The conventional view that all Enlightenment thinkers believed that the fruits of Reason could only be beneficial is not necessarily accurate. Laclos, whose celebrated novel "Les Liaisons dangereueses" was published in 1782, provides a perspective on the world of Reason that does not square with that view. Working at the level of individual psychology, Reason in Laclos's novel divides the world into the strong and the weak – more specifically, the astute and the naive. It defines human worth in terms (...) of a capacity to outwit and control others, a capacity that can only be fully expressed by the complete defeat and humiliation of one’s adversary. (shrink)
Can novels, plays and poetry tell us something important and true about who we are, about others, and about life generally? The question seems to be of interest not only to writers on literary theory and aesthetics, but to people generally. This paper considers the issues involved.
The question of whether or not art is essentially a representation of reality has long been a bone of contention among philosophers of art – especially in the major branch of that discipline called the analytic philosophy of art, or analytic aesthetics. This paper argues that art - visual art, literature or music - is never essentially representation. The argument is based on the thinking of André Malraux in "The Voices of Silence".
Examines (1) the birth of art-as-beauty in Western art and the concomitant birth of the idea of art itself; (2) the death of art-of-beauty from Manet onwards. Also looks briefly at some major implications for aesthetics (the philosophy of art). Paper includes some relevant reproductions.
One might naturally suppose that philosophers of art would take a strong interest in the idea of creation in the context of art. In fact, this has often not been the case. In analytic aesthetics, the issue tends to dwell on the sidelines and in continental aesthetics a shadow has sometimes been cast over the topic by the notion of the “death of the author” and by the claim, as Roland Barthes put it, that the author is only ever able (...) to “imitate a gesture that is always anterior, never original”. This paper explains the understanding of artistic creation developed by the French art theorist André Malraux in his well-known book The Voices of Silence. Malraux argues that the true artist is involved in a creative act in the full sense of the term – creation ex nihilo – despite the debt he or she often owes to other artists. The paper also comments briefly on possible reasons why traditional post-Enlightenment aesthetics has said so little about the topic in question. (shrink)
It’s common knowledge that those objects we regard as great works of art have a capacity to survive across time. But that observation is only a half-truth: it tells us nothing about the nature of this power of survival – about how art endures. -/- This question was once at the heart of Western thinking about art. The Renaissance solved it by claiming that great art is “timeless”, “eternal” – impervious to time, a belief that exerted a powerful influence on (...) Enlightenment philosophers and, later, on modern aesthetics. -/- The notion that art is timeless was contradicted by nineteenth century thinkers such as Hegel, Marx, and Taine who stressed the historical embeddedness of art. The conflict of these two ideas, together with other major factors discussed in this paper, has left us today without a viable account of the nature of art’s capacity to transcend time. -/- This paper proposes an alternative solution: the proposition that art survives by a process of metamorphosis. But the principal emphasis of the paper is on the question itself: how does art transcend time? (a question that has nothing to do with the so-called “test of time”). If modern aesthetics is to remain relevant to our modern world of art, in which the art of the past – stretching back to Lascaux and beyond – is as important as Picasso and contemporary art, it urgently needs to address this neglected question. (shrink)
From the Renaissance onwards, the Western tradition singled out the term beauty for a unique and highly prestigious role. As Christian belief began its gradual decline, Renaissance art invented a rival transcendence in the form of an exalted world of nobility, harmony and beauty – the world exemplified by the works of painters such as Raphael, Titian and Poussin. Beauty in this sense quickly became the ruling ideal of Western art, subsequently underpinning the explanations of the nature and function of (...) art (the aesthetics) developed by Enlightenment thinkers such as Hume and Kant – explanations that continue to be influential among contemporary philosophers of art. Today, however, there are fundamental questions to be asked: Is beauty still the ruling ideal of art? If not, what becomes of traditional, post-Enlightenment aesthetics which continues to shape much modern thinking about art? (shrink)
It has long been recognised that great art, whether visual art, literature or music, has a special capacity to “live on” – to endure – long after the moment of its creation. Thus, our world of art today includes, for example, ancient Mesopotamian sculpture, Shakespeare’s plays, and the music of medieval times. How does this capacity to endure operate? Or to ask that question another way: what does “endure” mean in the case of art? The Renaissance concluded that art endures (...) because it is timeless – impervious to change, “eternal”, “immortal” – and this solution, which was ratified without question by Enlightenment philosophers of art such as Hume and Kant, still lingers on in some quarters today. But developments since the nineteenth century have gravely weakened the credibility of the proposition that art is immortal, and the idea is now effectively dead. This leaves us with a major dilemma: if art is not impervious to change, how exactly does it endure? If the time-honoured solution of immortality is no longer viable, what alternative explanation can we find to replace it? -/- This paper explains why immortality is dead, describes our contemporary dilemma, and briefly canvasses a possible solution. (shrink)
The paper highlights analytic aesthetics’ unacknowledged assumption that art is timeless, a view it inherited from Enlightenment thinkers such as Hume and Kant, who in turn inherited it from the Renaissance. This view, I contend, is no longer tenable because it is at odds with our experience of the art of the past. Analytic aesthetics bypasses this dilemma because it confines its attention to topics such as the nature of aesthetic pleasure, whether the appreciation of art should be disinterested and (...) so on, which it partitions off from historical change and encases in a world where time stands still and where, by consequence, the temporal nature of art, including art’s capacity to transcend time, can be ignored. (shrink)
Critics often situate "Les Liaisons dangereuses" within the tradition of the novel of libertinage. Many consider it to be superior to its predecessors but argue nonetheless that it is part of an established tradition, not the beginning of something new. Malraux demurs. While noting similarities with the novel of libertinage, he contends that Laclos’ novel links up much more significantly with the novel of the future, its descendants including Julien Sorel and even Raskolnikov.
The engineer Kirillov, a major character in Dostoevsky's 'Demons', has provoked considerable critical disagreement. In 'The Myth of Sisyphus', Albert Camus argues that he expresses the theme of ‘logical suicide’ with ‘the most admirable range and depth’. Some recent commentators, however, have dismissed Kirillov as a madman in the grip of a mad theory. -/- While dissenting from Camus’s analysis in certain respects, this article offers an interpretation consistent with his basic argument. Kirillov’s suicide is based on a simple, if (...) implacable, logic which convinces him that as long as he kills himself for the right reason, his death will be an act of redemption for all humanity. Kirillov is a wholly ‘metaphysical’ character – one of the earliest in modern fiction – whose ambition to become the ‘man-god’ is explored by Dostoevsky to its ultimate, desolate conclusion. (shrink)
Modern critics often regard Goya's etchings and black paintings as satirical observations on the social and political conditions of his times. In a study of Goya first published in 1950, which seldom receives the attention it merits, the French author and art theorist André Malraux contends that these works have a much deeper significance. The etchings and black paintings, Malraux argues, represent a fundamental challenge to the humanist artistic tradition that began with the Renaissance - a tradition founded on the (...) pursuit of a transcendent world of nobility, harmony and beauty. Following an illness that left him deaf for life, Goya developed an art of a fundamentally different kind - an art, Malraux writes, ruled by ‘the unity of the prison house’ which replaced transcendence with a pervasive feeling of dependence and from which all trace of humanism has been erased. Foreshadowing modern art's abandonment of the Renaissance ideal, the etchings and black paintings are the first announcement of the death of beauty in Western art. (shrink)
Rodion Raskolnikov, the central figure in Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, is one of the best-known characters in the world of the novel but one who continues to pose major interpretive problems. Why exactly does he murder the old pawnbroker and her sister? Why, throughout the novel, does he continue to believe that he has committed no crime? And why, despite this belief, does he suffer a form of psychological breakdown and eventually give himself up to the police? This article, which (...) traces Raskolnikov’s literary ancestry to Les Liaisons dangereuses and Le Père Goriot, argues that Raskolnikov, a prototype of the modern “virtuous assassin” described by Albert Camus in L’Homme révolté, commits murder to implement a “magnificent” idea that will establish his worth as a human being. His ultimate collapse results not, as sometimes suggested, from guilt or remorse, or a belief that he has deluded himself about his motives, but from the state of irremediable solitude into which his act plunges him. (shrink)
Very little has been written in recent decades about the temporal nature of art. The two principal explanations provided by our Western cultural tradition are that art is timeless (`eternal') or that it belongs within the world of historical change. Neither account offers a plausible explanation of the world of art as we know it today, which contains large numbers of works which are self-evidently not timeless because they have been resurrected after long periods of oblivion with significances quite different (...) from those which they originally held, and which also seem to have escaped history because, though long-forgotten, they have `come alive' again for us today. In his two key works on the theory of art, "Les Voix du silence" and "La Métamorphose des dieux", André Malraux offers an entirely new account of the temporal nature of art based on the concept of metamorphosis. Unlike the traditional explanations, Malraux's account makes sense of the world of art as we now know it. He revolutionizes our understanding of the relationship between art and time. (shrink)
Choderlos de Laclos’s novel 'Les Liaisons dangereuses', first published in 1782, is regarded as one of the outstanding works of French literature. This article concerns a well known commentary by the twentieth-century writer André Malraux which, though often mentioned by critics, has seldom been studied in detail. The article argues that, while Malraux endorses the favourable modern assessments of 'Les Liaisons dangereuses', his analysis diverges in important respects from prevailing critical opinion. In particular, he regards the work as the commencement (...) of an important new stage in the French novel rather than, as often argued, the culmination of the existing libertine tradition. (shrink)
After an initial period of popularity in the 1960s and 1970s, André Malraux’s works on the theory of art, "The Voices of Silence" and "The Metamorphosis of the Gods", lapsed into relative obscurity. A major factor in this fall from grace was the frosty reception given to these works by a number of leading art historians, including E.H. Gombrich, who accused Malraux of an irresponsible approach to art history and of "reckless inaccuracies". This essay examines a representative sample of the (...) art historians' arguments and contends that they reveal serious misreadings of Malraux’s texts and a recurring tendency to confuse matters of interpretation with matters of fact. The article suggests that the charge of irresponsibility might well be levelled at the critics themselves, and that the myth of Malraux as guilty of ‘reckless inaccuracies’ needs to be debunked. (shrink)
How does art – literature, visual art, or music – endure over time? What special power does it possess that enables it to “transcend” time – to overcome temporal distance and speak to us not just as evidence of times gone by, but as a living presence? The Renaissance, which discovered this transcendent power of art in the classical sculpture and literature it admired so strongly, concluded that great art is impervious to time – “timeless”, “immortal”, “eternal” – a belief (...) that left a profound impression on Renaissance culture and often found expression in its poetry. Subsequently the same belief exerted a powerful influence on Enlightenment aesthetics and, in various forms, it still lingers on today. The nineteenth century, however, saw a major challenge to this thinking. Hegel, Marx and Taine stressed the historical embeddedness of art and for these three thinkers, as for a series of more recent theorists such as Sartre, Benjamin, and Adorno, art belongs within the world of historical change. To locate its essential qualities in a “timeless” realm removed from the flow of history would be an idealist illusion. The conflict between these two positions has resulted in an impasse, and today we appear to lack any viable account of one of art’s key features – its capacity to transcend time. André Malraux proposes an entirely new account of this unique power of art. For Malraux, as this article explains, art is neither exempt from history (timeless) nor wholly inseparable from it. Art overcomes temporal distance – transcends time – through metamorphosis, a process of continual transformation in significance in which history plays an essential, but not exclusive, part. “La métamorphose,” Malraux writes, “est la vie même de l’œuvre d’art dans le temps, l’un de ses caractères spécifiques.” This proposition, to which contemporary aesthetics has so far paid very little attention, is a revolutionary step in our thinking about art. -/- . (shrink)
A well-known feature of great works of art is their power to “live on” long after the moment of their creation – to remain vital and alive long after the culture in which they were born has passed into history. This power to transcend time is common to works as various as the plays of Shakespeare, the Victory of Samothrace, and many works from early cultures such as Egypt and Buddhist India which we often encounter today in major art museums. (...) -/- What is the nature of this power and how does it operate? The Renaissance decided that works of art are timeless, “immortal” – immune from historical change – and this idea has exerted a profound influence on Western thought. But do we still believe it? Does it match our experience of art today which includes so many works from the past that spent long periods in oblivion and have clearly not been immune from historical change? -/- This book examines the seemingly miraculous power of art to transcend time – an issue widely neglected in contemporary aesthetics. Tracing the history of the question from the Renaissance onwards, and discussing thinkers as various as David Hume, Hegel, Marx, Walter Benjamin, Sartre, and Theodor Adorno, the book argues that art transcends time through a process of metamorphosis – a thesis first developed by the French art theorist, André Malraux. The implications of this idea pose major challenges for traditional thinking about the nature of art. (shrink)
This study provides a step by step explanation of André Malraux’s theory of art. Drawing on his major works, such as "The Voices of Silence" and "The Metamorphosis of the Gods," it examines topics such as the nature of artistic creation, the psychology of our response to art, the birth of the notion of “art” itself and its transformation after Manet, the birth and death of the idea of beauty, the neglected question of the relationship between art and the passage (...) of time, the emergence of our “first universal world of art,” the contemporary role of the art museum and the musée imaginaire, and the contentious question of the relationship between art and history. -/- Rejecting negative criticisms from writers such as Maurice Merleau-Ponty and E. H. Gombrich, the study argues that Malraux offers us a theory of art that is fully coherent and highly illuminating. In addition, the analysis shows that he presents a radical challenge to the traditional explanations of art inherited from the Enlightenment that have dominated Western thinking for some three hundred years. In short, the study unveils a way of understanding art that is nothing short of an intellectual revolution. -/- The book is the English version of a study entitled André Malraux et l’Art: Une Révolution Intellectuelle published in French by Peter Lang in April 2021. (shrink)
Cette étude présente une explication systématique des éléments clés de la théorie de l’art d’André Malraux. Se basant sur des œuvres telles que Les Voix du silence, Le Surnaturel, L’Irréel et L’Intemporel, elle aborde des sujets cruciaux comme la nature de la création artistique, la psychologie de notre réaction à l’art, la naissance de la notion d’« art » et sa transformation après Manet, la naissance et la mort de l’idée de beauté, la question cruellement négligée de la relation entre (...) l’art et le passage du temps, l’émergence de notre « premier monde de l’art universel », le rôle contemporain du musée d’art et du Musée Imaginaire, et la question épineuse du lien entre l’art et l’histoire. Contrairement aux critiques négatives parfois émises contre la pensée de Malraux, l’étude soutient qu’il nous offre une théorie de l’art mûrement réfléchie, entièrement cohérente et très éclairante. De surcroît, et malgré des allégations occasionnelles que la pensée de Malraux manque d’originalité, l’analyse montre que sa théorie de l’art est hautement originale et constitue un défi radical aux explications traditionnelles de l’art issues des Lumières qui ont dominé la pensée occidentale pendant quelque trois cents ans. En bref, l’étude dévoile une façon de comprendre la nature de l’art qui n’est rien de moins qu’une révolution intellectuelle. Le livre va être publie également en anglais. (shrink)
Examines the birth of art-as-beauty in Western art and the concomitant birth of the idea of art itself. Also discusses the death of art-as-beauty from Manet onward and certain implications for aesthetics (the philosophy of art). Includes relevant reproductions. (The essay is a longer version of my paper "The Birth and Death of Beauty in Western Art" also listed on PhilPapers.).
An overview of Malraux's theory of art, with sub-headings: "Basic Principles","The Creative Process","The Emergence of 'Art'","Art and Time", "The Modern Universal World of Art", and "Critical Responses". Includes a brief discussion of the musée imaginaire.
One of the most remarkable contributions André Malraux makes to the theory of art is his explanation of the relationship between art and time: his argument that art transcends time through a process of metamorphosis. This proposition, which replaces the traditional belief that art resists time because it is eternal or immortal, poses a major challenge to traditional aesthetics. This article examines the notion of metamorphosis and the challenge it represents.
Examines Malraux's account of the creative process in art, discusses a misreading of Malraux by Merleau-Ponty, and highlights shortcomings in certain "analytic aesthetics" accounts of the creative process.