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Andre Malraux: Portrait of the Adventurer

Shoba Sadagopan

I do not think of society as being bad, or as capable of being bettered. I con­sider it absurd. -Garine in Les Conquerants   We know that we have not chosen to be born, that we will not choose to die. That we can do nothing against time. That between each of us and universal life there is a sort of gulf. When I say that each man experiences deep within himself the prescience of destiny, I mean that he experiences—and almost always tragically ... the world's indifference vis-a-­vis himself. -The Walnut Trees of Altenburg   It is in the nature of a civilization of action that each man should be, as it were, possessed by action. Action as against contemplation; a human life and sometimes the passing moment, as against eternity ... -Anti-Memoirs   Andre Malraux's death in November 1976 marked the exit into the pages of history of ‘the last of the adventurers’. It is not fortuitous that he should figure alongside T.E. Lawrence in Roger Ste­phane's Portrait of the Adventurer. Mal­raux has been called a revolutionary, a visionary, a man of letters, a humanist. But he is all this only superficially, just as his commitment to Communism was a superficial one. One would fail to under­stand Malraux if one looked for the revolutionary or the man of letters in him. Thus Trotsky's remark, that ‘a good dose of Marxism’ would have saved both Garine and Malraux from ‘fatal errors’ is quite misplaced. Malraux's problema­tic is outside the terrain of Marxism. He anticipated by nearly two decades Camus's and Sartre's vision of the uni­verse. But whereas the latter are con­cerned with the problem of being in a philosophical sense, Malraux sought to transcend what he called 'la condition humaine' (man's fate) in action. His career, from the post of Kuomintang pro­pagandist in 1925 to that of de Gaulle's Minister of Culture in 1958 across two revolutions and several civilizations, has been a continuous attempt to escape man's tragic destiny, first in the realm of action and then in the realm of art. Born in 1901, Malraux studied art and archaeology in Paris before leaving for Indochina in 1923 in search of adventure and art, as an escape from the decay of western civilization in the post-war years. He found adventure with the nationalist Jeune Annam League and art in the jung­les of northern Annam. Involved in ...

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