentic" existence—all these Existentialist themes were given unforgettable artistic expression by Malraux long before they became fashionable intellectual catchwords or tedious artistic platitudes. Indeed, the genesis of French Existentialism as a full-fledged cultural movement probably owes more to Malraux than to Heidegger,… Jaspers, [or] Berdyaev…. For it was Malraux, through his novels, who shaped the sensibilities that then seized on doctrinal Existentialism as an ideological prop….
Up to the beginning of the Second World War, Malraux was the radiant symbol of the free liberal intellectual who had dedicated his life to the Communist Revolution and the struggle against fascism; and the focus of critical interest in his novels was their political content. But the Communists were never too happy about Malraux as an ally—and with good reason. For Malraux's heroes were never simply engaged in a battle against a particular social or economic injustice; they were always somehow struggling against the limitations of life itself and the humiliation of destiny…. [What] makes Man's Fate the greatest of all novels inspired by revolution, what gives it a poetic resonance invulnerable to changing political fashions, is precisely that Malraux was able to experience the revolution in terms of man's immemorial longing for communion in the face of death….
The whole purpose of Man's Hope is to portray the tragic dialectic between means and ends inherent in all organized political violence—and even when such violence is a necessary and legitimate self-defense of liberty, justice, and human dignity. Nowhere before in Malraux's pages have we met such impassioned defenders of a "quality of man" that transcends the realm of politics and even the realm of action altogether….
It is this larger theme of the "quality of man," a quality that transcends the ideological and flows into "the human," which now forms the pulsating heart of Malraux's artistic universe. To be sure, Malraux does not abandon the world of violence, combat, and sudden death which has become his hallmark as a creative artist, and which is the only world, apparently, in which his imagination can flame into life. The Walnut Trees of Altenburg includes not one war but two, and throws in a Turkish revolution along with some guerrilla fighting in the desert for good measure. But while war still serves as a catalyst for the values that Malraux wishes to express, these values are no longer linked with the triumph or defeat of any cause—whether that of an individual assertion of the will-to-power or a collective attempt to escape from the humiliation of oppression—as their necessary condition. On the contrary, the frenzy and furor of combat are only the somber foil against which the sudden illuminations of the human flash forth like the piercing radiance of a Caravaggio….
No writer in modern literature can compete with Malraux—at least not with the Malraux of [the] final scene [of The Walnut Trees of Altenburg]—in evoking so poignantly what Wordsworth called "the still, sad music of humanity." And this music, despite its stillness and sadness, never ceases to sound in Malraux's novel above the roar of battle and the tumultuous march of the centuries. Malraux manages to wrest an affirmation of an absolute value in man out of the very teeth of the experience which—for example, in Sartre's La Nausée—had resulted in Antoine Roquentin's frightening vision of man's absorption into the world of brute materiality. The disclosure of the contingency of existence had led Sartre to portray man himself as a futile excrescence on the blank surface of things; and despite the role that liberty plays in his philosophy. Sartre has not yet succeeded (it is dubious whether he ever will succeed) in transcending the hopelessness of La Nausée by any equally powerful artistic expression. Indeed, one wonders whether Malraux's The Walnut Trees of Altenburg, consciously or otherwise, might not have been intended to meet the challenge of the vision of man proposed in La Nausée (which after all appeared in 1938, and which Malraux very probably would have read).
However that may be, there is no doubt that Malraux has managed by the sheer force of his artistic genius to extend the bounds of Existentialism in an extremely significant fashion. Even when Existentialism is determinedly atheist, as in Heidegger or Jean-Paul Sartre, the movement as a whole has drawn its image of man from the tortured cogitations of Kierkegaard; and that means from a Christianity which emphasizes the fallen nature of man and all the dark and gloomy aspects of human existence. Malraux, on the other hand, might be said to have created—paradoxical as it may sound—an Existentialism of the Enlightenment. For in reading The Walnut Trees of Altenburg one thinks of Kant rather than of Kierkegaard—not, to be sure, the Kant of The Critique of Pure Reason but the Kant who, in The Critique of Judgment, defined the "dynamic-sublime" as man's consciousness of the final inability of the power of nature, however menacing it might be, to force him to surrender his humanity. Malraux's image of man is therefore "sublime" in the strict meaning given that term by the greatest mind of the Enlightenment. And Malraux has performed the remarkable feat, unique in our time, of projecting this image both on the highest level of cultural achievement (through the symbol of the artist as creator in his books on art) and, in The Walnut Trees of Altenburg, as equally embodied in the simplest and most unself-conscious human response.
Joseph Frank, "André Malraux: The Image of Man," in his The Widening Gyre: Crisis and Mastery in Modern Literature, Rutgers University Press (New Brunswick, N.J.), 1963, pp. 105-30.
[The] surprise occasioned by Malraux's art studies was due of course … to an inattentive reading of [his] novels …, and to popular ignorance of Malraux's several interrelated careers. It is now clear … that there is an astonishing unity to everything Malraux has written, one is inclined to add everything he has done, since his first significant book, a sort of epistolary novel bearing the Spengler-echoing title La Tentation de l'Occident (The Temptation of the West) in 1926. A main element of that unity has been a persistent preoccupation with art—with works of art and the cultures they comprise and express—and with the role of art in a generally "absurd" universe. It was Malraux who, in La Tentation de l'Occident, introduced the word "absurd" into the modern philosophical vocabulary in a contention that, to the eye of modern man, the universe appeared fatally bereft of meaning, because of the loss of compelling and explanatory religious belief and, with it, the collapse of any direction-giving concept of man: because of the successive "deaths" of the idea of God and the idea of man. Most of Malraux's novels have been symbolic assaults upon history, in an endeavor to wrest from history a persuasive definition of human nature and a dependable guide and measure of human conduct; while in his life Malraux has been committed to intensive action and to what Gaëtan Picon calls "the myth of the great individual" as sources, perhaps of insight, but certainly of compensation. But he has also and ever more strenuously been committed to the great art work as performing, more satisfactorily yet, these same functions. If Malraux evidently still believes in the efficacy of the master, he believes even more in the saving power of the masterpiece.
The play of these terms—man, the absurd, action, history, and art—has been constant in Malraux's writing from the beginning. But before criticism could explore their use, it had to get beyond a prior misapprehension—namely, that Malraux was primarily a chronicler of contemporary revolutions, a skillful journalist of the political and economic upheavals peculiar to his age. (p. 2)
[Leon Trotsky] felt that Les Conquérants was itself a work of considerable art and made some acute and generous observations about its beauty of narrative. But he felt that the author's revolutionary passion was flawed; that Malraux's effort to give a faithful portrait of insurrectionist China had been (in Trotsky's word) corrupted, both by an "excess of individualism" and by "esthetic caprice." Even in retrospect, the charge (which Trotsky supported with considerable and pressing detail) is not without substance and pertains to a wider problem: for there has always been a sort of murky imbalance between Malraux's political affinities (the presumptive ones in his novels and the actual ones—Communist and then Gaullist—in his life) and his stated or implied beliefs about literature. Nonetheless, Malraux had reason to say, in answer, that his book was not intended and should not be judged as a fictionalized chronicle, and that, in effect, it was just the individualism and the esthetics that made it a novel. As to the former, the book's stress was placed "on the relationship between individual and collective action, not on collective action alone." As to the latter, Malraux made the crucial remark that the novel was dominated, not by considerations of doctrinal loyalty and historical inclusiveness, but by the vision, the way of looking at things—in Malraux's French, by "l'optique"—proper to the novel as an art form. The entire critical "problem" of Malraux—the "Malraux case," as some French commentators have called it—lies, implicit but bristling, in this early exchange.
Still …, it became generally agreed that Malraux … was the novelistic historian of the great social agitations of the century. (pp. 2-3)
Malraux's main characters really are protagonists: that is, etymologically, primarily combatants. What they do about the human condition is to take arms against its historical embodiments; and they will go to the ends of the earth to seek them out…. In short, and the commonplace is worth repeating since it applies more unequivocally to Malraux than to any other modern novelist, Malraux's heroes make their test of life in those places and times where human experience is most intensified, where indeed it has become most decisively embattled.
But as they do so, we move with Malraux into perplexities which, if not wholly philosophical in nature, are at least sources of logical anxiety. Time and again, Malraux has implied that it is in action that the strongwilled individual may hope to find not only assuagement but revelation. (p. 4)
Malraux's dilemma, if dilemma it be, is caused in part by the very subject—contemporary historical violence—which he has been brave enough to deal with. When, as in La Condition Humaine, he remains faithful to the historical outcome of the struggle, he concludes with a disaster which is not, within the novel, invested with any particular significance. But when, as in L'Espoir, he shapes historical fact to his fictional purposes (by concluding with the Loyalist victory at Guadalajara), he suggests an outcome and a meaning other than those history was already bleakly providing…. Malraux has not felt or envisaged the civil wars he has participated in as genuine tragic actions—not, at least, on any scale beyond that of a few driven and defeated individuals.
The importance, indeed the artistic and spiritual "value," of those individual destinies should not be minimized. It is true, as several critics have noticed, that there are no really evil figures in Malraux's novels: no persons who either are evil through some private wayward impulse or who represent the force of some evil principle in the universe. But it is not true … that Malraux has never created a character who "changes and really grows." Malraux does not concentrate his narrative on the change and growth of an individual psyche with the patience, say, of a Flaubert or a Proust. Change, in Malraux's fiction, is a regular phenomenon, but it occurs spasmodically, with earthquake speed and shock, and almost always during moments of greatest intensity. (pp. 5-6)
La Condition Humaine has, of course, been Malraux's most wisely admired novel, and it is no doubt his major contribution to the history of literature in his generation; beyond that, and beginning with the title, it is so impressive and enduring a challenge to its own content that it is likely to endure long after that revolutionary content has ceased to agitate the minds of readers. But the work of Malraux's which best fulfills the requirements of art—in Malraux's terms or anyone else's—seems to me to be Les Noyers de l'Altenburg…. (p. 9)
R. W. B. Lewis, in his "Introduction" to Malraux: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by R. W. B. Lewis (copyright © 1964; reprinted by permission of Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey), Prentice-Hall, 1964.
More than simply a duality of interest, all of Malraux's work presents an essential play between an action and its perspective, between the present and the eternal, between the loss of oneself in the moment and the recognition of oneself in terms of one's whole destiny. And this duality endures however violent the changes in ostensible subject matter or in genre. Or one might put it that the underlying subject matter itself never changes, and in his first works as in his last the same issues dominate: there is an obsessive and consistent investigation of the place of the private individual in historical time, the place of the individual passion in the overwhelming and unintelligible rush of events. And beyond the historical query lies a metaphysical one, distinguished not by its intellectual form but by its felt presence and insistence, a dramatization of the human demand to know something of its place in the pattern of things beyond itself, to relate the very course of human history to some intelligible feature of the structure of things. In so far as Malraux can be called a philosophical novelist it is not on the grounds of theories he presents, but of philosophical queries which are dramatized by the lives of his characters, or later, analogous queries which other men have, however dimly, formulated in the world of art. (pp. 4-5)
On the whole, the action of Malraux's heroes accomplishes little: revolutions fail, projects are abandoned, no course of affairs seems to work towards any decisive conclusion. Rather it is the style of the man, the unique human quality displayed that is of ultimate value….
[Two] elements seem to work side by side: the concentration on episodes involving the psychological moment of truth, and the selection of those stylized and expressive features of human behaviour that are intrinsically dramatic and psychologically revealing. Added to an extraordinary sense of movement they produce the often noticed 'cinematographic' quality of Malraux's novels—'cinematographic' in the sense of moving from image to image, rather than from event to event—where it is the flow of images that controls the narrative. But even if deprived of that sense of movement the individual fragments exist as 'stills' and are perhaps more interesting as isolated images: in a way Malraux's technique is better described as the careful arrangement of psychological snapshots. (p. 9)
Malraux and his predecessors share two notions which are profoundly conjoined. One is the view of 'style' as being the most important means through which the expressive powers of art work; the other is of the subordination of 'speaking', that is of ordinary conceptual thought, to the deeper revelation obtained through the mysterious logic through which a style unfolds itself. 'It's not the style, but the stuff, that stupefies'—to invert a mnemonic slogan. And Malraux has from the start been excited by the obscure world of evocation lying behind the great works: Claude says in La Voie Royale, 'What interests me most in works of art is their deeper life, the life made up of the deaths of men.' (p. 25)
His particular gift is that of giving dramatic intensity to the facts of the human situation, and of showing the impact of that situation on what we can see of man's nature and creative powers. He is above all the spiritual chronicler of the human revolt, and his also is the artist's double rôle of actor and commentator. For him, the fact of man's presence and dignity can only be given a dramatic instantiation, a picture of that presence with its many resonances, but not a rationalization. By creating his own values what does man create? By asserting his humanity against the void what does he assert? These questions remain to trouble Malraux—as to trouble any form of humanism. But perhaps the most specific and immediate contribution of existentialist humanism, and of Malraux's in particular, is to give us a more profound and dramatic sense of human reality in the face of the void. (p. 74)
Malraux's humanism is based on a highly personal and intensified form of a concept at least as old as Aristotle's notion of the superiority of the contemplative man. It was a commonplace of the ancient world that reflective intelligence based on the power of speech, the fact of self-awareness and the power of expressing it distinguished the human creature and ennobled him, and gave him the closest thing to kinship with the gods. However, there is nothing in Malraux which suggests either the neatness or the assured rationalism of ancient psychology. The whole background of Malraux is overwhelmingly romantic, and he shares the romantic presupposition of a human self, infinite in its capacities and creative powers, and capable of incalculable transformation through the will. The heroism of man, as it was for Nietzsche, is the fulfilment of a will. In Malraux's career, the will has taken two forms: the political will, whose essential features are commitment and action, and the rhetorical will devoted to an indirect creation through the powers of human expression. And of course it is a short psychological step from 'willing' to 'choosing', the essential existential act. (pp. 75-6)
The most suspect element in Malraux has always been the 'fascinateur' or 'prestidigitateur'—the magical but meretricious juggler of glittering words, striving for a spell, producing a panoply of effects without certainty of substance…. And for him there may well be some profound connection between the importance of the created thing and the depth of mystery that surrounds it. (pp. 77-8)
William Righter, in his The Rhetorical Hero: An Essay on the Aesthetics of André Malraux, Chilmark Press, 1964.
[Malraux] clearly belongs to the 'heroic' tradition in French literature, running from Corneille through Stendhal and Barrès to the present, with its roots in epic, and powerfully reinforced in the nineteenth century by the symbol—or the legend—of Napoleon. (p. 204)
Stendhal is a direct antecedent of Malraux the novelist. The main link is … energy, or the quality which since Schopenhauer and Nietzsche has usually been called will; and its expression in fictional terms, the theme of ambition, in which the protagonists test their energy in a situation involving struggle. In Malraux's case the ambitions are much more grandiose than the usual purely social aims, metaphysical in their challenge to destiny or worldshaking in their attempt at political revolution; yet ambitions they remain. But, above all, both men try to create their own fictional world. (pp. 204-05)
The creation of a personal fictional world is the link in common between Stendhal, Malraux, and Dostoevsky, who can probably be regarded as the strongest fictional influence on Malraux. Dostoevsky's characters are also largely projections of his own personality, and his novels add up to a vision of the world, not an attempted copy of it (and, once more, some readers refuse the vision utterly, in the belief that human beings are just not like Dostoevsky's vision of them). But whereas Stendhal's writing is constantly shot through with irony, both the other men are writing at a high pitch of seriousness and self-consciousness from which irony and humour of the normal kind are usually absent. It is this frenetic intensity which unites Malraux most closely with Dostoevsky, together with treatment of characterization, in which there is little psychological analysis of the traditional type, but instead ample illustration of psychology in action, if possible violent action; that is, insights into human behaviour rather than explanation of it. Also dialogue is the favourite narrative mode of both men, while they each use imagery in the same way, to intensify emotional appeal; much of the content of the imagery—insects and reptiles, inspiring horror and disgust—is also similar. There is something of Dostoevsky in Malraux from the mid 1920s onwards—the theme of an exhausted Western material civilization in need of spiritual regeneration in La Tentation de l'Occident—but the influence becomes overt in La Condition humaine. (pp. 205-06)
The greatest individual influence on Malraux's life and work has been Nietzsche; from La Tentation de l'Occident onwards the idea of will pervades his writings, and, indeed, his whole life is a brilliant example of Nietzsche's ideal of 'giving style to one's character', and of heeding Nietzsche's call: 'Dare to lead the life of tragic man, and you will be redeemed.'… Perhaps a caveat about Malraux's use of ideas should be entered at this point. He has been widely taken by enthusiastic critics not only as an original philosopher, but also as a man of encyclopedic and exact knowledge in the field of history of ideas; and he has not disclaimed this.
In fact it is unlikely that he has ever made a detailed study of any philosopher…. [It] seems clear that Malraux's gift is for seizing on individual ideas and expressing them in dazzling formulae, rather than for systematic study and analysis. (p. 211)
Ultimately Malraux's adherence to Nietzschean attitudes may prove to have been a mixed blessing. The German's ideas have in the past proved more dazzling to the young than seductive to the mature, and it is possible that Malraux, while owing much of the intellectual and metaphysical weight of his earlier novels to him, has remained too close to Nietzsche to progress artistically much beyond the attitudes of his twenties and thirties. Whereas Stendhal and Dostoevsky primarily inspired Malraux to create novels, Nietzsche's influence seems to have made him want to cast himself in the role of sage, seer, and philosopher, without his having the full equipment—or originality—to succeed in it. In my own view, at least, Malraux's best work is in his novels, and when ideas have become ends in themselves, rather than creative material like any other, the final impact of Malraux's work is weaker. (p. 217)
[Malraux] himself, notably in the preface to Le Temps du mépris, has attempted to assimilate his work to the tragic mode; more recently certain critics have tried to formulate a new definition of tragedy, specifically in terms of man's fight against the absurd, using Malraux as a key example. Certainly, if we define tragedy as man's assertion of his dignity by a necessarily unsuccessful struggle against his destiny in an absurd world, cut off from all transcendental redemption, it is obvious that much of Malraux's work—art philosophy no less than novels—fits very well. Clearly confrontation with the absurd leads ultimately to death, and automatically irony of fate and a kind of tragedy will result. Yet it is just this automatic quality which casts doubt on the definition, and there is a slight suspicion of circularity in the argument. (p. 238)
If Malraux's works are judged on their effects, not on their correspondence to a theoretical definition, my contention would be that only La Condition humaine comes near to anything properly justifiable as tragic, despite greater superficial pretensions in Le Temps du mépris. The fundamental optimism kills the tragic in the later novels, while Perken's death is too melodramatic and Garine's situation too confused fully to justify the claim. It is also, perhaps, too easily assumed that the novel is the natural inheritor of the tragic mode formerly embodied in the drama. The belief that the novel should deal primarily with 'metaphysical' subjects, and in particular 'man and his destiny', is currently powerful; but it is none the less a survival of the nineteenth-century view exemplified in Arnold's literary criterion of 'high seriousness', itself a Romantic survival. It is a tenable position, but is open to the criticism that the novel has not, for much of its history, confined itself to—or even especially interested itself in—'metaphysical' themes; and that, if this criterion is applied now, the novel is restricted to only a part of the full richness of life. (pp. 238-39)
Malraux's appeal seems, in the main, to spring from the combination of contemporary (political) topics with metaphysical preoccupations. (p. 242)
Ultimately it is as a poet that Malraux is best considered: a poet in the widest sense. Although he uses ideas extensively, as we have seen, they are, if penetrating, usually not original, and the contrast with Sartre immediately brings out the fact that Malraux is little of the analytical thinker, and that his gift is much more for conveying ideas by pithy—poetic—formulations. What matters is not that he has developed a theory of modern tragedy, based on the necessity yet impossibility of self-transcendence in a godless world…. What matters in Malraux is that he has expressed his own feeling of restless anguish in the face of a meaningless world, in novels which succeed in conveying this powerful vision to the reader. His ideas are less a philosophy than a Weltanschauung [it is of course arguable that all popular philosophy must be Weltanschauung], and, although this attitude to life may form the basis of his works, their value does not depend on it. (p. 244-45)
[The] internal difficulties and contradictions of Malraux's ideas dissolve when he is looked at as a poet. (p. 245)
For myself La Condition humaine is Malraux's finest contribution. I find it impossible to see the Surrealist works as other than trivial and imitative; and, although La Voie royale foreshadows his later novels, Malraux has not succeeded in detaching himself from his subject-matter, which remains confused, nor in freeing himself from adolescent attitudes. In Les Conquérants the use of the revolutionary struggle gives him more adequate material to treat, but he is hampered by his first-person narrator and by the lack of harmony between the comparative success of the revolutionary movement and Garine's personal failure as he sinks into disease and disillusionment. Again, there is some confusion in the novel and its effect on the reader tends to be blurred. In La Condition humaine Malraux contrives to integrate a number of different elements, and above all, by choosing a historical episode which inevitably ends in disaster for nearly all his principal characters, an aura of tragedy is lent to the novel. As we have seen, Malraux's conception of the tragic side of life derives largely from Nietzsche, and more generally from loss of transcendental religious belief; and this modern view of the essence of tragedy has perhaps nowhere been more powerfully expressed than in this novel. Elsewhere Malraux tends to use his novels to affirm values, but here in the various characters—his richly drawn ones—there is a genuine search for them: a complex situation is probed for its profound significance, rather than an artificial one constructed to demonstrate values which precede the conception of the novel. And also La Condition humaine is emotionally richer than the other novels: the themes of love and compassion are more sensitively treated…. Fundamental poetic symbols—the sun, stars, earth, and trees—are finely presented, but the balance between the poetry and the ideas remains uncertain, and subjects outside Malraux's major preoccupations are very cursorily handled…. If the primary function of the poet is to absorb experiences from life—either his own or others'—to transform them into an acceptable form that he can communicate meaningfully to the reader, then it is in La Condition humaine, I should maintain, that Malraux has succeeded most richly. (pp. 248-50)
Denis Boak, in his André Malraux (copyright © 1968 by Oxford University Press; reprinted by permission of The Clarendon Press, Oxford), Oxford University Press, 1968.
In Malraux, a harmony between the human and cosmic cycles often serves to set the tone and create the physical atmosphere for a human adventure unfolding on earth against the canvas of the cosmos, and in time against a backdrop of eternity. The stars, the constellations, the moon, the sun, and the earth play prominent roles in suggesting an interplay between the hero's inner world and other elements in the created universe. The various time cycles—the day, the week, the month, the season, the year, the generation, and the epoch—often govern both the structure of the works and the evolution of the heroes.
As early as Lunes en papier, his first published volume, Malraux's vision of the world in terms of the cycle is compounded of anguish and hope, for the cycle implies not only a beginning and an end—or death—but also the idea of resurrection and renewal…. close association between life and death as part of a continuous cycle of creation is a recurring theme in Malraux, one which governs his vision of both human life and civilizations.
The Malraux cycle has two movements: one winds from death to new life and the other from death to resurrection after the passage of centuries.
Malraux's overall vision is one of creation in continuous progress. In accordance with this vision, change emerges as the new "absolute", with a consequent rejection of all closed systems and an emphasis on the relativity of all human knowledge and values. Malraux enjoins man to remain unreservedly open to the infinite possibilities of human destiny as the creation of man by man continues with the unfolding of the human adventure in time.
The cycle of constant flux as the scheme of things is at the heart of Malraux's tragic humanism, at least insofar as the flux is in direct opposition to man's perennial yearning for eternity and stability. Awareness of the impermanence of both human life and human values, including the succession of absolutes man has set up in an attempt to defy destiny, engenders the sensibility of the absurd, which is the point of departure of Malraux's hero.
For Malraux's early heroes the cycle represents a wheel of fate, an order of life over which man has no control and to which he must submit. When consciousness of the absurdity of this state of affairs becomes acute, it leads to a violent eruption out of the historical cycle into which the heroes are born—to a rupture between the heroes and their world.
It is this sensibility of the absurd that fires Malraux's imagination and leads to his relentless drive to transform the absurd into the significant by illuminating the past achievements of man, by forging for him a new raison d'être in the rapidly changing world of the present, and by opening a vista to a future which man himself must fashion.
More and more Malraux sees man as a being who must make history rather than submit to it, and here the ethical aspect of his work flashes into focus. He envisages man making history directed toward a definite goal: the promotion of the dignity of all men everywhere. The vision extends far into the future—perhaps beyond the human adventure.
The cycle which begins as the source of the hero's anguish gradually becomes the source of his hope. To an ever-increasing extent the hero regards himself not as a victim of the flux but as an active participant in its creation and perpetuation. Effecting change becomes a creative act, an outlet for man's creative potential, the sine qua non of progress. In Malraux, absurdity is transformed into significance as both the man of action and the artist contribute to the formation, transformation, or elaboration of the civilization of the epoch into which they are born.
Consciousness of imminent death—the end of the human life cycle—is the source of man's greatest anguish. (pp. 2-4)
If the final vision is still one of tragedy, it is the tragedy of Malraux the agnostic, haunted by the obsession that time, and with it the human adventure, will eventually come to an end, and that all the effort and striving of man's earthly existence might some day prove to have been in vain. But there can be no doubt that Malraux continues to see his world through "a Christian grating"; religious terminology and numerology occur throughout his works, beginning with the seven deadly sins in Lunes. If the vision is a Christian one, it is darkened by the doubt of an agnostic who envisages time flowing "certainly toward death" and only "perhaps toward eternity." The interpenetration of time and eternity definitely exists in Malraux; it occurs in those moments when man's creative spark is kindled into activity—either artistic or heroic. It is experienced by the artist especially when he discovers a new "truth," and by the hero particularly after a direct confrontation with Death, over whom he emerges victorious. Malraux beckons contemporary man, alienated from God, to seek this spark—his link with the divine—within his own being. (pp. 4-5)
His focus is directed to what men of all ages and regions have in common, rather than to what differentiates one man from another. His concentration is centered on man's misère and on his grandeur, and on his capacities for good and evil. As a compound of misère and grandeur Malraux's fundamental man is Pascalian; in his capacity for good and evil, he is Augustinian. In terms of his human condition, which involves him in a struggle between the opposing forces of human nature both within his own being and in the world, he is a combination of both: his life is a compound of anguish and hope.
Malraux's view of the human adventure unfolding in time bears much in common with St. Augustine's theory of human history as an endless struggle between the forces of good and evil or between the "City of God" and the "City of Earth" inhabited by the descendants of Abel and Cain respectively. Both Malraux and St. Augustine conceive of man's temporal existence in terms of one grand cycle (within which there are innumerable secondary ones) beginning with man's fall from a state of innocence. They do, however, differ as to where and how the cycle will end. Neither deems it possible to penetrate the ultimate meaning of human suffering and striving. (pp. 7-8)
Malraux's literary creation as a whole embodies the hope that man will ultimately remember that the purpose of his sojourn on earth is to destroy Satan, the task forgotten by the seven deadly sins of Lunes. Foolishly they destroy Death, and with her the cycle of creation (in which the role of death is just as important as that of life—the one flowing endlessly into the other), leaving Evil, or Satan, rampant without the possibility of change and renewal as the means by which the creation or redemption of man by man may be completed in history. Malraux's hope is focused on Pascal's homme-grandeur; his aim is to awaken man everywhere to a consciousness of a grandeur hidden in the deepest recesses of his soul, to a divine spark ever-ready to be kindled into creative activity. This activity includes all acts that serve to defy a destiny imposed upon man; it comprises any action that manifests man's freedom in terms of a refusal to submit to forces denying his dignity or to a world offering no outlet for his creativity. (pp. 8-9)
Life is movement—creation in perpetual progress. Malraux does for man throughout the ages what Montaigne does for the individual: he urges him to remain open to the infinite possibilities of his destiny. To man's quest for stability, Malraux opposes the cycle of constant flux without which the evolution of man would cease before the creation of man by man could be completed.
If Malraux's vision begins with his fundamental man as a combination of Pascal's and St. Augustine's, his ultimate hope is that l'homme-grandeur will triumph. If, in the world of the twentieth century, the evil in man finds full expression, and if "man against God" has become "man against man," there emerges from Malraux's works the nascent hope that "man against man" may, in the not-too-distant future, become "man for man."
Malraux's complete oeuvre spans the whole of man's earthly existence, from the dawn of recorded history to a glimpse of the end of time. Viewed in their entirety his works constitute an epic of man. (pp. 9-10)
As we venture into Malraux's fictional world, which runs parallel to the real world in that each novel centers around one or more of the crucial events of the first half of the century, we are increasingly convinced that Malraux's literary creation as a whole is dedicated to the penetration of the mystery of man living in a universe where everything, including man, is subject to the relentless cycle of flux from life to death.
The evolving contemporary setting of the novels destroys the comforting sense of tranquility provided by the traditional novel. It transmits to the reader an underlying mood of uncertainty and anxiety which emanates from characters embarked on a quest for meaning in a restless, turbulent world.
If the volumes on art reveal how men of distant ages and places have defied the implacable cycle of time which flows "certainly to death and only perhaps to eternity," Malraux's fiction—his novels in particular—enables the reader to witness contemporary man as he renews the age-old struggle against time and death. Malraux's seven novels are set forth as an organic unity; the first, La Tentation de l'Occident, discloses the crises and prepares the setting for the struggle which engages the heroes of the other six. The six full-fledged novels, which are presented as a "divine comedy" in an existential setting, form a cycle based upon an analogy between contemporary man's quest for identity and the spiritual journey of "everyman." It is a journey that begins with the hero's descent into hell (the prison of the self no less than that of the world) and ends with his intimation of a far-off Earthly Paradise. If there is tragedy in the implication that the "journey" or cycle will have to be repeated by each man and each generation throughout the course of human history, there is also the hope that progress is being made toward the ultimate creation of a world society where men may live in peace and dignity.
Thematically speaking, the cycle winds from the hero's discovery of the tragic finality of death to his rediscovery of the secret of life; as the two ends of the cycle meet, both life and death are viewed as parts of the incessant cycle of creation. This accounts for the recurring close association of the two concepts in Malraux's imagery and thought, not only in the novels, but in his works as a whole. (pp. 10-11)
Violet M. Horvath, "Introduction" to her André Malraux: The Human Adventure (reprinted by permission of New York University Press; copyright © 1969 by New York University), New York University Press, 1969.
Like Trotsky and T. E. Lawrence, Malraux exemplifies the problem of the intellectual as a man of action. "For a thinker, the revolution's a tragedy," he writes in Man's Hope. "The path that leads from moral standards to political activity is strewn with our dead selves. Always there is the conflict between the man who acts and the conditions of his action." Malraux's fictional heroes reflect his own life: a trial by ordeal that attempts to affirm "authentic" existence through an obsession with the metaphysical questions of time and solitude, freedom and destiny, anguish and humiliation, suicide and death. His characters lead a symbolic existence at a high level of self-consciousness. Behind them stand the example of Rimbaud (whose suppurating leg wound is suffered by Perken in The Royal Way) and the philosophy of Nietzsche (who appears in a moment of lucid madness in The Walnut Trees of Altenburg)….
What is so impressive about Malraux's life, however, is that his sensitive idealism was never defeated by his failures and he was always on the right (in our century, too often the losing) side. He did bring moral standards to political activity, he projected his brilliant intellect into a number of ambitious and exciting art books through which he revealed a new way of seeing art, both individually and contextually; and he wrote three first-rate novels: Man's Fate, Man's Hope and the little known but rich and moving Walnut Trees, with its superb evocation of Malraux's great theme of the virile fraternity. Malraux, who has just published his eighteenth century studies of Laclos, Goya and Saint-Just in a single volume, Le Triangle noir, and is halfway through the second volume of memoirs, is certainly one of the most creative intellects of this century. "In the menstruum of this man's wit," as Emerson said of Goethe, "the past and the present ages, and their religions, politics, and modes of thinking, are dissolved into archetypes and ideas."
Jeffrey Meyers, in Commonweal (reprinted by permission of Commonweal Publishing Co., Inc.), December 11, 1970, pp. 280-81.
[The] "formalist" critics, who are attracted by the textural complexities of the inheritors of Flaubert and the French symbolists, have ignored Malraux and left him to the historians of literature and to those intent on defining the stages of a Geistesgeschichte….
Therefore, while the other phases of Malraux's achievement have been amply documented, there is still something left to be said about his methods as a novelist…. Malraux has systematically acquainted us with his literary forebears and with his likes and dislikes. Thus we know what he thought of Flaubert, the darling of the formalists: he considered him more and more a "pale reflection" of Balzac…. The hectic pace and staccato rhythm of Malraux's novel [Man's Fate] is very different from the calm, leisured pace and almost still-born movement of Flaubert's [Madame Bovary]. Flaubert's coupes, which make his sentences drop unexpectedly at the end, offer a tight coherence unrelated to Malraux's "stylistic abridgements" and what Frohock [in André Malraux and the Tragic Imagination] called "craft of ellipsis." In one way, however, Madame Bovary and Man's Fate try for a similar effect: simultaneity. Flaubert uses his intermittent tableaux, we have been told many times, to slow down the forward movement of his novel and to offer the sense of juxtaposition we get from looking at a painting. Man's Fate also thrives on the illusion (and that is all it can be in literature) of simultaneity; it offers a modified example of what Joseph Frank … has christened "spatial form."
We must qualify. The famous comices agricoles scene in Madame Bovary is pictorial and has a Bruegel-like density…. [Scenes] in Man's Fate, have a Goyaesque fluidity. (Malraux himself would appreciate this distinction and would want to be entirely on the side of Goya.) What I am saying is that there is a more restless, chaotic side to the Malraux scene than to the Flaubertian one.
Melvin J. Friedman, "Some Notes on the Technique of 'Man's Fate'," in The Shaken Realist: Essays in Modern Literature in Honor of Frederick J. Hoffman, Louisiana State University Press, 1970, pp. 128-43.
In Malraux's novels, as in his writings on art, the personification of man's ineluctable defeat holds the center of the stage, setting the tone for a variety of lost types who gesticulate in an atmosphere of glamorous resignation. And by the side of his hero, Malraux himself, in the guise of a man enacting Man, has played his part in the major situations of the past forty years.
Thus while Malraux is both an artist and a theoretician, he is above all a protagonist. He speaks as a character seeking to give his own stamp to the historical drama in which all who live in this epoch have taken part. He has striven to bring his art and his thought into play with actual events. His ideas have been both instigators of real actions and their verbal accompaniment.
Since Malraux's writings are part of his total performance, they ought to be interpreted in the light of it. Words like "Man," "Action," "Solidarity," "History" take their meanings from the use to which he has put them within the framework of contemporary conflicts…. To discuss Malraux's theories and fiction apart from what their author has been doing, including the doing of his words, is like discussing a character in a play by analyzing his dialogue without paying attention to his part in the plot. Perhaps a special kind of historic-dramatic criticism is needed to deal with a writer who has intended not only to capture our attention as an artist but to change our lives as a political force….
Typical Malraux criticism, however,… treats Malraux as a philosopher and poet of human destiny, whose part in the history of the drama of our time is no more relevant in evaluating his work than might be the fact that an author had been employed in a bank…. Apparently, the way to read Malraux's novels is to treat the historical situations in them as mere pretexts for the display of a higher conflict….
I [have wondered] where … these critics [were], both the Americans and the Europeans, during the events to which Malraux's novels were a response, and what … their own response to those events [was]….
Aesthetically perceptive, and engaging in speculation on a high level, [their] pieces are manuscripts found in a bottle—as if their authors had been living in another century than the one which Malraux has been agitating with such fervor. They apprehend the drama in his writings but not his writings in the drama of the time…. Has detachment from current history become part of the "discipline" of literary criticism?…
It is symptomatic that though Malraux is a voluminous author, the same passages are chosen by critic after critic to illustrate the wide span of his thought….
Some of Malraux's commentators cling more persistently to his abiding truths than does Malraux himself. [For example],… Malraux confessed that "little of what I dramatized in La Condition Humaine holds true."…
In sum, the problem in current criticism of Malraux is not lack of awareness of his qualities, but a persistent tendency to falsify the scale of his achievement through stringing his writings upon the lofty scaffolding of the issue of human destiny….
After a glimpse of the specific content of Malraux's notions of fate, action and history, it seems obvious that criticism of Malraux ought to begin by dismantling his verbal screen of "the human condition" in order to get at what is actually reflected in his texts….
[In] Malraux's novels the characters find themselves engaged in actions already in progress and which they cannot affect. The ready-made event calls for the ready-made actor—the formula of melodrama. In Malraux the "great act" of history is enacted by a cast of melodramatic types with the whole of humanity for their audience. Indeed, consciousness of this audience is an essential motive in their performance as men of destiny…. In Malraux's thinking, action constantly blends into acting: with historical script in hand, the only problem is which part to play and how to play it….
The trouble … lies in his corny idea of the great role. Malraux will have nothing to do with anyone less than a god or a hero—and the god must be dying and the hero hopeless.
Harold Rosenberg, "Actor in History," in his Act and the Actor: Making the Self (copyright © 1970 by Harold Rosenberg; reprinted by arrangement with The New American Library, New York, New York), New American Library, 1970, pp. 152-69.
For Malraux, religion is not dead. He is ready to admit that this terrestrial life may be succeeded by another. What he insists upon, however, is that no human society any longer treats Christianity as a life-giving force. Man has emancipated himself. Upon him alone individually now lies the task of replacing a discarded providence.
In short, politics in La Condition humaine as in Les Conquérants is background. It furnishes the context in which the characters grapple not with political systems but with life itself. There is no question of weighing the validity or invalidity of communist arguments. The whole point lies in the power of communism as a faith, whether the faith is valid or invalid, to quicken its converts into more intense living, into a sharper self-consciousness….
In reading L'Espoir the reader is not to worry over the ultimate defeat of the republicans or about the true worth of their claims; he is not to worry about what he may have read of the divisions among the republican politicans, divisions which the novelist honestly refers to in passing and which Don Salvador de Madariaga, for example, has dwelt upon. The reader has to let himself be carried away by the strength of conviction, the fanaticism even, with which the protagonists in their losing struggle wage their sectional battles, see to the wounded, collect prisoners, and so on. For although it is impossible to underrate the fervor with which Malraux himself espoused the aim of the Spanish republicans, neither politics nor any political creed is at the center of the novel. As in Les Conquérants and as in La Condition humaine, the prerequisite of the drama is not the validity of a political ideology but the power that such an ideology can exert over its adherents, rousing them to more intense living. In reality Malraux is no politician in the accepted sense. He is a social philosopher, a writer anxious to bring home to his readers the excitement of being faced with the infinite potentialities of actual life….
Malraux has organized, edited, and partly written a remarkable and now widely known series of art books. They are books filled with reproductions of works of fine art. They have been a notable publishing success. They constitute one more indication that the reason Malraux has been preoccupied with political creeds and with actual political struggles is that the best political regime in his view is one that allows the widest opportunity to as many human beings as possible for each to make something of his one life and its infinite potentialities. Logically, of course, those he labels fascists can find in their cause as much as those he calls communists or those he calls patriots can find in theirs. Ultimately what particular cause is embraced cannot in this respect matter. But he invariably writes with the bowels of compassion. He writes in favor of the emancipation of the oppressed and the release of those under an invader's heel….
[Since] the war Malraux has produced his book on Goya and on those works of Goya's that are gathered in the Prado. It is called Saturne (1950). The choice of painter was not fortuitous. Goya reacted with his whole being against the presence on Spanish soil of Napoleon's soldiery even as Malraux was unable to stomach the presence of Hitler's troops in France. So it is that the novels are invariably related to the experiences of an author who has himself lived to the full. Quite possibly there are readers persuaded in advance that the politics must be wrongheaded. After all, every question has two sides. But any such refusal to agree is irrelevant. What matters in the novels is the evidence of the generous human impulse which they contain. Let me insist again that the political element, although it figures so largely, is background. In front of that background are various human figures face to face with the task of each shaping his own destiny unsustained by religious faith and, as the price of his autonomy, constantly face to face with the gravity of death.
Montgomery Belgion, "André Malraux (1901–)," in The Politics of Twentieth-Century Novelists, edited by George A. Panichas (reprinted by permission of Hawthorn Books, Inc.; copyright © 1971 by The University of Maryland; all rights reserved), Hawthorn, 1971, pp. 174-88.
Trotsky admired what he felt were the purely literary virtues of Malraux's first novel, The Conquerors, but faulted Malraux and his hero Garine for not understanding the true nature of revolution….
If Malraux espouses no orthodox program of revolutionary behavior, his characters do act within a context of shifting and provisional attitudes toward the historical process—the great sweep of events and the power which seems to impel them. Garine, although obsessed with the idea of revolution, is no apparatnik. What drives him to action on behalf of the revolutionary movement is richly contradictory, that is, fundamentally confused and human….
Garine's attachment to the life of action is undercut by a pervading inner anguish. Knowledge may be evaded in deeds; the symptoms of a diseased subjectivity ignored or suppressed in the heat of battle. But Garine's individuality, which he offers to the objective force of History, paradoxically enlarges and mounts as he seemingly succeeds in bending events to his will. Through sudden executions of brutal policy, acts of instant justice, and brilliantly intuitive strategy, Garine actually brings the revolutionary action to the point of success. As he succeeds, his inner doubt and confusion mount; he is ill with fever and will eventually die of it. His illness is a given of the novel but Malraux heavily suggests that it issues from an existential despair….
Man's Fate enlarges and deepens the thematic concerns of The Conquerors…. The theme of Man's Fate is the tragic discrepancy between human intention and historical outcome; between what man's will attempts with all the passion of intellect, feeling, and desire and what emerges in "the desolation of reality." Kyo, who is not so much spokesman for Malraux's position in Man's Fate as his mediator among a number of positions, opts for will, albeit with a certain amount of caution….
The tension between the fatalism of history and "the activity of men in pursuit of their own ends" sustains both ideology and structure in Man's Fate….
Organized apocalypse [a phrase from Man's Hope] might conceivably define the successful work of art where inchoate elements of raw experience are ordered into significance by ethical and structural control. But Man's Hope, Malraux's full-scale attempt to render the historical immediacy of the Spanish Civil War, strikes me as a disorganized apocalypse. It is Malraux's most ambitious fictional work, Tolstoyean in its sprawling proportions and ideological scope. Apparently Malraux tried to tell us everything he observed, everything he felt, everything he did (for he was part of the action) in Spain. Malraux also intended the book to speak for the Loyalist cause; it was meant to influence the course of history in a way fervently desired by men and women opposed to fascism. Unfortunately, Man's Hope is disappointing as a novel and largely unconvincing as a work of special pleading….
Man's Hope moves with history as it happened, a book so close to events that it develops a coy attitude of busy self-consciousness. It is filled with what William Empson calls "the hearty revolutionary romp," an embarrassing sentimentality about comradeship in arms couched in stiffly unreal dialogue….
Immersed in action and event Man's Hope never develops functioning protagonists—characters who speak and act for themselves, out of individual will and inner struggle….
Malraux took too many risks in Man's Hope. He assumed the stability, humanity, and efficiency of the Communist leadership. He tried to outguess History or perhaps outshout it…. He largely forsook the structural conventions of plot and character and tried to create a fictional world out of episodes, tones, moods, and pages of brilliant writing. He tried to write a book about a political conflict from a partisan stance and hoped the book itself would become part of the action and help summon the democratic world to the aid of Loyalist Spain. Parts of Man's Hope struggle free of its ideological and structural shackles; but a book so conceived and written was doomed as was the cause it so desperately espoused….
Action, blood, and fate stand as rubrics on every page of Malraux's novels. While some have called Malraux's espousal of revolutionary causes instances of political opportunism or adventurism, his commitment to action hurled a challenge across "the metallic realms of the absurd." To be sure, Malraux was afflicted with that amor fati which in Spengler means submitting to historical necessity and those historical forces poised to destroy man's freedom and man himself….
Even though early in his career Malraux urged the refutation of Spengler, he was obviously caught up in his ideas. Malraux accepted the fatality of History and Spengler's closed, organic view of culture. Every culture had its spring, summer, autumn, and winter; no culture can escape its final dissolution any more than man can resist the change of seasons. Man as an individual, then, is the helpless victim of historical process.
Harvey Gross, "André Malraux," in his The Contrived Corridor: History and Fatality in Modern Literature (copyright © by The University of Michigan 1971), University of Michigan Press, 1971, pp. 124-54.
Malraux has been not so much the privileged spokesman of the real world as the tormented visionary looking beyond the present struggles of men to the permanent tragedy of "Man": not so much the novelist of history, in fact, as the poet of what he everywhere calls "destiny." (p. 17)
Malraux's essentially antihistorical vision tends ironically to depend for its force upon the force of history itself. It is significant that in the three novels which he privately regards as unsuccessful—La Voie royale, Le Temps du mépris, and Les Noyers de l'Altenburg—he was operating without the pressure and the prestige of the revolutionary situation. Even so, he everywhere bends the novel of history to the poem of destiny. (p. 19)
The post-Nietzschean adventure of the first phase of Malraux's writing runs into an impasse. The real "destiny" of the adventurer is his very elevation of his own estrangement into a false and separatist notion of Destiny. His "authenticity" is alienation; his "lucidity," self-deception. In these circumstances, his relentless implementation of his own will "beyond Good and Evil" reveals him as a kind of noble image of Fascist man, attempting to resolve despair in a violent imperializing dream. And yet for Malraux as a writer the very representation of the New Man, and of his defeat, was something of a moral achievement and a clarification. In … La Condition humaine, he [attempted] to find values meaningful for all men, whether they be heroic and 'authentic' or not. (p. 59)
To the Anglo-Saxon mind, Malraux's search for "fundamental man" may look like eccentricity or pretentiousness of quite continental proportions, even though the "fundamentality" of man is arising in different terms today as a problem for a variety of intellectual disciplines, including linguistics—there is, indeed, a certain "prestructuralist" quality about the Altenburg debate in [Les Noyers de l'Altenburg]. Nevertheless, the idea of the need for a notion of "fundamental man" was obviously the axis of Malraux's work from the beginning. Arguing in his early diagnosis of Western civilization that man was "dead," after God, he suggested that civilization could only be founded afresh on a new idea of man himself: in effect, on something as firm and suprahistorical as the Christian idea of the soul. Yet this was in practice impossible in that the individual, that "monster of wish-fulfillment," could know neither himself nor others. (p. 106)
The major writer does not so much give "answers" as project the "questions" in such a way as to bring out the final mystery of the human situation. The weakness of the "novelist of ideas" is that his works tend to die along with the ideas themselves. The strength of Malraux as an imaginative writer is that—in accordance with his own coherent and objectively quite important aesthetic of fiction—he is essentially a novelist who enacts the extreme situation in which the "ideas" of the character come sharply up against an ultimate ontological mystery. And what gives his best fiction its peculiar intensity and poignancy is less the dramatic historical moment itself, whether it be a turning point of the Chinese revolution or of the Spanish Civil War, than the coincidence of this with a boundary situation at the metaphysical level. (p. 153)
Cecil Jenkins, in his André Malraux (copyright 1972 by Twayne Publishers, Inc.; reprinted with the permission of Twayne Publishers, a Division of G. K. Hall & Co.), Twayne, 1972.