'The Action of a Man Who Snatches Something from death.'(International Campaign for the Preservation of the Monuments of Nubia Speech) (Transcript)

By Malraux, Andre | UNESCO Courier, May-June 1986 | Go to article overview
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'The Action of a Man Who Snatches Something from death.'(International Campaign for the Preservation of the Monuments of Nubia Speech) (Transcript)


Malraux, Andre, UNESCO Courier


"The action of a man who snatches something from death'

ON 8 March 1960, for the first time, all nations, though many of them even now are engaged in covert or open conflict, have been summoned to save by a united effort the fruits of a civilization on which none has a pre-emptive claim.

Such an appeal, in the last century, would have seemed fanciful. With our own century, however, has come one of the greatest developments in man's spiritual history. These temples which had been looked on only as records have again become living witnesses; these statues have acquired a soul.

The only ancient Egypt which can come alive for us is the one conveyed by its art--and this is an Egypt that never existed at all, any more than the kind of Christianity which would be inferred from Romanesque art if that were our only witness to it. Yet Egypt has survived in her art, not through famous names or lists of victories. . . . Dispite Kadesh, one of history's decisive battles, despite the cartouches carved and recarved at the behest of the bold pharaoh seeking to force his lineage upon the goods, Sesostris has less meaning for us than the unfortunate Akhenation. The face of Queen Nefertiti haunts our painters as Cleopatra has inspired our poets; but whereas Cleopatra is a queen without a face, Nefertiti, for us, is a face without a kingdom.

At their highest expression, Egyptian conventions were designed to mediate between ephemeral men and the controlling stars. It is an art that consecrates night. . . . In such a way, during three thousand years, Egyptian art translated the temporal into the eternal.

Let there be no misapprehension about this today: it is not as a witness to the past that it moves us, nor as what used to be called beauty. "Beauty' has become one of our age's most potent mysteries, the inexplicable quality which brings the Egyptian masterpieces into communion with the statues of our own cathedrals, or the Aztec temples, or the Indian and Chinese grottos; with the paintings of Cezanne and Van Gogh, with the greatest dead and the greatest living artists; with, in short, the whole treasury of the first world civilization. For the first time, men have discovered a universal language of art.

The emotion we share with the creators of these granite statues is not even one of love, nor a common feeling for death--nor even, perhaps, a similar way of looking at their work; yet before their work, the accents of anonymous sculptors forgotten during two thousand years seem to us as much untouched by the succession of empires as the accents of mother love.

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