Malraux, Literature and Art

‘Great artists are not transcribers of the world, they are its rivals.’
Malraux, The Voices of Silence

'On this earth of ours where everything is subject to the passing of time, one thing only is both subject to time and yet victorious over it: the work of art.'

André Malraux, TV program: Promenades imaginaires dans Florence, 1975.

Essays on
  • André Malraux
  • the theory of art and literature
by Derek Allan
Australian National University
    André Malraux in a television program about art (1975)

Malraux and the theory of art

André Malraux's Theory of Art - Challenges to Traditional Aesthetics (avec version française - e ora anche in italiano)

"Reckless Inaccuracies Abounding": André Malraux and the Birth of a Myth.  Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. Vol. 67, Issue 2: pp 147-158. Counters the persistent myth, fostered by E.H. Gombrich and others, that Malraux's use of art history is unreliable. Also discusses certain issues at the intersection of art history and aesthetics.  Abstract

André Malraux and the Challenge to Aesthetics Journal of European Studies. March 2003, 33: pp 23-40. Concerns two of Malraux's major works on the visual arts, The Voices of Silence and The Metamorphosis of the Gods. The essay argues that these works present the discipline of aesthetics as traditionally conceived with a fundamental challenge, and invite us to think about art in a radically different way.

Interview about Malraux
Rick Visser from the weblog Artrift asked me a series of questions about Malraux and art.
The weblog is now closed so I have placed a copy on this website. The interview was conducted in 2003, well before my book on Malraux was published. If asked the same questions today, I might perhaps shift the emphasis a little here and there (I would place more stress on the question of art and time, for example) but that's all. (I have left formatting, illustrations etc as they were in Rick Visser's original version.)

André Malraux, the Art Museum, and the digital Musée Imaginaire.  A brief paper on this topic.

NEW: An entry on André Malraux's theory of art in the Encyclopedia of Aesthetics published by OUP.

Art and Time

The general relationship between art and the passing of time - the temporal nature of art - is a crucial aspect of the nature of art, but one that is almost completely neglected in contemporary aesthetics (whether 'analytic' or 'continental'). These items address key aspects of the question:

Time: The Forgotten Dimension of Art. Discusses key questions to be asked about the temporal nature of art, and explains why they need to be asked. 

An intellectual revolution: André Malraux and the temporal nature of art. Journal of European Studies. 2009, 39: 198-224. Explains Malraux's revolutionary understanding of the relationship between art and time - the notion of metamorphosis. Also discusses certain responses to this aspect of Malraux's thought - e.g. by Maurice Blanchot - and an (unsuccessful) attempt in 'analytic' aesthetics to come to grips with the issue of art and time.

Art and History: Taking the Past Seriously  Examines certain arguments in contemporary aesthetics that marginalize historical and anthropological evidence concerning art.

André Malraux, l’art et le temps. A paper delivered at a seminar on Malraux at the Sorbonne.

The Death of Timelessness and Beyond. A conference paper.

What the question of art and time is not about. Comments on some potentially misleading ideas.


This book explores in greater depth ideas I have outlined in various articles and conference papers, and in my book on Malraux. It traces the important, if neglected, history of the topic of art and time in Western culture and considers the positions, express or implied, of a number of modern theorists of art such as Adorno, Sartre, Benjamin and contemporary writers in 'analytic' aesthetics. 

The publisher's page gives a link to a pdf of the Contents and early pages. The book includes 9 illustrations.

(avec version française)

For the first time, a comprehensive, step by step exposition of Malraux’s theory of art as presented in The Voices of Silence and The Metamorphosis of the Gods. 

30 illustrations, 23 in colour.

Extracts from a review of Art and the Human Adventure*:

  • 'Cogently argued, elegantly written and painstakingly researched...'
  • '... a brillant example of what could be described as critique engagée'.
  • 'The author's main objective is to retrieve Malraux's philosophy from generations of critics and academics who ... are often content to substitute invective for reasoned debate'.
  • '... should spark a radical reassessment of Malraux’s stature as a theorist of art'.
  • an 'outstanding book'.

My publications, conference papers and current projects (with some links)

My ANU researcher's page

My page

My PhilPapers page

Recent comments on Art and Time in the Australasian Journal of Philosophy

"Derek Allan’s accomplished and insightful book tackles a philosophical problem that has been neglected in contemporary aesthetics: the relationship between art and time… One admirable feature of Allan’s book is that it is well versed in art history and the history of aesthetics…
Art and Time is a well-researched, elegantly written, and lucidly argued book. It explores a problem that has been neglected within contemporary aesthetics, offering a suggestive theoretical response to the problem of art’s relationship to time... [It makes] a welcome contribution to broadening the often parochial, ahistorical character of contemporary aesthetic debates."

Malraux's first three novels La Condition Humaine - Cover


A logical redeemer: Kirillov in Dostoievskii’s Demons

Art and "the real world".  A recent conference paper.

Les Liaisons dangereuses through the eyes of André Malraux. Journal of European Studies. June 2012.

Myths about Malraux's Theory of Art
André Malraux wrote to a friend in 1973: "Of all my books, those I’ve written about art are certainly the ones that have been most seriously misunderstood." This page comments on some of the more common misundertandings.
Is aesthetics based on a mistake?
Argues that aesthetics remains straightjacketed in a conception of art inherited from the eighteenth century and that it now hinders our understanding of art.

Art and Freedom  Is there any intrinsic relationship between art and freedom – and if so what kind of freedom might that be?

Letter to Quadrant
(an Australian monthly) concerning an article on Malraux in their May 2007 issue.

Art and the Metaphysical - A Challenge to Aesthetic Orthodoxy  A conference paper.

Goya. Old People Eating




Some painting and sculpture I like:

Page 7

Page 8


Updated: 2 March 2015

* Review by Emeritus Professor Robert Thornberry

University of Alberta
in Revue André Malraux Review