Andre Malraux’s Metamorphosis of the Gods and the making of the personal deity for an agnostic secular society. After the Enlightenment, the Gods engaged in popular bourgeois culture. us and them became increasingly us with them circling around us in servile orbit…
…It is in the second segment of the arch that Malraux strains too hard. And it is here that his view of art as determined by the otherworldly breaks down.
The view itself is not easily fitted into the filing cabinet of established aesthetic systems, and that is perhaps one reason why, up to a point, it is so convincing. It has obviously nothing to do with the art for art’s sake. On the other hand, it has little or nothing to do with art for morality’s sake, as advocated by thinkers from Plato to Tolstoi. It is neither hedonistic nor really utilitarian. It has very little in common with Benedetto Croce,s ideas on “intuition” and nothing with Santayana’s notions of art as pleasure and beauty “objectified.” It is linked with religious emotion, but scarcely to the more hard headed religious theories about art.
Etienne Gilson, for example, expressed the widespread view that Christian art is a kind of “visual aid” in teaching Christian doctrine and for that reason necessarily representational and therefore in many instances not art at all. Man, said Gilson, may in his own humble way try to imitate the Creator by creating art, but “God does not seem interested in creating paintings.”
There is in Andre Malraux’s view a romantic mysticism which seems echoed, but not duplicated, by Carlyle’s view that in art “the infinite is made to blend with the finite…eternity looking through time”; and also by Bernard Bonsaquet’s assertion that the ” ‘idealizations’ characteristic of art are not so much products of an imagination that departs from reality as they are revelations of the life and divinity that is alone ultimately real.”…( to be continued) …
Derek Allan:The result today is an agnostic culture—a culture lacking any fundamental value. The claim is not, one should stress, that belief in God has necessarily become an impossibility, or that no-one in any previous culture ever doubted the prevailing beliefs of their times. ‘Agnosticism is no new thing,’ Malraux writes, ‘what is new is an agnostic culture’. The unprecedented development, which is our present reality, is a culture lacking any fundamental value, any absolute in the sense defined earlier—unlike Ancient Egypt, unlike Greece, unlike Byzantium or the Middle Ages, unlike post-Renaissance Europe, unlike even the nineteenth century despite the fragility of its faith in Man—in short,
unlike so many other cultures that have preceded ours or that have existed in other parts of the world. We can look back across the millennia of human history, Malraux is saying, and see culture after culture in which a shared sense of the numinous, or of the sacred, has given man an assurance of his place in the scheme of things—an assurance that there is something other than the ephemeral realm of appearances. Modern Western culture, by contrast, has only a series of
unanswered questions. Having taken to heart Nietzsche’s pronouncement (issued somewhat late in the day) that God is dead, and having recognised, willingly or not, that, in Malraux words, ‘Man is dead after God’, we are the first ‘agnostic culture’—the first civilisation in human history in which men and women are born, and live, and work, and suffer, and die, without any sense of a fundamental reason for it all. The consequences in the field of art, Malraux argues, have been dramatic….