Satanism, Sainthood, and the Revolution1
It is worthy of note that the slavery of a man may be the result alike of his being exclusively engulfed by his own ego and concentrated upon his own condition without taking note of the world and other people; and of his being ejected exclusively into the external, into the objectivity of the world and losing the consciousness of his own ego. Both the one and the other are the result of a breach between the subjective and the objective. The “objective” either entirely engulfs and enslaves human subjectivity or it arouses repulsion and disgust and so isolates human subjectivity and shuts it up in itself. But such estrangement and exteriorization of the object in relation to the subject is again what I call objectivization. Engulfed entirely by his own ego the subject is a slave, just as a subject which is wholly ejected into an object is a slave. Both in the one case and in the other personality is disintegrated or else it has not yet taken shape.
Nicolas Berdyaev, Slavery and Freedom
1. André Malraux: Rebellion and the Realization of Self
Every man is a madman … but what is a human destiny if not a life of effort to unite this madman and the universe.… (357)2
There may be something surprising about my including Man’s Fate within the framework I have been using—and especially about my including it so early, when I am still dealing with protagonists whose demonism is self-evident. For this novel, as much as any other in our century, seems to support the popular notion—with its continuing belief in heroism—that the tragic can find its justification in social solidarity; that the self-effacing ideal of brotherhood can still allow us the affirmation of tragedy. In view of my earlier claims that the rational and sharable objectives of social meliorism can hardly allow for the tragic vision—to say nothing of providing the all-appeasing restoration needed for tragedy—I could hardly be expected to introduce a novel whose protagonist is usually seen as having achieved such heights of heroism and of tragedy. There ought then to be little need for this warning that my reading of the novel—in which I must grant the primary role to the subjective force of alienation—can occur only in constant disagreement with the more apparent one.
The most obvious thematic scheme in the novel—and I will not question that this was as Malraux intended—finds Kyo as the heroic synthesis between the inhuman discipline of the Party apparatus, most purely symbolized by Vologin, and the all-too-human private fanaticism of the terrorist Ch’en; between the depersonalized institutional instrument, the person reduced to his public function on the one hand, and the utterly subjectivized self that never need look beyond self for sanction on the other. As Malraux’s hero, Kyo must succeed in somehow being at once neither and both. For, in the words of Old Gisors which I have quoted, he must unite the “madman” and the “universe.” Or the heroic Kyo may be seen, once again with the author’s sanction, as the synthesis between the ecstasy of action for action’s sake—again best represented by Ch’en—and the paralysis of pure thought—represented by Kyo’s father, Old Gisors, and symbolized by his addiction to opium. Old Gisors himself tells us of Kyo’s “conviction that ideas were not to be thought, but lived”; of his “having chosen action, in a grave and premeditated way, as others choose a military career, or the sea” (69). Yet Old Gisors would not say of him, as he does of Ch’en, that “he hated contemplation” and bothered with ideology only because it could “immediately become transformed into action” (69).
Kyo, then, would appear to be the ideal Marxist hero embodying the dialectically sanctioned interactions between individual and society and between thought and action. And so, I suppose, Malraux planned it. But his plans may have suffered from the fact that he was writing a novel and that he was an immensely talented and acutely perceptive dramatist of experience. Of course the mere fact that he was writing a novel rather than a treatise need not have been troublesome to his plans, as ideological novels, unhappily, are continually demonstrating to us. But the integrity that forced him to be true to his poetic vision was a more serious matter, and it led him, perhaps unconsciously, to subvert the subversive movement he hoped to serve.
It is surely in the relation of Kyo and Ch’en to each other and to the reader that the struggle between Malraux the ideologue and Malraux the artist can be most profitably traced. We have seen that the book’s ideological structure demands that Ch’en, as terrorism incarnate, be damned not only as demoniac but—to shift to the “great world” of power politics—as dangerous. He is perhaps the last stand, the ultimate version, of that anarchic self-willfulness which cannot serve the very revolution its fury helped create. Rather it must destroy that revolution to preserve its own integrity. Malraux, like Kyo, cannot afford to tolerate this temperament, attractive as it must be to the revolutionary in its unrestrained celebration of his drive to heroic, and thus individual, action. We even find Malraux explicitly condemning the rather tame artistic equivalent of this temperament in the simple call to arms that constitutes the preface to his more consistently Marxist novel, the tour de force Days of Wrath (1936). Ch’en is surely a far cry from Flaubert, whom Malraux cites among others; but their common egocentricity and their isolation, their detachment from their kind, may permit us to read Ch’en for Flaubert when making the transference to politics from aesthetics which Malraux in those days made with such facility.
The history of artistic sensibility in France for the past fifty years might be called the death-agony of the brotherhood of man. Its real enemy is an unformulated individualism which existed sporadically throughout the nineteenth century and which sprang less from the will to create a man whole than from a fanatical desire to be different.3
A bit later in this preface, we can find a reflection of Kyo in Malraux’s statement of the alternative to “the great contempt”4 of our maddened individualist tradition in his claim that the revolution “restores to the individual all the creative potentialities of his nature.” He goes on, developing his properly Marxian opposition between the Kyo-type and the Ch’en-type:
If he happens to be a subject of the Roman Empire, an early Christian, a soldier of the French revolution, a Soviet worker, a man is an integral part of the society in which he lives; if, on the other hand, he is an Alexandrian or an eighteenth century French writer, he is separate from it, and, unless he identifies himself with the social order which is struggling to be born, his essential expression cannot be heroic.… It is difficult to be a man. But it is not more difficult to become one by enriching one’s fellowship with other men than by cultivating one’s individual peculiarities. The former nourishes with at least as much force as the latter that which makes man human, which enables him to surpass himself, to create, invent, or realize himself. (pp. 7–8)
Clearly, the Marxian Malraux, himself an intellectual in the tradition of rebellious individualism, seems to have been deeply disturbed by the attractions of a Ch’en and to have been continually anxious to persuade us and himself against him. Malraux can afford to be less fearful of the other extreme—the unyielding inhumanity of Party discipline—even though he may be more revolted by it. Through his hero Kyo, Malraux can reject it out of hand as a way of life. Kyo may finally retain unbroken his tie to the Party that at times so profoundly offends him, but he does so only because he can use the tie as a stay against the beckoning madness of Ch’en. And, unattractive as the Party is to him, he can use it without endangering the sanctity of his essential self. He need not fear that this self can be smothered by the dead hand of Hankow. But, with whatever ideological persistence Malraux creates a hero who directs the subjective satisfactions of willful rebellion by way of the mediating rationality of an external political dogma, we may still sense an ambivalence that suggests his inability to shake himself free of the reckless grasp of Ch’en. If, then, Kyo should be no more than “synthetic,” if he should be only ideologically “postulated” insofar as he represents the Marxian dialectical compromise with romanticism, then we may doubt that he represents in the unraveling of the drama of experience the place Malraux would assign him. We may, in other words, doubt that the intention of Malraux’s novel—the telos in accordance with which his characters and his fable seem to move—truly reflects his explicit ideological intention. It is, then, Kyo’s consistency, his dramatic validity, and the justness of his place in the novel’s hierarchical structure, that we must investigate.
Yet it is from the position of Ch’en that Kyo can be best approached, since it is primarily Ch’en that he has been designed to answer. Ch’en earns his role as the unmitigated demon through his dedication to murder and suicide. And this role is not mitigated by the fact that he is engaged in moral sacrifice—that through his action he dedicates himself also to his notion of human betterment. The drive to self-destruction is apparent in Ch’en early, as early as the magnificent opening scene in which we see also his drive to kill others. Before this initial murder he “convulsively” stabs his arm with the very knife with which he is to kill his sleeping victim. And before his final attempt to assassinate Chiang Kai-shek—having arranged it so that he cannot escape with his life—Ch’en gashes his thigh with a piece of the lamp he has stumbled across in his confused frenzy: “‘One always does the same thing,’ he said to himself, disturbed, thinking of the knife he had driven into his arm” (198). Following his first political murder, Ch’en’s talk with Old Gisors reveals his ambivalence toward violence and death. As he acknowledges feeling “not only horror” at the sight of his victim’s blood, Gisors recognizes that “terrorism was beginning to fascinate him,” that his willed destiny now is “to die on the highest possible plane” (64–65).
His projected assassination of Chiang gives his demonism full play. He speaks of this ultimate act of terrorism to his friend Kyo in Hankow, where the two have heard the objections of the “neanderthal” Vologin to their respective plans, Ch’en’s far wilder than Kyo’s but both of them too willful for the Central Committee—perhaps representative of the unbending ethical. Ch’en for the first time gives Kyo a full sense of the fascination death can hold for those who, like Kyo as well as Ch’en, have lived so intimately with it. He describes his reaction to the idea of his own death.
I’m looking for a word stronger than joy. There is no word. Even in Chinese. A … complete peace. A kind of … how do you say it? of … I don’t know. There is only one thing that is even deeper. Farther from man, nearer … Do you know opium? … Nearer what you call … ecstasy. Yes. But thick. Deep. Not light. An ecstasy towards … downward. (158)
The comparison with opium reminds us, of course, of Gisors and my earlier suggestion that Malraux means Ch’en and Gisors to represent equally untenable extremes that meet happily in Kyo. The notion of monomania and its symbolic relation to opium is echoed later for us by Gisors, with Kyo once again uniquely exempt:
“There is always a need for intoxication: this country has opium, Islam has hashish, the West has women.” … Under his words flowed an obscure and hidden counter-current of figures: Ch’en and murder, Clappique and his madness, Katov and the Revolution, May and love, himself and opium.… Kyo alone, in his eyes, resisted these categories. (241)
Kyo can conclude from Ch’en’s report of his intoxication, “Perhaps he would kill Chiang only to kill himself” (159). This is about the conclusion his fellow terrorists, Pei and Suan, come to later when Ch’en defends his plan for them to throw themselves under Chiang’s car with their bomb. He expects his cohorts, like him, to feel a “need” to do it, to exalt terrorism into “the meaning of life … the complete possession of oneself. Total. Absolute” (196). Suan, whose terrorism is less fanatic, having suggested the greater wisdom of not wagering all in the single attempt, resists joining Ch’en, saying, “If I agreed, you see, it would seem to me that I was not dying for all the others, but … for you” (197). Abandoned by the others, “Never had Ch’en thought one could be so alone” (198). Most rebellious of the rebels, in his extremity of sacrificial dedication he is alienated even from those who have with him alienated themselves from the social fabric; and he thus fulfills the individualist type that we have seen so concerned Malraux.
But there is one who envies him and who, finally, is given the chance to emulate him. Hemmelrich longs for the revolution to bring him release also through the violence of killing and the hope of death. And, again, as with Ch’en, although he knows against whom to direct this violence, his drive to rebellion is propelled by more than ideological hatred. But all his gory hopes are frustrated by his wretched family’s dependence on him. He cannot even give sanctuary to the bomb-carrying Ch’en and his accomplices. “You don’t know, Ch’en, you can’t know how lucky you are to be free! …” And, to himself, “Won’t I ever be in his place?” (189)
But all the things he wanted were things he could not have. He wanted to give shelter to Ch’en and go with him. Go. Offset by violence—any kind of violence—by bombs, this atrocious life that had poisoned him since he was born … Go out with Ch’en, take one of the bombs hidden in the brief-cases, throw it. That was good sense. In fact the only thing that had a sense, in his present life.… Bombs, for God’s sake, bombs! … He kept his wife, his kid, from dying. That was nothing. Less than nothing. If he had had money, if he could have left it to them, he would have been free to go and get killed. As if the universe had not treated him all his life with kicks in the belly, it now despoiled him of the only dignity he could ever possess—his death. The smell of corpses was blown in upon the motionless sunbeams by every gust of wind. He saturated himself in it with a sense of gratified horror, obsessed by Ch’en as by a friend in the throes of death, and seeking—as though it were of any consequence—whether the feeling uppermost in him was shame, fraternity or an atrocious craving. (190–192)
Here surely is another modulation of the Ch’en type, one who feels the “need” Ch’en ultimately found missing in Pei and Suan, his fellow terrorists. Hemmelrich is at last given the chance to respond to this need when he finds his wife and child needlessly and mercilessly killed. Tortured as he is by the catastrophe, surely he feels release too. His first thought on seeing them—“if only they are dead!”—of course refers to his hope that they need not undergo prolonged and hopeless suffering; but from what we have seen and what we are shortly to see we may very well suspect him of having a hope that he has been liberated for violence. Indeed, we are soon told that the grief that has enveloped him is yet surrounded by “a halo of indifference.”
This time, however, destiny had played badly: by tearing from him everything he still possessed, it freed him.… he could not banish from his mind the atrocious, weighty, profound joy of liberation. With horror and satisfaction he felt it rumble within him like a subterranean river, grow nearer … an intense exaltation was overwhelming him, the most powerful that he had ever known; he abandoned himself to this frightful intoxication with entire consent. “One can kill with love. With love, by God!” (270–271)
While all this goes on within him, the blood of his wife and child, splattered everywhere, has been bewitching him, by smell and touch, under his feet on the floor, under his fist as it madly pounds the counter. And as we read of his “frightful intoxication” and of the mixture in him of “horror and satisfaction,” we must recall Ch’en’s description of his own opiumlike ecstasy and his confession to Gisors that at the sight of his victim’s blood he felt “not only horror.” The later description of Hemmelrich engaged in combat leaves no doubt that he has not restrained the violent impulses that have now been freed to act.
I have had to treat Hemmelrich at this length in order to establish how completely we can use the terms of Ch’en to explain him. Considered this way, Hemmelrich can be shown to point to the split in Malraux between artist and ideologue. The aesthetic imperfections this split leads him into in Man’s Fate allow the novel its continuing interest because it develops a metapolitical interest. The Ch’en-like temperament, which I hope will by now be conceded to include Hemmelrich, can of course not be contained by Marxist doctrine, cannot be satisfied or even appeased by the Communist version of revolution. The “need” that characterizes it is not one that social-political conditions alone create or that a change in these conditions can dissipate, all of which suggests we are dealing with an ontological affair rather than a political one. A Ch’en may “use” the revolution even as the revolutionary Party may “use” him. But the revolution is never more than his instrument, which is about all the movement deserves since it has refused to see him as anything more. At the final moment, after Ch’en has thrown himself with his bomb upon the car and lies dying, even the death of Chiang himself is not of primary significance: “Ch’en wanted to ask if Chiang Kai-shek was dead, but he wanted to know this in another world; in this world, that death itself was unimportant to him” (249). Kyo himself is aware of Ch’en’s relative indifference to the Party program. He recognizes that “none of the present orders of the International satisfied the profound passion which had made him a revolutionary; if he accepted them, through discipline, he would not longer be able to act” (134). (We shall later wonder whether these words are not in part applicable to Kyo himself.) And at the close of the book May gives us what would appear to be Malraux’s final word on Ch’en: “… I don’t think he would have lived out of the Revolution even a year” (356).
Yet in this same epilogue we learn that Hemmelrich is now a soothed and blissful Soviet citizen in Moscow, “a mounter in the electric plant” (352), who testifies to Kyo’s properly doctrinaire claim, made earlier, that socialized labor guarantees the dignity of everyman. Not Hemmelrich any more than Ch’en! Both are too far gone into demonism to return to this shabby, prefabricated, superficial modern version of the ethical. How absurd a picture of a docility and an integration newly ordered—by which word I mean commanded as well as formed—in accordance with the Stakhanovite “heroism” that realizes the “five-year plans.” The novel, with all it has taught us of Ch’en and, by justifiable transference, of Hemmelrich, gives this picture the lie. Malraux the ideologue has foisted it upon us, perhaps out of a final and desperate distrust for the less conclusive profundity that the almost fully licensed artist has revealed. But we must now be on our guard also against other unearned ideological intrusions that may deny the very depths of Malraux’s dramatic perception. And since it is Kyo who, in his character and his claims, constantly provides intimations of this final beatific vision, it is on him and his place atop the hierarchy of characters that our suspicion must come to rest.
In Man’s Fate there is the revolution, there is Marxism, and there is the Party. Somehow Kyo is to mediate among all three. The revolution is to satisfy man’s profound need to give meaning to his life, a meaning achieved by the exertion of his willfulness in order to justify his fate by founding it in dignity. Man’s fate, then, must be transformed to man’s will. And the revolution is justified by the subjective satisfactions it provides. Marxism is the supposedly ethical doctrine that is to direct the revolution in order to achieve this dignity for as many as possible through the reordering of the society the revolution is to destroy. And the Party is the immediate instrument to determine method; it is to adapt Marxist doctrine to the immediate demands of the revolutionary situation so as to ensure the success of the revolution. But this success is to be measured, not in terms of the drives that constitute the revolutionary psychology but in terms of specified objectives dictated from the outside, absolutely, by Marxism. To these objectives all may be sacrificed, individuals and their subjective drives, their drive to dignity most easily of all. In other words, as Kyo all too explicitly fears in Hankow, “will” cannot help being transformed by the external pressures of Marxism and Party into “fatality,” thereby subverting the very motive that makes revolution humanly—by which I mean personally and subjectively, existentially—justifiable. But Kyo must remain true to all, however critical he may be of the Party’s tendency to yield to fatality. He is never to lose the subjective purity of his drive to the revolution, but is to manage to put it at the service of Marxist doctrine—and without openly breaking with Party discipline, however its austere, inhuman detachment may oppress his willfulness. Where he quarrels with the Party over methods, he can fall back upon Marxism and find support there for his quarrel. Since he has a stay this side of uninhibited subjectivity, he is still safe for the Party as well.
The antagonistic, indeed at times contradictory, quality of these supposedly complementary forces is obvious enough. Very likely it is Malraux’s Nietzscheanism that causes much of the trouble. As I have stated it, what is involved in revolutionary psychology, with its emphasis on irrepressible will over an externally imposed, intractable destiny, is not a political response but an existential one. What we are dealing with is not local revolution—insurrection—capable of victory and thus termination; rather it is the state of rebellion as we have seen it—pridefully sinful or pridefully triumphant—in Satan, in Ivan Karamazov, in Zarathustra. How is this state, post-ethical rather than pre-ethical, to submit to the ravages of doctrine and of Party? And if Kyo is true to the subjective justification of the rebel, can he with consistency yield? How can there be any final resting place for the rebel even if Moscow were all that Moscow is not?
Ultimately, then, the novel may be anti-Marxist as well as anti-Communist. The externally imposed absolute cannot do justice to the revolutionary’s subjective demands. It can only enslave the revolutionary as it uses his revolution. The absolute cannot be the appropriate object, the adequate objective, for his sacrifices. Its unspiritual qualities do not allow it to respond to his gesture. The optimistic quality of its ultimate naturalism runs superficially counter to his demoniac vision. If all this should be what Malraux’s novel reveals at those moments of its most convincing insights, we may—out of respect for Malraux’s devotion to his own dramatic conception—expect that at crucial points even the synthetic Kyo may be made to give way to a more alive, a more authentic and brilliant Kyo, whose self-delusion may be a reflection of Malraux’s. For Kyo must either acknowledge the final rightness of Party authority or acknowledge the rightness of Ch’en’s rebelling on his own. Yet at all costs he must never give way completely to the Ch’en within himself, perhaps because he is Malraux’s device to stave off the Ch’en who lurks within him. But, on the other hand, Malraux has too much fidelity to his fiction to allow Kyo completely to escape the Ch’en he harbors.
But how much of Ch’en is in Kyo, with or without Kyo’s (or even Malraux’s) consciousness of his presence? After his early and painful interview with the Ch’en who has just murdered for the first time, Old Gisors seems to be confident of his distinctness from Kyo. Or does Gisors nourish a doubt that may be a clue to our own?
For the first time he found himself face to face, not with fighting, but with blood. And as always, he thought of Kyo. Kyo would have found the universe in which Ch’en moved un-breathable.… Was he really sure of this? Ch’en also detested hunting. Ch’en also had a horror of blood—before. How well did he know his son at this depth? (66)
We have seen Kyo and Ch’en in Hankow, together resisting the impersonal coldness of Party calculation, although we must grant that Kyo can attempt to justify his waywardness by appealing to a different reading of Marxism while Ch’en—trying to get approval for his attempt on Chiang—can finally appeal only to his unique, individual “need.” Kyo sees this at once as he witnesses Ch’en’s dispute with Vologin: “Kyo knew the argument had no essential validity for Ch’en, even though he had come here. Destruction alone could put him in accord with himself” (150). But behind Kyo’s appeal to rational principle is there not concealed the need for him to resist having his will paralyzed by the inflexibility of doctrine? In brief, the issue between Vologin and him concerns whether the Communist groups yield peacefully to Chiang’s demands until a riper time, since they are still the weaker group within the Kuomintang, or whether they hold onto their arms and fight him openly for supremacy, however unlikely their chances. As we would expect, Kyo insists on the latter course even though Vologin’s impassive arguments give him considerable trouble. For Kyo’s stubbornness may have other than dialectical sources. His major argument, he acknowledges to Vologin, is at bottom a personal one: “… in Marxism there is the sense of a fatality, and also the exaltation of a will. Every time fatality comes before will I’m suspicious” (147). Here surely is the subjective voice of Nietzschean rebellion we hear talking of the sovereignty of the will within and of the treason to the willing self if one submits to an objective will imposed from the outside—by the forces of history or by a political party that claims to move with the forces of history. This may seem more a rationale for Ch’en than for the moderation we have come to expect from Kyo. After all, Nietzsche goes neither with Marx nor with Hegel. And it may be that Ch’en is speaking for Kyo as well as himself when he answers Vologin’s demand—made, curiously enough, to Kyo rather than to Ch’en—for obedience to the Party line: “It’s not through obedience that men go out of their way to get killed—nor through obedience that they kill.… Except cowards” (154).
Of course Kyo also objects to what he feels is an excessive reliance on fatality in Ch’en as well. He feels that Ch’en’s very insistence on the violent expression of his will is but a self-deception concealing his passive submission to implacable powers whose pawn he is. As Ch’en speaks of his determination to act his own way, “Kyo felt that Ch’en’s will in the matter played a very small role. If destiny lived somewhere, it was there tonight, by his side” (159). But we have noted, despite the obvious differences between them, how parallel are the positions of Kyo and Ch’en in the face of Party inflexibility at Hankow. And just before leaving, at a most rare moment of complete self-knowledge, Kyo seems anxious to give us the very evidence we need to uncover his Ch’en-filled, fully humanized self:
It was easy to explain [Ch’en’s] departure; but the explanation was not sufficient. Ch’en’s unexpected arrival, Vologin’s reticences, the list, Kyo understood all that; but each of Ch’en’s gestures brought him nearer again to murder, and things themselves seemed to be pulled along by his destiny. Moths fluttered about the little lamp. “Perhaps Ch’en is a moth who secretes his own light—in which he will destroy himself.… Perhaps man himself…” Is it only the fatality of others that one sees, never one’s own? Was it not like a moth that he himself now wanted to leave for Shanghai as soon as possible, to maintain the sections at any price? (166–167)
Thus Kyo can explain how what seems to Ch’en like the free play of his pure willfulness is seen from the outside as his submission to fatality. Note how Kyo’s mind works here: He moves from the moths to the mothlike quality of Ch’en; then suggests this may characterize all men, each of whom sees it in all but himself; and finally makes the awesome extension of his discovery to himself. But in recognizing that the comparison to the moth is as well applied to himself as to Ch’en, Kyo in effect acknowledges that, despite his insistent distrust of fatality, he may be no more exempt from it—no surer of the spontaneity of his will—than is the equally determined Ch’en. Further, in suggesting that, unlike a moth—indeed rather like the Phoenix—Ch’en secretes “his own light … in which he will destroy himself,” Kyo is after all conceding a significant role to Ch’en’s will as well.
It ought to be pointed out that Kyo’s suspicions about Ch’en’s willfulness arise from his own more deliberate voluntarism that cannot escape its reliance on intelligence. And Marxist dogma furnishes the ground for the operation of Kyo’s reason. Thus what to Ch’en is the spontaneous expression of self is to Kyo the passive enslavement to powers which lead him to evade the rational responsibility that alone can for Kyo ensure true willfulness. But Ch’en is responsible to the spirit of the revolution rather than to the dialectic of Marxism. In a sense, then, he is indeed the pure passion of willfulness even as he is the reflection of a fatality. On the one hand, Ch’en’s self has become so dominant in his actions that it is no longer bound up with its fellow forces in the revolution that has brought it to full realization. On the other hand, his self has been so sacrificed to the passionate tide of revolution, so submerged in it, as to strive only for its own loss of identity. Ch’en was initially propelled toward the revolution by a moral imperative—perhaps the remnants of his discarded Christian training—as well as by a mystic and demoniac force. But once Ch’en was in it, this mystic force, seeing in the revolution its perfect embodiment, seized upon Ch’en as its own and so completely identified him with the blind violence of rebellion that he has become both all Ch’en and no Ch’en, all Ch’en and all revolutionary fury. And in the concession we have seen Kyo finally make to Ch’en’s will and in his questioning of his own, we may prefer to read Kyo’s growing awareness that he has been deluding himself in calling upon Marxism as the rational mediator he saw as required for any truly willful decision. Perhaps his disputes with Vologin and Possoz, in which he must have observed that variant interpretations of doctrines were wholly conditioned by the needs of the interpreting self, have taught him to see his reasoned arguments as tools of his personal needs rather than as their master. Thus his defiant return to Shanghai and his desperate desire “to maintain the sections” which the Party as well as the Kuomintang wants dissolved—and to maintain them “at any price,” be it noted—are acknowledged to involve Kyo in the same mothlike deception in which Ch’en’s less rationalized decision involve him, and for the same reasons.
During the entire interlude in Hankow, as Kyo witnesses his impotence before the Party and sees it as a reflection of the revolution’s impotence before the impersonal forces that resist willfulness, he senses a new kinship with the reckless Ch’en:
At the same time that the fellowship of the night brought Ch’en closer to him, Kyo was seized by a feeling of dependence, the anguish of being nothing more than a man, than himself; there came back to him the memory of Chinese Mohammedans he had seen, on nights just like this, prostrate on the plains covered with sun-scorched lavender, howling those songs that for thousands of years have torn the man who suffers and who knows he is to die.… What he had heard, much more distinctly than the arguments of Vologin, was the silence of the factories, the distress of the dying city, bedecked with revolutionary glory, but dying none the less. They might as well bequeath this cadaver to the next insurrectional wave, instead of letting it dissolve in crafty schemes. No doubt they were all condemned: the essential was that it should not be in vain. It was certain that Ch’en also felt bound to him by a prisoner’s friendship. (156)
And while Ch’en is speaking the wild thoughts we have read about his own prospective death, Kyo hears him
as if his words were brought forth by the same nocturnal power as his own anguish, by the all-powerful intimacy of anxiety, silence and fatigue.… he felt in himself the shudder of the primordial anguish, the same as that which threw Ch’en into the arms of the octopuses of sleep [those of Ch’en’s nightmares] and into those of death. (158–159)
But suddenly the momentary sense of identity becomes painful. When Kyo asks why Ch’en feels he must be the one to attempt the assassination, Ch’en answers, “Because I don’t like the woman I love to be kissed by others” (160). Unknown to Ch’en, this is as painful a reply as he could make: “The words opened the flood-gates to all the suffering Kyo had forgotten.” For Kyo’s personal crisis in the novel arises because he cannot live up to the Marxist sexual freedom he claimed to allow May: because he cannot “like the woman [he loves] to be kissed by others.” And he is crushed both because she is kissed and because he cannot like it. It is another instance of Kyo’s refusal to yield up the emotional demands of the self to coldly rational doctrine. And in Ch’en’s simple reply we understand how much this is his refusal too.
It is Kyo’s relation with May that helps us see the all-important breach between the private and the public Kyo. After all, if Ch’en is a tragic visionary, then however he suffers from his sense of a solitude never to be broken—and we see him continually suffering from it—he must accept it as part of the price for his vision. But Kyo, as the ideal Marxist who has completely merged with those for whose dignity he struggles, ought to have escaped Ch’en’s aloneness into an ever-widening fellowship. If the revolution has not broken the shell of his isolation, we must ask whether he, any more than Ch’en, has really passed beyond the private state of rebellion into the human community toward which the Marxist direction (or misdirection) of the revolution was supposed to point. And the anguished private Kyo shows us how untouched the revolutionary camaraderie has left his inmost self.
The problem is symbolized by Kyo’s single experience to which his troubled mind constantly reverts: he hears recordings made of his voice and cannot recognize it as his own even though he is assured it is accurately reproduced. He learns that no one normally hears his own voice as he hears the voices of others, that one’s own voice is to himself as it is to no one else. Gisors explains to him that one’s own is the single voice one does not need ears to hear. One hears it with his throat. Gisors adds significantly, “Opium is also a world we do not hear with our ears” (48). Precisely. For this world one hears alone, in his own way. And we must remember also that in this novel opium symbolizes the unrestrained subjectivity of monomaniac ecstasy. What one seems to be to the rest of the world is something else altogether, an object, a thing to be sensed from the outside only. The subjective person remains cut off, abandoned, invulnerable to the perceptions of others. It is no wonder that Kyo, who lives only to have his self open outward to his fellows, is haunted by his memory of the phonograph records.
And the revolution, as Ch’en has shown, furnishes no cure for the solitude since it only feeds the recklessness of subjectivity. Nor can there, for Kyo any more than for Ch’en, be found a home in Marxism or its haven, the Party. For the person, the source of the drive that creates the revolution and gives it its demoniac value, is a sanctuary beyond the reach of its dogmatic representative. To political action the person remains irrelevant. If Kyo does achieve some break-through beyond aloneness, as Ch’en does not, it is through the I-Thou relation he has with May, not through their political relation or through any political relation. We are told explicitly how nonpolitical their relation is:
First of all there was solitude, the inescapable aloneness behind the living multitude like the great primitive night behind the dense, low night under which this city of deserted streets was expectantly waiting, full of hope and hatred. “But I, to myself, to my throat, what am I? A kind of absolute, the affirmation of an idiot: an intensity greater than that of all the rest. To others, I am what I have done.” To May alone, he was not what he had done; to him alone, she was something altogether different from her biography. The embrace by which love holds beings together against solitude did not bring its relief to man; it brought relief only to the madman, to the incomparable monster, dear above all things, that every being is to himself and that he cherishes in his heart.… “Men are not my kind, they are those who look at me and judge me; my kind are those who love me and do not look at me, who love me in spite of everything, degradation, baseness, treason—me and not what I have done or shall do … (59)
A Communist granting to love the power to ignore even political treason! Perhaps now we can understand why Kyo could not from the depths of him grant to May the license dictated by their impersonal creed. And Kyo’s final advantage over Ch’en—his partial victory over solitude—is won, not through his more faithful allegiance to doctrine and Party, but through his capacity to cherish a single, carefully discriminated other person in whom the sense of otherness is dissolved. Yet this love is of value “only to the madman” of whom we have seen Gisors also speak; it does not unite him to “the universe.” That is, in its inwardness it does not serve Marxism so much as it serves the Ch’en-like spirit of revolution. Thus, returning to take May with him on his most dangerous mission, Kyo “understood now that the willingness to lead the being one loves to death itself is perhaps the complete expression of love, that which cannot be surpassed” (216).
Kyo’s love for May contrasts extremely with Ferral’s abusive attempt to possess Valérie, even more extremely than it contrasts with Kyo’s own isolation from his cohorts and his doctrine. But perhaps things opposed to the same thing may in this case be somewhat alike, so that Ferral’s world and Kyo’s Party may be surprisingly related. Obviously, Ferral, like Gerald Crich in Women in Love, represents the acquisitive magnate who must dominate his world by converting all who come within his orbit into things subject to his manipulation. Obviously, too, it is in this way that Ferral is meant by the Marxist Malraux to portray the sick octopus of capitalism which our heroes vainly struggle to dismember. But is Ferral, after all, so different from the anti-capitalist world, that world politically sympathetic to Kyo that yet can do no more than use him? Ferral’s judgment of men, as he defines it for Gisors, is precisely what we have just seen Kyo unhappily expecting from his comrades, from all but May: “A man is the sum of his actions, of what he has done, of what he can do. Nothing else. I am not what such and such an encounter with a man or woman may have done to shape my life; I am my roads …” (242). So while Ferral, who defines intelligence as “the means of coercing things or men” (239), is surely intended as Kyo’s opposite number and as representative of the alternative to the revolution, he may also be seen—only in part despite Malraux—as reflecting a psychology hardly opposed to that of the Party. And yet, ironically, even Ferral is defeated at the end by the petty, unimaginative, circumspect bankers of Paris. He is, even in his own misdirections, too willful, too subjectively driven for this dull machine of a world. Thus he is as obsolete as are Ch’en and Kyo, like them finally unsuited to the coldly formulated objective his will has been serving (even while it has also been serving the cravings of his violent self). But, unless I have done my job well, what may be shocking, as it is certainly counter to Malraux’s conscious intention, is that the two objectives, so antithetical from the Marxist point of view, are so similar and so similarly intolerant and intolerable from the existential point of view Malraux the artist seems, perhaps unwittingly, to foist upon us.
Needless to say, the existential sense that gives the novel its deepest life frequently has the Marxist sense intruded upon it, if nowhere so painfully and blatantly as in the picture of Hemmelrich as the pacified, even docile, Soviet worker. Thus Kyo faces his death not only with the exaltation his revolutionary sense of violence and dignity and the “meaning of life” should lead us to expect, but also with a gratified awareness that he is as one with his comrades and that together their deaths shall serve the future of their cause.
It is easy to die when one does not die alone. A death saturated with this brotherly quavering, an assembly of the vanquished in which multitudes would recognize their martyrs, a bloody legend of which the golden legends are made! (323)
Oddly, this passage occurs only very shortly after Kyo is found lamenting that through death he must desert May. “For more than a year May had freed him from all solitude, if not from all bitterness” (322). Surely without May this Kyo does die alone. His fellow prisoners cannot replace her, cannot break through to the private, subjective Kyo. It is only the public Kyo who can share with them; the Kyo who—a creature of Ferral’s universe—is no more than the sum of his actions, “what he has done”; the Kyo of the phonograph records, heard with the ears and not the throat. Is this perhaps why, just before he thinks of May as he lies there contemplating his own immediate death, “He remembered—his heart stopped beating—the phonograph records” (321)? For, Malraux to the contrary, the private Kyo is doomed to die alone, beyond the touch of political associates and their common cause.
Even Ch’en, before his death, is seen justifying it by placing his terroristic act in the context of the revolutionary future. The comfort he gives himself sounds not very different from Kyo’s:
Give an immediate meaning to the individual without hope and multiply the attempts, not by an organization, but by an idea: revive the martyrs. Pei, writing, would be listened to because he, Ch’en, was going to die; he knew how much weight an idea acquires through the blood that is shed in its name. (247)
But Ch’en is even more out of character seeking this sort of comfort than is Kyo seeking his. Nor is Ch’en a character we might expect to find deluding himself. It is once again the doctrinaire Malraux deluding either himself or us, in either case doing less than justice to his deeper penetrations into the nature of revolutionary fervor. And these penetrations have convinced us, too much so for us to be convinced now.
I said at the outset that Malraux, like many other moderns, has passed through several conflicting phases. By now, however, we may see that it would be more accurate to have said that he was poised upon several of them at the same time. His sense of the complexity of contemporary experience was too keen for all of him to rest satisfied with a single formulation that was to contain it, especially with so superficial a formulation as Marxism. And although it runs counter to his Marxism, Malraux in Man’s Fate seems in spite of himself to feel his way through to a vision of the nature of revolution as demoniac. It may be that as the years passed, despite the orthodox defense of the Communist in Days of Wrath (1936), Malraux, wisely adjusting ideology to experiential insight rather than the other way round, changed his ideology accordingly. Eventually he may himself have come to realize the full significance of his ambiguous, perhaps even confused, picture of the revolutionary in Man’s Fate.
These inartistic but strikingly instructive ambiguities should not now be hard to follow. Beginning with a synthetic, ideologically postulated Kyo who is to serve as the Marxian corrective to the recklessly solipsistic Ch’en, Malraux rather provides Ch’en with the psychological authenticity that persuades us to accept him and his uninhibited subjectivity as properly representative of the revolutionary. But we may go further. We may claim that Malraux’s dramatic sensibility forced him to undercut the synthetic Kyo by having him in many places unconsciously reflect facets of the purer, more extreme Ch’en. Kyo struggles against the dominance of these forces within himself by denying the claims of the Ch’en who is their absolute embodiment. Thus Kyo, or Malraux, deluded about the nature of faithfulness to the revolution, fails to see that Ch’en is the revolution incarnate, the satanic archetype of rebellion, and thus the logical consequent of Kyo’s own subjective commitment, the consequent Kyo dare not consistently face. So Marxian hangovers and intrusions persist, and hence the ambiguities. But it is this extreme symbol of revolutionary force, acting as the norm against which other manifestations of revolution may be measured, that turns Man’s Fate largely into an anti-Marxist, indeed an anti-political novel, and into a moving revelation of the tragic vision. It is the extremity as well as the demonism of Ch’en that is crucial here. For extremity—the exceptional as the purification of the more commonly acceptable—is a defining characteristic of the tragic. And Ch’en, who in his illogic is yet the logical extremity of his more muddled fellows, shows the function of the casuistic element in the tragic. As the avant-garde and the purist, he casts behind him a long image that bestows upon Kyo a brilliant and frightening clarity, in light of which he too, however reluctantly, must be seen by us as at last entering Ch’en’s tragic circle. It must follow that Ch’en has also bestowed upon him the ontological status of fellow visionary.
2. Ignazio Silone: The Failure of the Secular Christ
There are neurotics for whom revolution is a form of intoxication, a kind of lyrical exaltation. “Better a day as a lion than a hundred days as a sheep.” (284)5
This statement, made in Bread and Wine by Silone’s obvious spokesman, Pietro Spina, is to dispose of the Ch’en mentality for us clearly enough. The minor character, Uliva, is the one analogue to Ch’en in the novel. Some of the similarities are striking. We are introduced to Uliva immediately after the Party functionary, Romeo, has enunciated the truism, “Scratch an intellectual, and you always find an anarchist!” (173) Uliva insists on the bankruptcy of the Party apparatus and its tyrannical nature, on the inevitability of a “Red inquisition [succeeding] the present inquisition” (175). And with the willful anti-fatality of Kyo, Spina answers:
Destiny is an invention of the cowardly and the resigned.… Why should there be no way out? Are we hens shut up in a hen-coop? Why should we remain the victims of an inexorable fate, powerless to fight against it? (175–176).
Spina admits that if he were to accept this fate he could not reconcile himself to life but would have to fear it. Uliva can accept it and reconcile himself, but in a way similar to Ch’en’s:
I am not afraid of life, but I am still less afraid of death. Against a life which is dominated by pitiless laws the only weapon left to man’s free will is non-life, the destruction of life, death, beautiful death.… Life can control man, but man can control death—his own death, and, with a little wariness, the death of tyrants. (177)
So the resort must again be to terrorism: to assassination and to suicide. And, like Ch’en, Uliva is killed by an explosion of his own making, one intended to destroy his enemies, those that make up the repressive government.
Spina, perhaps with more justifiable confidence than Kyo’s, sees that he and Uliva “belonged to different worlds” (177). Of course there are important differences between Malraux and Silone. They are partly indicated by the fact that Uliva’s disaffection from the Party and his dedication to reckless individual action stem more from his refusal to compromise his moral integrity than from his subjective need for self-assertion. Silone as a revolutionary is primarily a moralist, interested in the moral—if not the spiritual—aspect of Christianity; interested, that is, in the private person and through him the creation of a “different race of men” (250). While the revolution is of course aimed at reconstituting society, it is to be aimed even earlier at reconstituting people. As in Malraux, the very process of revolution has a value for the individual apart from its chances for victory. The struggle to be free, Spina tells us, is already a kind of freedom. Thus, our unusual revolutionary Socialist can say, “You can be a free man under a dictatorship” (32). But of course what the revolution can do for Silone’s individual is something quite apart from the subjective satisfactions that obsessed Malraux’s demoniac creatures. It is for Silone a question of moral “conversion” that he thinks of as bordering on the Christian.
It is the relation of the Christian to the revolutionary that is primary in Silone. And it is crucial because somehow Silone must resolve the inevitable difficulties that arise when the revolutionary need to convert society at large conflicts with the moral need to convert the private person. Of course Silone modifies the notion of the Christian in such a way that he excludes mystery and spirit since, as he shows us through Cristina, any divorce from materialism drives Christianity into the arms of political and economic reaction. But if revolutionary Marxian materialism denudes Christianity by reducing it to the brotherliness of socialist equality in things, so the introduction of the pure and absolute moralism of Christianity purges revolutionary activity of its pragmatic ruthlessness. Thus Spina the adolescent drawn to the Church and Spina the hardened professional revolutionary come to transform each other into a union at once sweet and effective. The cautious Dr. Sacca, in choosing a priestly disguise for his hunted friend, is sound in his assurance that Spina was not “capable of putting these garments to irreverent use” (36). It is rather the garments that do violence to Spina’s doctrinaire notions:
Gradually and imperceptibly he became more and more completely absorbed by his fictitious rôle, which he nurtured with the still Jiving dreams of his youth. He became a prisoner of his own fantasy. (84)
He returns to his early fascination with devotional books and with the blessings of sainthood. Consequently, he must distrust the collective and Machiavellian tactics of his Party, even if his still remaining social idealism forces him still to distrust the Church. Political idealism and moral-religious idealism join, as ways of sanctifying the individual, in their abhorrence of institutions, religious or political: “Have I escaped from the opportunism of a decadent Church only to fall into bondage to the opportunism of a party?” (83). And Karl Marx is not needed to find one’s way to this fusion. Spina’s old teacher, Don Benedetto, comes to it solely through his religion, since he has purged that religion of everything except what seems to Silone essential primitive elements that lead it to become identified with modern socialism, also properly purged.
Thus it is that despite the Party’s disdain for individual action, sainthood becomes for Spina the only effective weapon in the revolutionary struggle. In Don Benedetto’s words,
No word and no gesture can be more persuasive than the life, and, if necessary, the death, of a man who strives to be free, loyal, just, sincere, disinterested; a man who shows what a man can be. (250)
And Don Benedetto, Spina himself, and the newly converted Murica become by their examples elements of further conversion of the seemingly hopeless masses among whom “the news was spread” so that they can say of their saints, “If only everyone were like him” (240, 251).
It is of course all too obvious that in his anxiety to press the analogy between the New Testament and the trials of the modern purified Socialist, Silone has sprinkled his story liberally with familiar parabolic elements. Spina’s clerical garb, the breviary he so frequently peruses, and the victims sacrificed in governmental atrocities give Silone ample opportunity, and he rarely passes it up. But there is one central way in which he uses the biblical model to fashion his modern parable. When in 1944 Silone returned to these characters, this plot, and this theme to modulate them in the direction in which he had moved, he accentuated the analogy to Christ by entitling his play And He Hid Himself. This title emphasizes what Silone may have recognized as his most expressive manipulation of the biblical motif in the earlier novel. From the start of the novel with its Manger scene, the role of Spina is created and given significance in response to his need to hide himself. Ironically, the atheist must hide himself in the priest’s clothing. Yet, in Silone’s eyes, what he has done is symbolically justified: surface reality has merely caught up with essential reality in that Spina has been doing the work of the true Christian while the Churchmen have not. Don Benedetto acknowledges as much by giving another turn to the metaphor of “hiding”:
… he who lives for justice and truth, without caring for the consequences, is not an atheist, but he is in the Lord and the Lord is in him. (21) In times of conspiratorial and secret struggle the Lord is obliged to hide Himself and assume pseudonyms.… Might not the ideal of social justice that animates the masses today be one of the pseudonyms the Lord is using to free Himself from the control of the churches and the banks? (241)
Thus true Christianity is hiding within the atheistic revolutionary movement even as Spina is hiding within the invented priest, Don Paolo Spada. While God is missing from the movement’s belief, the moral idea of God is there and, paradoxically, only there where his nonexistence is professed. And once again, after almost two thousand years, God as revolutionary has gone “out of the temple.”
In the play, where in the words of John the hiding man-God enters the title itself, the obvious elements of parable are multiplied and dwelled upon until the drama is pretty well transformed into passion play. A new character is introduced to make explicit also the going out of the temple: Brother Gioacchino, the friar who insists on the continuing Crucifixion of man by denying the Resurrection and by rejecting the Church that falsely tries to console man in his agony by affirming it. Spina and Brother Gioacchino are so juxtaposed that the one enters the priestly habit as the other discards his. The atheistic man of violence hides himself within the temple, thus purifying it, and the dedicated man of religion-without-mystery, in order to preserve his dedication, leaves it. For Silone both are equally proper versions of the sacrificial Son of Man in his sufferings. And they are accordingly joined together for future action at the play’s close.
But what is the relation of this naturalized Christianity or this mild and sweetened Marxism to Malraux and to the tragic vision beyond the obvious fact that it rejects them both? That, very likely contrary to Silone’s intention, there is such a relation becomes increasingly clear as we examine what I have spoken of as the inevitable conflict between the need for the revolution to strive for victory and the need for it to convert the individual. Like Malraux, Silone presents a contrasting trio, shading from the character who breaks too completely with the Party, leaving himself ineffectively and terroristically alone, to the character who through his critical faculty maintains an independent humanity while resisting a final break with the Party, to the character who accepts the Party so uncritically as to merge with it as apparatus. And in Malraux, we must remember, these shadings managed sometimes to touch and sometimes to produce reflections as well as contrasts. As we have seen the somewhat analogous roles played by Ch’en and Uliva and by Kyo and Spina, so Silone provides analogues for Vologin, Malraux’s representative of unyielding Party authority. Romeo appears as the Party underground leader in both the novel and the play, although we have a more sharply critical, a more dehumanized version of him in the later work. Perhaps Silone has fused Bolla, the other and more hardened Party leader of the novel, with Romeo in order to create the Romeo of the play. This Romeo tells the sensitive Annina, who properly is Spina’s “convert” to the Party, that the only useful revolutionaries
are those who manage to put their nerves out of the game.… It’s a sort of narcosis.… we must manage to put our normal sensibility to sleep, we must chloroform it.… never trust sentimental revolutionaries.… we must merge our normal feelings in our will to fight. We must draw them away from our epidermis and our nerves and hide them in our bones. (29–30)6
Romeo is ready to face the fact, insisted on by Annina, that this prescribed disposition constitutes a betrayal of the very moral sensibility that led him into the struggle. Annina maintains that Spina has resisted this narcosis while retaining his usefulness, and the play bears out her claims. When Annina breaks with the Party to follow Murica, the discredited and haunted informer, Romeo is “disappointed in her” while Spina “never dreamed she was so close to perfection” (74). He attributes to her “a spirit in which our fierce fanaticisms melt away” (75). But at this stage Spina himself is not up to this spirit and perhaps more properly attributes to himself the fanaticism of Romeo. Accordingly he insists that he alone must be the one to execute Murica “without hatred and without pity. Like a surgeon” (77). Even later, just before he is forced to hear Murica’s confession, Spina admits that, unlike “confessors and psychiatrists,” “a revolutionary movement, if it’s not to betray its mission, in certain cases has got to be merciless to the point of cruelty” (93).
In the novel as in the play Spina changes after hearing this painful confession. He frees himself from the need to make a Party judgment and acknowledges the human difficulty in making any other judgment:
If I were the head of a party or a political group … I should judge you according to the party statutes. Every party is based on a definite ideology and is equipped with a corresponding morality, which is codified in objective rules. Often these rules are very like those with which every man is inspired by his own conscience, often they are the very reverse. But I am not, or am no longer, a political leader. I am just an ordinary mortal, and, if I am to judge another man, I can have nothing to guide me but my own conscience. Besides, it is only within the narrowest limits that one man has the right to judge another. (Bread and Wine, p. 264)
Murica has already opposed pure morality to Party necessity in describing his reactions to his sense of guilt as a renegade:
The idea that everything was matter, that the idea of good was inseparable from the idea of utility (even if it were social utility) and was based on the idea of punishment, became insupportable to me. Punishment by whom? The state? The group? Public opinion? But what if the state, the group, public opinion were immoral? Besides, supposing there were a definite method, a definite technique, of doing evil with assured impunity: what would then be the basis of morality? Could a technique which eliminated all danger of retribution destroy the distinction between good and evil? That thought terrified me. I became filled with dread of chaos, of the void.… I did not believe in God, but I started wishing with my whole soul that God existed. I had need of Him to escape from my fear of the void. (262–263)
This awareness of utter despair, this confrontation of nothingness, leads to his need to suffer for his guilt by returning to an absolute morality, as he tells Spina in the play at the close of the analogous passage to the one just quoted from the novel:
The most frightful punishment imaginable seemed to me infinitely preferable to placid acceptance of a world in which the problem of evil could be solved by a little cunning and dexterity of execution. If I finally decided to confess everything, taking no thought of the consequences, it was with the deliberate and clear-cut intent of setting up order once again between the world and myself, of restoring the ancient boundary between good and evil, without which I couldn’t go on living any more. (100)
These are all echoes of the metapolitical definition of evil that Silone and his reformed revolutionaries arrive at. In the novel Don Benedetto puts it this way:
The evil I see around me is deeper than politics. It is a canker. You cannot heal a putrefying corpse with warm poultices. There is the class struggle, the town and the country, but underlying all these things there is man, a poor, weak, terrified animal. The canker has penetrated to his marrow.… (249)
And Spina comes to see his own anguished, if unacknowledged, acceptance of this notion:
He had always instinctively avoided penetrating man’s individual troubles and secrets—perhaps because he feared that the rather simple idea he had formed of human sufferings and their solution might be destroyed in the process; perhaps, also, because he was afraid of being confronted with sufferings that had no solution. Uliva’s trenchant judgment of him suddenly returned to his mind. “You are afraid of the truth. You force yourself to believe in progress, to be an optimist and a revolutionary, because you are terrified of the opposite.” (271)
How, then, can the Spina who sees so deeply continue to act as revolutionary and as a revolutionary who, whatever his reservations, finally remains within the confines of the Party and its objectives? Should not Spina the activist find himself paralyzed by such nonpragmatic notions of a good and evil that transcend social-economic organization and rather relate directly to the fallen nature of man? If, as a properly humble individual person, he has sense enough of his own weakness to find judgment of others difficult, if not impossible; and if he recognizes that as individual he cannot surrender this private problem of judgment to a Party’s collective and doctrinaire judgment; then how can he persist in inspiring himself and others to revolutionary violence as, with whatever reservations, he does to the end of both novel and play?
The difficulties in Silone’s attempt to identify the Christian and the revolutionary emerge at this point. In novel and play there is, first, the corrupt law of the government and of its perverted Church. This is answered by the seemingly opposed law of revolutionary Party doctrine which, however, through Uliva and the humanized Spina, comes to be seen as equally corrupt. The answer, then, is not the substitution of one apparatus for another but the substitution of the individual as a unique value for the apparatus and its collective values. And no collective agent, not even a party supposedly dedicated to individuals, can serve without subverting its objective. If we see this far, what kind of individual can we have to provide the answer? Silone would want him to be at once the pure individual revolutionary and the all-loving individual Christian. But the former of these, what might be termed a naturalistic humanist, knows whom to hate as well as whom to love: he has his source in pride. He is proud of his own values and of his ability to discriminate the loved from the hated in terms of them. We can speak of Agape only in reference to the Christian, who has his source in humility. But its price is an inability to act that follows from an inability to hate and a refusal to judge. Here is the consequence of holding with consistency that the individual is a unique value. Spina cannot do completely without this notion of Christianity, since he must move beyond the Party’s humanistic expediency. But of course Spina will not fully accept this Christianity since it would finally lead him to the position which in Bread and Wine he finds so intolerable in Cristina: to a morality that is “purely contemplative” (81). Instead of his converting Cristina to his revolutionary humanism, as he does, she would convert him to her unworldly, spiritual Christianity. He would be brought to see that the very moral integrity that led him to reject the Party’s way would lead him to reject all action; that he cannot indulge in the pride and self-righteousness that permit action without courting the same moral bankruptcy. So he would have to cease being a revolutionary altogether.
While Spina resists recognizing these consequences, he manages only to jumble messily together his roles as revolutionary and as Christian, sometimes invoking the one and sometimes the other. Neither in the novel nor in the play can Silone show them as merging into the single glorified role of the new saint, although it was clearly his objective to do so. If he were content to dissociate himself from this failure by putting it off on Spina and to reveal it as an inevitable failure—if, that is, he were writing an existential rather than a political and ideological novel or play—Spina could have been developed into a moving version of the demoniac. There are some rather explicit suggestions in this direction, especially in the play, but Silone hardly seems aware of them. He is so anxious to unite the Christian and the revolutionary that he is less than fully alert to his own evidences of their opposition.
When in the play (39–43) the sympathetic landlady protests the jailing of an innocent man, one of the government representatives somewhat ironically states the Christian doctrine that “no man is wholly and entirely innocent.” The landlady forces them to admit that this fallen state applies to everyone and then asks about the apparent exemption from it of “the powers that be.” While they are men, she is told, as “exceptional men” “for themselves they have made a special law.” She replies at once that Spina is also an exceptional man who “has made himself a special law,” who “is a law unto himself.” Through the rest of the play this notion of a special law for the Spinas—a “proud race,” a “headstrong … truly unaccommodating race”—is insisted upon. As we would expect, it is applied also to Brother Gioacchino and Murica. Surely, however, the juxtaposition of Spina and “the powers that be” as being outside the law of common humanity carries its own irony. In the assertion of pridefulness, in the claim to be above human failings they are only too obviously alike, so that we must recognize that the rebel has fashioned his mentality as a reflection of the mentality he means to be struggling against. Can the individual be “a law unto himself” without assuming the infallibility which is as falsely assumed by the government he hates and the party he distrusts?
The theme of pride is even more explicitly dwelt upon in the Magdalene episode of the play (83–84). Spina becomes interested in the outcast “reprobate woman” when he learns she has reacted against society proudly. Dressed as a priest, he tells her he would like to “preach a sermon on pride.” “On the vice of pride?” she asks. He answers, “No, on the virtue of pride.” When she requests Spina’s aid in having her bastard child admitted to catechism class, he rather asks about another kind of education: “Can he throw stones? … Can he use his fists?” Here he is willing to help. And he takes the boy off to teach him these prideful responses to society rather than the submissive ones. We next hear that the child, educated by Spina, has been stoning the “pious women.” This is surely an inversion of the stone-casting motif found in the New Testament, and it makes Spina into a very different sort of Jesus, looking for a very different sort of disciple.
Near the close of the play, as people speak of Murica, who has undergone the modern equivalent of crucifixion, they speak of him as “one of those that have made themselves a special law, a new notion of right and wrong” (107). This claim is immediately followed by a description of his tortures by the state police that all too clearly parallel Christ’s, complete with crown and purple robe. This sequence surely seems meant firmly to establish those who create special laws for themselves as Christ figures—as those who are continually crucified during mankind’s unending Good Friday, according to Brother Gioacchino. And we may be tempted to forget that all this about exceptional men and special laws beyond “the ancient one” (64) began by being applied, however ironically, to the viciously illegal rulers, “the powers that be.” It is the old problem: which is the saint and how do we know? And if the would-be saint is man rather than Jesus, does not his messianic complex—what Spina himself has termed “fierce fanaticism”—lead straight to the anti-Christ, to demonism? Uliva is allowed an additional speech in the play which Silone puts in at his peril, since he has Spina neither heed it nor become less Christ-like for ignoring it.
You spoke to me once about a secret dream of yours. You expressed it in homemade terms: you would make a Soviet out of the Fucino Plain and nominate Jesus Christ President of the Soviet. The idea perhaps mightn’t be a bad one if the son of the Nazareth carpenter were really on this earth still and could exercise that function in person; but, when the nomination was made and note duly taken of his absence, you would have to find a substitute for him. And we in this country know how the representatives of Jesus begin and how they end; eh, and don’t we know it! The poor newly converted Negroes and Indians of the missions don’t know it, but we know it only too well. (60)
Uliva points to the literal fact that reveals Brother Gioacchino’s claim about permanent crucifixion and his denial of the Resurrection to be in the end only symbolic. Agonized modern man must face the literal fact that he is, after all, only man and not Jesus: parable is thus reduced to parody. No wonder that Uliva speaks patronizingly of Spina as engaged in “the struggle of the creature to break down his limitations” (59). He is aware that Spina is better than his party but is even more aware that he must end up as its victim and the revolution’s. For he is but “creature” so that only the blindness of pride can lead him to deny his “limitations.” The fully Christian individual, with his humble spirituality, is the only alternative that avoids compromise; but Uliva cannot consider this alternative any more than Spina can. The assertion of a private ethical from outside all ethical structures (“a special law” for oneself “different from the ancient one” as well as from society’s laws) is already a demoniacal assertion. In foregoing all laws it foregoes all that can be shared, and thus by definition foregoes the ethical. Law that is created only for oneself is hardly law, of course. Beyond the ethical and thus cut off from the claim to a universal sanction, the individual, in acting under the sanction of his unique law, lays claim to being himself an absolute. Nor does he claim, as absolute, an extra-ethical relationship. He is indeed “a law unto himself.”
Here once more, then, we may find—in spite of Silone, as before we found in spite of Malraux—the essence of metaphysical rebellion, of prideful defiance, of the tragic. As Eliot discovered in Murder in the Cathedral, it is almost impossible to explore the problem of sainthood, if one deals with man instead of God-man, without hearkening to these fearful, underground stirrings toward the diabolical. Of course we must not rewrite Silone, and our critical common sense must warn us that his work will hardly allow these insinuations. He seems scarcely ready to acknowledge any faintest movement in these directions. It is not, as in Malraux, that he is at war with himself, the artist giving ground to motions that the ideologue would prefer to have stilled. Rather with Silone the ideologue is so securely in control that the artist never has a chance. If occasionally, through his ideological shabbiness, a subversive notion creeps in and threatens to reveal all about the glaring self-deception that lurks barely hidden beneath, he seems not to be wholly aware of it. So he neither removes it nor gives it its head. And it remains, undeveloped, more to belie his claims than to rival them. I cannot say that the tragic is a very alive vision in either the novel or the play, as I would claim it is in Man’s Fate. But it may be seen undercutting the shallow ideology which the too-committed Silone tried to mask dramatically, and pointing to the real drama he might have seen if, following his own clues as Malraux did, he had opened himself to the tragic vision and to art.
1 Perhaps partly in answer to Irving Howe. He has tried to make politics out of the apparently nonpolitical novel, while I claim one must rather make metapolitical ethics out of the apparently political novel.
2 From Man’s Fate, by André Malraux, trans. Haakon M. Chevalier (New York: Random House, Inc., 1934). Copyright 1934 by Harrison Smith and Robert Haas. Page references appear in the text after the quotation. Excerpts are reprinted with the permission of Random House, Inc.
3 From Days of Wrath, by André Malraux, trans. Haakon M. Chevalier (New York: Random House, Inc., 1936), p. 5.
4 The Nietzschean echo is intended. And, in view of the fact that elements of Nietzsche are frequently found elsewhere in Malraux, my attributing this phrase to those he rejects should point up the extent to which I doubt Malraux’s ability to down the Ch’en within himself even in the Marxist stage of his career.
5 From Bread and Wine, by Ignazio Silone, trans. Gwenda David and Eric Mosbacher (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1937). Copyright 1937 by Harper & Brothers. All page references are to this edition. Excerpts are reprinted with the permission of Harper & Brothers.
6 From And He Hid Himself, by lgnazio Silone, trans. Darina Tranquilli (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1945). Copyright 1945, 1946 by Harper & Brothers. All page references are to the 1945 edition. Excerpts are reprinted with the permission of Harper & Brothers.