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Signed, Malraux

2001
Author:

Jean-François Lyotard
Translated by Robert Harvey

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An interpretation of this mythic figure by one of the twentieth-century’s major philosophers.

André Malraux (1901-1976) was a swashbuckling character—a self-invented adventurer, a onetime smuggler of artifacts, a fighter in the Spanish Civil War and the French Resistance, an artist and thinker. In this incisive and evocative account, Jean-François Lyotard goes beyond the facts and legends about Malraux. Lyotard’s project is to get under Malraux’s skin, tracing the interactions among art, literature, politics, sexuality, and ideology that led to his emergence as a cultural icon.

Any book about a famous artistic and intellectual genius by another famous intellectual is going to be of literary interest. But this, French philosopher Lyotard’s last book before his death in 1998, is a singular work. As a meditation on a monumental life by an incomparable postmodern thinker, it is an accomplished convergence of intellectual gifts.

Choice

André Malraux (1901-1976) was a swashbuckling character—a self-invented adventurer, a onetime smuggler of artifacts, a fighter in the Spanish Civil War and the French Resistance, an artist and thinker. He has come to epitomize the committed writer, one who not only wrote about revolution but who, when necessary, laid down his pen to pick up a gun. In this incisive and evocative account, Jean-François Lyotard goes beyond the facts and legends about Malraux. Lyotard’s project is to get under Malraux’s skin, tracing the interactions among art, literature, politics, sexuality, and ideology that led to his emergence as a cultural icon.

Lyotard’s Malraux is a man haunted by death—not the existentialist dread of living in freedom, but the certainty that we are destined to die. Because he believed that only art is somewhat enduring, he concluded that we should turn our lives into works of art. In his title, Lyotard alludes to this idea: to sign one’s life as one would a painting. Through this conceit, Lyotard draws from and then challenges conventional ideas of biography, blurring the difference between writing and acting, between words and deeds.

In Signed, Malraux, Lyotard provides both a compelling account of this fascinating figure and a new understanding of the man. In doing so, Lyotard not only explores all of Malraux’s major themes-art, the Far East, women, politics, communism, antifascism—he creates Malraux anew as an emblem of freedom of thought for our era.

Awards

A Choice Outstanding Academic Title

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Jean-François Lyotard (1925-1998) was one of the principal French philosophers and intellectuals of the twentieth century. His works include Postmodern Fables (1997), The Postmodern Condition (1984), The Differend (1988), Heidegger and “the jews” (1990), and The Postmodern Explained (1992), all published by the University of Minnesota Press.

Robert Harvey is associate professor of French and comparative literature at SUNY Stony Brook.

Book Default Image

Any book about a famous artistic and intellectual genius by another famous intellectual is going to be of literary interest. But this, French philosopher Lyotard’s last book before his death in 1998, is a singular work. As a meditation on a monumental life by an incomparable postmodern thinker, it is an accomplished convergence of intellectual gifts.

Choice

In this unconventional biography, French philosopher Lyotard does not conceal his deep affinity with, and admiration for, the famous French existentialist. The 17 chapters of the book provide not only incisive accounts of this celebrated personality but also an outstanding analysis of his life and a thoughtful reading of his work. Demonstrating that biography is an act of inference, Lyotard’s book audaciously and successfully creates a new Malraux, that of the post-World War II era, symbolized by freedom of thought and renewed faith in existentialism.

Library Journal

Lyotard’s Malraux is replete with flesh, bones, wives, liquor, and children. He is at the same time exemplary not of such individual experience, but of a human condition confronted and subsumed by the intractable: ‘Your life doesn’t need you to construct itself.’

Boston Book Review

Working in a typically playful vein, French philosopher Lyotard, one of the foremost theorists of postmodernism, has written an idiosyncratic depreciation of Andre Malraux, the self-publicizing professional intellectual who was enshrined in the Pantheon in 1996 as a hero of culture. . . . Lyotard’s ambiguous attitude toward his subject is captured in the term farfelu-he uses it dozens of times, but it is left untranslated-an all purpose term for harebrained, eccentric or even senseless. . . . Lyotard, no respecter of mere chronology, whipsaws the reader in time from one decade to another, granting Malraux his grudging admiration for creating a personal ‘fantasy machine’ and for ‘signing his life as if it were one of his works’.

Publishers Weekly

Lyotard provides both an insightful analysis of Malraux’s life and a thoughtful reading of his work, going beyond facts and legends to analyze the factors that led to his emergence as a cultural icon.

Translation Review

Signed, Malraux, the last and probably the most unanticipated book to come from the hand of the late French philosopher Lyotard, is also the most unexpected biopsy of André Malraux, the man who thought he could sign his own life. The result is dazzling. It constitutes the first substantial attempt by a thinker of the postmodern age to come to grips with one of the towering literary figures of the generation that had just preceded him. In doing so, Lyotard is also the first to break a silence that, retrospectively, can be read as the most spectacular, most clearly Oedipal case of the anxiety of influence.

Denis Hollier, New York University

In Signed Malraux, Lyotard illuminates the contrast between the man, his work, and the primordial struggle between belief and action. . . . This book gives us two incomparable figures-a genius of our chaotic century as seen by the philosopher of our time.

Le Monde

Lyotard has recovered—in the gestures, in the writings, in the signature of Malraux—the mark of an amazing life.

La Croix

Signed Malraux is a true work of literature. . . . In this book, Lyotard gives us a portrait of a man who carved his own place in a bewildering world despite being haunted by death.

Libération

This unique biography provides a valuable look at Malraux and his milieu and is a penetrating homage to his greatest work-his life.

L’Humanité

Lyotard’s hallmark is the ironic backward glance, always tender and lucid, by which he tries to impose a permanent aesthetization of the life and desire on the present reality.

Elisabeth Roudinesco, Le Monde

In this incisive and evocative account, Jean-François Lyotard goes beyond the facts and legends about Malraux to trace the interactions among art, literature, politics, sexuality, and ideology that led to his emergence as a cultural icon.

Translation Review

A startling book.

South Atlantic Review