Lit in the Time of Coronavirus: Malraux

Hello! Happy Hanukkah (and the 250th anniversary of Beethoven)! I hope that you’re all hopeful now that the vaccine is on its way. I’ve read a book for the occasion. Its title is very fitting:

Man’s Hope, By André Malraux

FLASH STRAP: Tonight on Explorers Room: Singapore Smoke Rings, Getting Organ-ized,  Dream Jazz

“‘To be linked more closely with the Party is worthless, if one’s to be estranged from the very men for whom the Party’s working.”

André Malraux wrote Man’s Fate, a very good book that I recommend you all read (it was one of the better books I read in high school).

Then Malraux wrote Man’s Hope, which isn’t as good as Man’s Fate but is still worth reading. In this essay-like post, I’ll tell you why.

Man’s Hope is about a cast of characters fighting in the Spanish Civil War for different reasons. Malraux himself fought in the Spanish Civil War, so his book has some interesting things to say about war. Since Malraux was philosophical, those things are mostly philosophical.

Even so, some of those philosophical things also raised questions that weren’t answered. For instance, Malraux says that after idealism has spurred soldiers to enter the army, they go on to lose parts of themselves as they fight, and that they use less and less of themselves as they fight, which makes it easier to fight but also degrades their humanity.

But then Malraux also shows soldiers as fighting not for some big ideology like communism or fascism but to belong. Basically, people who are bound together by a shared ideology fight not for that ideology but because they derive a sense of meaning from belonging with each other.

So, if soldiers are aware that they keep losing parts of their humanity in war, how do they justify that it’s worth belonging with their fellows if it’s just as likely that their fellow soldiers have lost parts of their humanity, too? Malraux never suggests any answer or explanation for this.

I read Man’s Fate when I was younger, so I may not have been as critical of it, but I still do remember how everything seemed to be treated thoughtfully. Not like, “Oh, this guy’s so considerate and wholesome” but like, “Oh, this guy really thought through everything he wrote about.” He examined what people thought or believed and then explored why they thought or believed what they did. That gave a lot of insight which might not have been as obvious had he not done it.

Malraux kind of did that in Man’s Hope, too, since he got below the surface-level of ideology as causing the war, but then he didn’t seem to consider the meaning of the stuff he talked about as much as he did back in Man’s Fate. There wasn’t that level of insight in Man’s Hope as a result. So that’s why I think that Man’s Hope wasn’t as good as Man’s Fate (you may think differently though).

In any case, Man’s Hope is still good reading because of the very thing that makes it not as good as Man’s Fate. In some parts, the fact that Malraux didn’t really explore his ideas as fully as he could have was a good thing. For instance, there’s a scene where a man who had given up playing music for the sake of being a soldier suddenly wants to play music again and sits down in front of an organ and cranks out a tune. Malraux never tells the reader why, but unlike in the case I talked about earlier, there’s more of a sense that Malraux intentionally didn’t explain it so he could get the reader to think about it after finishing the book.

Basically, it seems that writers can get away with intentionally not explaining things in certain cases where it’s clear that the reader will get more out of wondering about the answers him or herself. In other cases, it seems that writers may accidentally not explain things that cause the reader confusion and take away from how good a book could have been. That doesn’t mean that the book isn’t worth reading, though.

In conclusion, read it and keep hoping.

Animated gif about cute in GOOD TO KNOW by Dre

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