Australian Journal of French Studies

Vanquishing Temporal Distance: Malraux, Art and Metamorphosis

Australian Journal of French Studies (2016), 53, (1-2), 136–148.

Abstract

How does art transcend time? What special power enables it to overcome temporal distance and speak to us not just as evidence of times gone by but as a living presence? The Renaissance concluded that great art is impervious to time – “timeless”, “immortal”, “eternal” – a belief endorsed by Enlightenment aesthetics. Later thinkers such as Hegel, Marx and Taine stressed the historical embeddedness of art, a view also espoused by certain modern theorists such as Sartre, Benjamin and Adorno. The conflict between these two positions has left us without a persuasive account of art’s capacity to transcend time. André Malraux offers an entirely new account of this unique power of art. For Malraux, art is neither exempt from history (timeless) nor wholly immersed in it. Art transcends time through metamorphosis, a process of continual transformation in significance in which history plays an essential, but not exclusive, part.

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Author details

Allan, Derek