Letter to The Chronicle of Higher Education

(published 13 May, 2005)

Read What Malraux Wrote

To the Editor:

It is good to see Carlin Romano's essay on André Malraux, an author who merits much more attention than he receives ("André Malraux: the Last American Frenchman," The Chronicle Review, March 11). It's a pity, however, that the occasion had to be the publication of Olivier Todd's Malraux: A Life, whose chief characteristic is that it adds yet another layer to the already enormous pile of myth and misinformation surrounding Malraux's life.

If only Malraux had been a Sartre or a Derrida, rarely venturing out of his Left Bank café or the calm of his study! Much harder then to paint him as someone who "likes to cultivate a heroic image of himself" or "an arriviste 'looking for fame.'" Unfortunately, Malraux happened to think that beliefs should be translatable into action, and the result has provided endless grist for the mills of biographers and commentators with an ax to grind.

I notice also that Carlin Romano says, somewhat condescendingly, that "Man's Fate and Man's Hope remain readable, believable, and heartfelt." Has he forgotten The Voices of Silence and The Metamorphosis of the Gods, arguably among the best works on visual art written in the 20th century? Not to mention the Miroir des Limbes series, beginning with the Antimémoires?

My advice to readers interested in Malraux is to forget the biographies and the endless additions to the Malraux myth. Large dollops of it are unreliable, if not outright fantasy. Read Malraux himself. Judge him by what he wrote.

He saw himself first and foremost as a writer, and it's as a writer, I believe, that he would want most of all to be judged.

Derek Allan
Australian National University
Canberra, Australia