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412Philosophy and Literature Malraux, the Absolute Agnostic; or, Metamorphosis as Universal Law, by Claude Tannery; translated by Teresa Lavender Fagan; xii & 325 pp. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991, $37.50. In the United States, where recent calls for "pluralism" amount to litde more than a multicolored cloak for thin ideological monism, any good study ofAndré Malraux's work deserves more than welcome—it deserves thoughtful attention. From first to last Malraux sought to understand the plurality of civilizations and to make that understanding address the spiritual crisis of the West. If ideologues reject Malraux because he was on the "wrong" side in May '68, perhaps they need a stronger dose of their own pluralism. Politically and culturally , Malraux was there first, with far superior heart and mind. Claude Tannery is a novelist, encountering Malraux not to classify and analyze but to sympathize and build. The merit of this book derives from Tannery's commitment to read Malraux as Malraux wanted to be read— as a man challenging us to change our lives, not as a literary aroma to be inhaled and "appreciated," exhaled and "deconstructed." Tannery treats an homme sérieux seriously. Tannery considers familiar Malrauvian themes, metamorphosis and agnosticism . He shows more emphatically than before (if not always more clearly) the extent to which Malraux integrates the Eastern delight in plurality, its charmingly relaxed attitude toward contradiction, with the Western insistence on unity, on logical rigor. Malraux does this by transforming Nietzsche's concept of creativity. Like Nietzsche, Malraux finds in the creative will a cross-civilizational universal. Unlike Nietzsche, Malraux finds fraternity in this will, not selfisolating dominance. Nietzsche's thought remains firmly within the modern Western framework, the attempted conquest of fortune and nature. Malraux's fraternal (but not egalitarian) creative will can open itself to the plurality of cultures, relax its individuality, without lapsing into some indiscriminate anarchism . Whereas Nietzsche finally must either rule or ruin, tyrannize or go mad, Malraux can govern—rule and be ruled, in Aristotle's phrase. Hence the association with de Gaulle. Tannery formulates this well, calling Malrauvian fraternity a "fellowship of differences" (p. 232). Agnosticism comes in because we cannot know much about the source of the artist's creative metamorphoses. There exists a "metalanguage of art," a "language of forms that transcends civilizations," a set of form-generating archetypes inaccessible to reason. Responding to this unknowable realm as the artist does constitutes neither submission to destiny nor transcendence of it, but "the highest form of fellowship with destiny" (p. 240)—a reconciliation, a participation with forces variously ascribed to gods and to nature. Tannery does not mention the resemblance of all this to Nietzsche's amar fati, but it is noteworthy. Reviews413 Tannery's generous ardor brings with it some weaknesses as well as strength. At times he exclaims and defends too much, persisting, for example, in treating the butcher Mao Zedong and his vicious "cultural revolution" with undeserved respect. It is too much to say that Malraux regards "every revolution" as a lyrical illusion (p. 91); Malraux is both less "disillusioned" and less Utopian than Tannery, more genuinely political. Tannery does share one weakness with Malraux: the failure to distinguish sufficiendy the classical from the modern conception of reason. In Plato reason yields transcendence, a possibility Malraux , following Nietzsche, too hastily rejects. Tannery insists too much on the development, the metamorphosis, of Malraux 's thought, underestimating its continuity. He discusses The Walnut Trees of Altenburg without fully considering Malraux's integration of that novel, its chapters largely unchanged, into The Mirror of Limbo, published some three decades later. This happens because Tannery sometimes does not attend closely to the texts as Malraux presents them, making it difficult to see exacdy where Malraux's thoughts end and Tannery's begin. This is especially and most regrettably true of Tannery's penultimate chapter, treating his principal theme, metamorphosis as universal law. Here he brings in a plethora of writers from Goethe (quite informatively) to Stephen Jay Gould. There's just not enough Malraux. We who admire Malraux and find nourishment in his writings would betray what he has given us were we to use such occasions as this for multiplying...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 412-413
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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