To the Editor:
Like so many of Malraux’s critics, Renee Winegarten [Malraux's Fate,” November 1971] has some difficulty realizing that he is not yet dead. Like Sartre, who is utterly incapable of speaking of Malraux in the present tense, Mrs. Winegarten can only speak of “that great gulf between the world of Malraux and the present day” or else ponder the ironies his life will present to future generations. . . .
But perhaps Mrs. Winegarten is less concerned with presenting a portrait of a man who has been embroiled in the struggle against humiliation all around the globe than she is in delivering a hatchet job. She tells us of a “Nietzschean elitist” who took special delight in the ferocity of his troops while neglecting to add that the same man was a recipient of both the French Croix de la Libération and the British Distinguished Service Order. . . .
Mrs. Winegarten makes insinuations about Malraux’s hesitation in joining the Resistance . . . but she almost overlooks his service in the Resistance, where he accomplished much more actually fighting than Sartre ever did sitting at his desk. . . . Among other things, Malraux harassed the SS division, Das Reich, and impeded its push north to combat the Allied invasion at Normandy.
Mrs. Winegarten interprets Malraux’s support of the Gaullist movement of the 50′s as a “dislike of parliamentary democracy.” It might be more truthful to suggest that Malraux was convinced that France without Gaullism would either go the way of Weimar or, like the Kerensky government, fall into the hands of the Communists.
In the last analysis, what Mrs. Winegarten despises most in Malraux is his reticence about his private life. She is distressed by his unwillingness to elucidate matters that he “could clear up in two seconds if he so wished.” Perhaps this is only his reluctance to let people like Mrs. Winegarten play God with his personal affairs. . . .
What is important in a man? His own displeasure with himself, or the things that he manages to accomplish despite this? As Berger’s father says in The Walnut Trees of Altenburg, “in the shadow of secrecy men achieve equality a little too easily”; but in the light of our struggles for dignity, it is better to discern what makes a man.
Michael W. Zimecki
To the Editor:
. . . How unlike Renee Winegarten’s previous contributions to COMMENTARY is her article on Malraux in which she frivolously indulges in one supposition after another, leading the unwary reader to believe that what is pure conjecture on her part is actually established fact. . . .
What proof, for example, does Mrs. Winegarten offer for questioning Malraux’s revolutionary experiences in China: “. . . though his revolutionary experiences (if any) in China remain obscure.” Might this statement represent Mrs. Winegarten’s parroting of a legend? Or might we assume that she is simply paraphrasing Sidney Braun who writes, in his Dictionary of French Literature, “and the legend—true or false [for which Mrs. Winegarten substitutes “if any”]—of his subsequent militant participation in the Chinese Civil War”?
Mrs. Winegarten offers several other difficult-to-prove suppositions: “One can only conclude that he thought literature inferior to ministerial activity”; “probably envisaging a similar role (as ‘justifier’) for himself”; “there is a resemblance here to another myth-forging adventurer.” Malraux is also chastised through inference: “So far he presents a classic case of the conversion of the non-political man of letters to political involvement.” But was it not Anatole France who made a similar conversion at the age of fifty-two? . . .
One might also become suspicious of Mrs. Winegarten’s value judgments when one reads that “what he [Malraux] is proposing tends to sound finer than it really is.” But what is her standard of excellence? . . .
Only one clue to Mrs. Winegarten’s metamorphosis (from her previous scholarly efforts) exists, and that appears when she says: “Many have enumerated without much difficulty all that is missing from his novels, including the value of woman (reduced at worst to the role of sexual object and at best to that of mourner of dead heroes) as distinct from the value of man.” Are we to consider then that . . . her aspirations—originating perhaps in current Women’s-Liberation pressures—toward equal recognition as a writer have led Mrs. Winegarten to unshackle herself from the restraints of earlier years which had caused her to refrain from denigrating Malraux, impugning his character, and belittling his creative efforts? Or are we to guess at some more personal vendetta?. . .
None of the foregoing is intended in any manner to argue that Malraux is not deserving of the verbal invectives Renee Winegarten has so deftly hurled at him, but rather to suggest that the attack seems to have been unwarranted.
Charles Varga, M.D.
Renee Winegarten writes:
As distinct from his activities in Indochina, Malraux’s actions in China remain a subject of controversy, and his biographers and critics make great use of the subjunctive when alluding to them. Those interested in the possibilities may consult (among others) W. M. Fro-hock, André Malraux and the Tragic Imagination, p. 14 ff.; Walter G. Langlois, André Malraux: The Indochina Adventure, p. 157; Robert Payne, A Portrait of André Malraux, pp. 132-3, 452-3; Janine Mossuz, André Malraux et le Gaullisme, p. 246. Janine Mossuz questioned the novelist on this very subject in August 1967, and she writes that “André Malraux proved rather evasive.” It was to such matters that I referred when I wrote that he could clear them up in two seconds if he so desired, not to his tragic private life which I did not discuss at all. As regards Malraux’s oft-expressed distaste for liberal parliamentary democracy, here I can only point to his works and speeches and to the detailed examination of his political views by Janine Mossuz. I am amused that my allusion to his treatment of women in his novels should be attributed to my sudden conversion to Women’s Lib, my attitude being old-fashioned feminist rather than modern militant. Nowhere do I impugn Malraux’s war record: on the contrary, I express admiration for his personal bravery and qualities of leadership. Invective? Attack? Vendetta? I fear my crime has been to treat as a human being one who remains, for varying reasons, a legendary hero in the eyes of some of his devotees. Personally, I find the former the more intriguing figure.