MEETINGS WITH ANDRE MALRAUX
Translated by Matthew Evans-Cockle
The first encounter took place around 1928-29 when Joseph Baruzi, a regular at the receptions held by Arthur Fontaine, brought Henry along to listen to Malraux speak of his voyage in Persia.
At the publication release of Qu’est-ce que la métaphysique ([French] translation of
Heidegger), Henry meets Malraux at the Gallimard Publishing House. (cf. the Gallimarddossier of 3 of Malraux’s letters)
Upon our return from Germany, one beautiful July evening while out for a stroll, just as we are passing before the terraces on Bd. St. Germain, Henry stops and says; “well well, there’s Malraux”. I see a man in a pale trench coat, his face full of resolve, who rises to greet us. He announces to Henry his imminent departure for Spain, and informs him of his resolution. Clearly Malraux was waiting there for the person with whom he was to leave.
We receive in April “Les Voix du Silence” [The Voices of Silence] with a dedication. The arrival of this book is followed shortly after by the Malraux’s arrival in Teheran, where, on the 19th of May, Coulet offers a dinner at the Embassy to celebrate their arrival –but as the plane didn’t arrive until midnight we were all a bit tired, with the exception of Malraux and Henry whose cultural complicity in a certain manner pulverized the diplomatic conviviality.
After the visit to the “Institut français”, just as he was leaving the Iranian studies Department Library, André Malraux shakes the hands of Henry’s collaborators and declares: “France is proud of you”. Then to Henry, who accompanies him to the door, Malraux, with a malicious smile and a humorous edge to his voice, murmurs in Henry’s ear: “You see Corbin… all I have to do”.
Malraux’s humour lies in the art with which he maintains a certain distance. We never know if the satisfaction of the accomplished act is not abruptly attenuated by the skeptical judgment already emerging from his rational intellect.
This feature strikes us anew when, upon his request, Malraux with Madeleine, comes to pay us a visit one afternoon to speak with Henry about Alamut, and the Ismailis about whom he wants to write a book, as he had dreamed many years ago that the action of one of his novels should take place in Ispahan: “One of the three most beautiful cities in the world” (reported by Clara Malraux on the occasion of a dinner hosted by Iran Teymourtache). I had offered Henry a numbered edition of the Struggle for the Angel in Istanbul in 1944, partly due to the title. I show Malraux his book printed inSwitzerland, during the war, asking him if he would be willing to pen in a dedication. Without hesitation, with kindness and as though happy to feel the weight of this rare copy in his hands, he pens in several lines with for Henry “his Ismaili complicity” and then flickering quickly over his face a shadow of malice, of skepticism, as he notes ironically the value that his initials have added to the book.
From 24 to the 27 November 1958.
Short official trip made by the Malraux to explain the new train of events in France. He does so in a brilliant lecture at the University. A dinner at the embassy allows us to visit with them.
The weekend of the 12th of September 1964, at Philippe and Pauline de Rothschild’s is our longest stay in the Malraux’s company.
Back from Ascona and preparing our next departure for Teheran when Pauline de Rothschild phones to invite us to spend the weekend along with the Malraux at Pouillac. Surprise, agitation and there we are Saturday at 6pm., cruising over theAnjou all bathed in light. The fatigue induced by the preparations abates and the unexpectedness of this encounter excites our imagination.
At the caravel’s landing our cars are waiting for us at the foot of the stairs. A secretary takes our tickets and without waiting for the luggage directs the Malraux towards one car and us towards another. We cross through the vines, and the pine-woods. An enormous sunset fires the sky and plays at hide and seek with the tall somber pines. Then it’s a majestic alley bordered by a highly fragrant, flowering greensward. The cars pull up at a gate. Dogs approach, and Malraux, somewhat astonished, remarks: “welcomed by the dogs…”. But no sooner said than valets and maids appear around us and we see a little well lit pavilion in the style of Napolean III, on the landing of which the Rothschilds together with Guy Dumer are waiting to welcome us. The salon, with its decorative dahlias is entirely in the style of Napoleon III as is everything else in this pavilion. It’s very hot, the champagne flows; Malraux is already analyzing an engraving and then turning towards Henry, while speaking of the book by Jung “Answer to Job” which he has just read, says: “The re-discovery of symbols, that is the great conquest of the first half of this century.”
Around 8:30 pm., at Pauline’s suggestion we leave the Napoleon III pavilion to settle in to our apartments. In the twilight we cross a lawn and discern through a hedgerow of greenery a long building. It’s the old barn that has been enlarged. An ample staircase leads up to the first floor. On the left a vast library, beautiful room with visible vaulting where our dinner will be served to us. Immediately opposite the stairs is the long salon in which numerous windows look out on the vineyards. Extraordinary vision. The vineyard like a downy sea extends to the level horizon above which there’s just a village clock tower, several trees and then… some hills… off to the right we follow a corridor opening into the Rothschild’s apartments before crossing over a set of steps. It’s another wing of the building reserved for guests. Everything is vast and airy, and of a luxury catering to one’s every whim. Our windows give on to that part of the garden that we had just crossed. Lovely hot night, beneath shimmering stars. At dinner it is above all to Malraux whom we listen tirelessly: Eléanore d’Aquitaine, one of the loves he shares with Henry, symbols, Chagall whose opera roof will be open for public viewing on Wednesday.
The Sunday morning around 11:30 we gathered for the visit to the wine stores. Madeleine and André Malraux, Philippe and the “two alchemical fathers,” who have been responsible now for some several generations for the vineyards and the wines. At the entrance to a huge chamber where the barrels are all lined up in uniform columns on either side of a central alley, we have almost the impression of entering into a church for at the back of the room is a high table over which is set the coat of arms. On the threshold Malraux pronounces one of his sybilline phrases that leaves us all rather aghast: “The barrel seems to me, among the other solids, as the mushroom among the vegetables.”
“Just what do you mean, exactly?” Philippe daringly asks.
After the visit to the cellars, where the spiders’ webs seem as venerable as the 1870 vintage bottles, we reemerge into the dazzling light.
Lunch is served at one extremity of the large salon, but first Malraux and Henry engage in an aside to envisage the future of the Department of Iranian Studies in Téhéran as well as the projects of the king of Morocco who would like to create a faculty of liberal theology and have Henry as one of the participants. The conversation continues during lunch and Madeleine recalls a Morrocan writer telling her: “for me, the two greatest French authors are Malraux and Corbin”.
Immediately after lunch Philippe, utterly merciless, takes us on a visit of his museum. Guy Dumer and Pauline who were able to rest during the morning, join our party. In principle the visit to the museum should have lasted an hour. Thanks to Malraux it continues a full five and a half. He improvises a lecture on each tableau. The museum caretaker takes hurried notes. Fatigued, Henry and Philippe withdraw to sit down every now and then. A dejected Madeleine takes off her sandals, an example immediately followed by Philippe and myself. Pauline enraptured, doesn’t leave Malraux’s sides, provokes him, stimulates the curator’s enthusiasm. But our tea, which was to be served in Pauline’s apartment, is cancelled for lack of time and we all gather again for champagne in the salon, before the Rothschilds and Malraux go to the library to receive the men of the village and the estate. And altogether in character, Malraux’s query to us afterwards: “When I questioned him about his problems why did that man answer: “oh! For my part when I have concerns I confide them to God”? Was he dubious of my goodwill or of power in general?”
Late in the evening dinner is served us once again in the Napoleon III pavilion. With the help of an excellent 1870Bordeaux, conversation is of a general nature, one moment burlesque - Malraux and Henry vie to find a phrase that would serve to suggest to a troublesome guest, while preserving all the appearance of great politeness, that his departure would be most appreciated - the next moment more personal.
Malraux: “One day Corbin will be tired of writing about others. He will write about himself. It will be the book of the century.”
Pauline: “Oh! How I wish that book were written here.”
Corbin: “Do we not always write of ourselves?”
And when Pauline asks Malraux if he ever takes a moment’s rest, he answers, turning to Madeleine, “Only when I can hear her at her piano”.
The evening finishes very late in an atmosphere of intimate and euphoric camaraderie, leading Malraux to exclaim, as we are all making our way back to our apartments: “You’ll see, Corbin, the next time we meet each other it will be on the top of the Eiffel Tower.”