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European

History Quarterly
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Literature, Society and the Concept of Revolt
R. Batchelor
European History Quarterly 1975 5: 395
DOI: 10.1177/026569147500500403
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Literature, Society and the

Concept of Revolt
R. Batchelor

Most critics would readily agree that any assessment of contemporary
thought, whether it involves politics, literature, philosophy or religion,
must at some point deal with the theme of revolt. It is an undeniable
fact that, from the evocative and highly expressive date of 1789, which
serves conveniently and appropriately as the great watershed of modem
European history, separating the old from the new, until current times,
man has demonstrated a persistent preoccupation with a deep-seated
hostility towards the society that has nurtured him and the world at
large. Indeed, the history of the past two hundred years obliges us to
state without reserve that revolt forms one of the essential dimensions
of modem man. This attitude of a thorough-going revolt which acts as a
rallying-point for countless thinkers and artists, centralizes man’s individualism in terms of protest against the rationalizing and inhibiting
tendencies which external forces have always attempted to impose
upon him. Such people resent, with increasing vehemence, the intrusion
of formal authority as expressed through the media of education,
government or religion, into the manner in which they conduct themselves as creative artists, seeking an antidote in the uncensured and
often unbridled display of their personal sentiments and aspirations. It
almost appears that the modem writer becomes a writer precisely
because he senses an antagonistic environment, and a radical opposition
between what he assumes for himself and his observations in an alien
and inconsistent world.
Little wonder, then, that contemporary Europe and indeed the
Americas, are convulsed by a fundamental restlessness which is acutely
conspicuous in the world of educational institutions. Berkeley, the
London School of Economics and Nanterre, once uknown to the
general public, have become household names in virtue of the students’
395

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396

adamant refusal to accept the course of events as dictated by University
authorities. The upheaval in the classroom and the lecture theatre
illustrates clearly the adolescent’s resistance to conforming a priori to
opinions and judgements advocated by his elders, a phenomenon
especially apparent in the relatively new fields of sociological and
political theory, where the student’s viewpoint acquires the same
validity as the teacher’s, and in many cases overrides it. Undoubtedly,
the basic point at issue is quite simply the concept of authority,
increasingly contested by a younger generation which can no longer
understand any final justification for its existence.
At its deepest level, the concept of revolt may be interpreted in a
metaphysical context, at least in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The genius of Western culture lies in the defiant attitude towards
authority, and significantly that of God, rather than in a specific denial
of the existence of that authority. This defiant attitude is metaphysical
because it calls into question the whole purpose of man and creation
and may be described as ’le mouvement par lequel un homme se dresse
contre sa condition et la creation tout entiere.’1 Whereas the
seventeenth-century rationalist would argue, along with Descartes,
’Cogito ergo sum’, and the eighteenth-century materialistand empiricist
would state ’I observe, therefore I am’, the metaphysical rebel defines
his being in terms of universal protest and refusal. He opposes an
emphatic ’No’ to God, unable to construct a system of thought on what
infinitely surpasses him. This categorical ’No’ finally fragments itself,
invading all the various areas of the modem existence of the West.
Now, we may quite legitimately ask ourselves what have educational
and religious values to do with art. The answer seems to be twofold.
Firstly, it is quite evident that, by widening one’s considerations upon
the notion of revolt and stressing its diffusion and historical importance, one may speak of a tradition of revolt, however paradoxical this
may appear. Thus, the term ’traditional’ may no longer be applied so
easily to conventional ideologies since the points of reference for these
ideologies are rapidly losing their significance. In contrast, references to
the concept of revolt are growing daily. Art forms part of this tradition
of revolt, investing it with a challenging reality, which leads to the
second point. Although one must view the profound transformation
undergone by art within the general context of modern revolutionary
ideologies, the most important factor to note is that, rather than being
set within this context, art has always tended to anticipate and predict
the changes to which society subsequently submits itself willy nilly.
The artist has frequently regarded himself with pride as forming part of

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for all the alleged irreligion of the latter three. B. eschewing the material ease and spiritual comfort dispensed by an indulgent Church. the anonymous community built on machine-like administration and mass production. Shaw. and here we assume Romanticism as the historical and literary point of departure for the definition of the term ’modem’. As a consequence. and the basic impulse to resist the general tendency which some. cut off. Thomas Mann and Juan Ram6n Jimenez are just a few of the writers who chose to renounce their respective societies because they felt a radical incompatibility with them. from the rest of society. In modem existentialist terms. G. Samuel Beckett. Eug6ne Ionesco. with the consequence that his major contribution to modern thought is not simply his interpretation and restatement of the contemporary social and moral climate. The modern recalcitrant artist frequently seeks self-realization in solitude and even the ascetic life.sagepub. but much more a reaction to it. The artist maintains. is the ill feeling and antagonism existing between himself and society. would call the ’herd instinct’. The number of expatriate writers in modern Europe and America furnishes a very practical demonstration of this alienation. and will therefore act differently. perhaps even on principle. Miguel de Unamuno. that he holds the key to future social and political developments. Carlyle. Furthermore. One could. the exaggerated self-denial and puritanical austerity of Kierkegaard. in the rapidly evolving pattern of social and political ideologies. It may be very reasonably argued that the supreme contribution of a Dostoevsky or a Nietzsche to modern thought lies in their astonishing prophetic insight into the fascist concentration-camp mentality. This kind of self-imposed exile may be explained by a sense of depersonalization in a bewildering and complex consumer society. with some justification. maintain that the artist deliberately alienates himself in virtue of his relatively egocentric behaviour and psychology. Scott Fitzgerald. of course.com by bruna meireles on October 17. allows us to see the theory and practice of revolt at its most intense level. 2014 . It seems beyond doubt that the most striking feature of the modem thinker.397 the vanguard of revolt. and the tyrannical ideology accompany- ing it. the thinkers who choose to live in another country feel less inhibited in a strange country where they are not known and where they possess no more than a ’foreigner’s licence’. Nietzsche and Unamuno stand as a permanent indictment of spiritual slothfulness. the artist feels alienated. the world and finally God. so that an examination of the artist and his aims. including Nietzsche and Carlyle. They claim the right to express themselves against an impoverished Downloaded from ehq.

the artist’s thirst for freedom and individuality may be viewed in its most stark form as a radical antidote to the mentality of the totalitarian state. Revolt constitutes for the rebel artist. while the term ’revolt’ appears to suggest a Marxist concept. and it is exactly this individualism which links so many disparate writers in a common literary and social stra- tegy. its true motivation lies in the fascist vision of life. just as he cleaves to social and religious unorthodoxy. In the strictly social context. Dostoevsky and the two Lawrences. denounces the political and metaphysical implications of the Hegelian absolutist state. the superior being.com by bruna meireles on October 17. The philosopher/artist does not yield his personal identity to the gregarious ideal which represents for him no more than a sterile pursuit. not only a major intellectual and spiritual passion. but against those of collective endeavour. precisely because it deprives the individual of what he cherishes above all else. but also a stimulus to participate actively and emphatically in the metamorphosis of their respective societies. together with his most fervent admirer Albert Camus. This stimulus inheres in every individual gifted with the creative impulse. Dostoevsky’s The Devils and The Brothers Karamazocv. The Nietzschean hero emphasizes the personal and individual revolt over against the collective revolt. and here we must extend the list to embrace Byron. and to all the rationalist philosophies which cannot tolerate unorthodox behaviour and thought. not so much by his own ideals. and in this sense. He tends to propound the fascist viewpoint through the commital to the idea of a superior e’Iite. that is his freedom. heralded by Hegelian systembuilding. When the political revolutionary Shigalyov in The Devils states: ’Starting from unlimited freedom. the Obennensch. I arrived at unlimited despotism’. he dissents from all political systems. the literature of which forms the basis of Trotsky’s Literature and Revolution. The very paradoxical element in the artist’s revolt is that. contain a prolonged indictment of the growing menace of the exclusive mentality because he needed political and religious freedom as the ultimate condition for artistic creation. The contemporary artist defines himself. the artist and the leader of society.sagepub.2 he not only anticipates the principles of the Grand Inquisi- Downloaded from ehq. although in point of fact. and here Dostoevsky provides the supreme example. 2014 . like Camus’s La Peste and L’Homme Revolte. with the result that there exists very often a true between the rebel. or in relationship Nietzschean language. The contemporary artist. Ibsen. The rebel artist prefers to adhere to an intensely personal attitude of rebellion which keeps him permanently on the periphery of commununal existence. he is much more Nietzschean than Marxist.398 community bereft of ideals.

an eternally renewable revolt.399 tor in The Brothers Karamazov. eliminates the individual’s capacity to think independently. loses its significance if it leads to a static condition. like the anarchist revolutionary. Such is the thesis that lies at the genesis of Camus’s L’Homme Revolte. cannot admit of unorthodoxy or deviation on the part of the creative thinker. The metaphysics of political revolt posits an unending and unchangeable rejection of things as they are and as they will be. and it is precisely the antithesis of inflexible authority and individualism which forms the vital link between Dostoevsky and Camus. ironically enough. the virile subjugation of the world. It is self-evident that the traditional Marxist ideology militates in favour of the transformation of society. Hegel and Marx. In the politico-literary field. whether it be political or metaphysical. and this is precisely what attracts the most recent of political revolutionaries such as Che Guevara and Fidel Castro. It is exactly the creative. by sheer dint of will power and the sense of social indignation. since. all point to the same levelling process of system-building in the name of reason which. as well as more modern figures such as Camus’s character Caligula. Shigalyov. and scientific and philosophical discovery.com by bruna meireles on October 17. This uniformity must finally and inevitably open out on to social and political despotism which. he underscores the problem of social and political uniformity. in a process of infinite renewal and redevelopment. the Grand Inquisitor. material aspect of the rebel that distinguishes him as a typically contemporary figure. for it underlines practical and even creative activity.sagepub. Marx embarked on nothing unusual. and of progress towards a new set of social and even spiritual conditions. the rebellious artist wishes. This idea is contained in Rdgis Debray’s Revolution dans la Revolution ? which suggests a surpassing of Marxist ideology and all traditional left-wing thinking. since it underlines the necessity for a permanent revolution. as in Ivan Karamazov’s case. and this aspect seems of crucial importance. unable to tolerate anything but movement Downloaded from ehq. to the ruthless exclusion of the individual’s aspirations centralized in creative activity. As far as the concept of revolution is concerned. As opposed to Aristotle and the numerous Greek writers of the classical period who advocated domination of the world by increased knowledge. Such is the essence of freedom. 2014 . by its very nature. The act of revolt. although the manner in which he proposed revolutionary activity should take place seems of overriding importance. but also. to create a new society and a new order which must yield immediately to a fresh set of circumstances. Marx propounded the theory according to which the individual can change the world order.

Trotsky carries Marxist logic to its ultimate conclusion in his analysis of literature (see Literature and Revolution). bourgeois complacency. Garine. While associating himself with certain dissident.400 towards a new order. they do at least permit an expression of dissent. he feels obliged to reflect the modem obsession with revolution. write or paint as an act of protest and revolt against capitalist society. emphasizing that there does of social necessity exist a special kind of reality which mirrors material progress. proves so enigmatic for Trotsky. when he argues emphatically that literature must at all costs serve the revolutionary cause at a purely political level. In his reply ’Reponse a Trotsky’. the protagonist in Les Conquérants. and the general strike in Hong Kong. and this is why Garine. Lenin evoked the whole question of the communist party and its duty to orientate and foster particular types of ’social realism’. is ever ready to Downloaded from ehq. purely as an artist and an individual who happened to find himself in sympathy with the communist cause at the time. Trotsky and Sartre (Qu’est-ce que la Litterature ? )have hardened the communist viewpoint on art into an inhibiting force. It may be argued in Marx’s favour that many modem artists do. Yet. despite the centrality of his post as leader of the communist propaganda machine. Malraux has always been at pains to stress his abstention from the image of the artist attempting to stir the social conscience of his readers. In other words. mediocre and comforting judgements. help to engender the feeling of indignation in the individualistic writer. assent to Marx’s opinions terminates here. like his author. 2014 . one of his principal strictures related to capitalism is that it does not promote the highest and fullest development of the artistic urge. Garine not only refuses to adhere to party discipline but even goes so far as to display anti-communist tendencies. in point of fact. he does suggest a radical association between literature and the revolutionary aspects of society. Marxist ideologists who have pronounced themselves on the relationship between literature and society. He describes revolutionary situations. to be sure. extreme left-wing views. published in the same issue of the Nouvelle Revue Française.com by bruna meireles on October 17. although Marx never wrote a treatise on aesthetics or literature as a whole. This explains the vehement indictment that Malraux’s so-called revolutionary novel Les Conquérants provoked in Trotsky whose article ’La Revolution etranglee’3insists upon the social contribution he expects from art. and in many cases it has expressed an overt hostility to artistic attitudes. such as Lenin. Indeed. Malraux declares that he wrote about the 1927 revolution in Canton. Arther Miller’s Death of a Salesman is an excellent case in point. While capitalism.sagepub. but in terms of the individual. Thus.

but something deeper. but are significantly forced to renounce marxism when it intervenes in their personal choice in self-expression and self-recreation in art. Alberti. Andr6 Breton. while revolutionary politics supply the tension and chaotic atmosphere for Malraux’s novels. 2014 .401 assist his fellow sufferers in armed not to the detriment of his own struggle against the oppressor. Unamuno.sagepub. evince an analogous and even whole-hearted indebtedness to the communist cause in their earlier years. That is to say. his artistic temperament could only have flowered following the rupture with these groups. Malraux. norms and customs. He remarks: an It is not the absence of justice in society which affects me. Koestler. and in the same way. however impractical this regeneration may be. For example. as well as many others.com by bruna meireles on October 17. In short. for all his communist sympathies. At the same time a proper and recognizable identification with the socialist cause imparts to their thought a great density and ethical persuasiveness. I am a-social as I am an atheist. but personality. The most curious quirk of fate is apparent in such countries as the Soviet Union where a most deeply rooted notion of revolution becomes entirely inconsistent with the concept of a continued revolution at a personal and artistic level. hence the persecution of writers of unquestionable merit such as Boris Pasternak and Alexander Solzhenitsin. the impossibility of giving my allegiance to a social form. whatever it is. Orwell and Berdyaev. Downloaded from ehq. Cemuda. he unconvincing but a communist. It has now become a commonplace that many writers of a committed communist persuasion. the kind of revolution that he proposes is grounded in individual regeneration over against all societies. Malraux discovered a deep incompatibility between art and social revolution. The most striking feature of Garine is that he cloaks power by is anything a very strong fascist lust for domination and identification with communism. Yet. while initially channelling their compassion for the oppressed and the disinherited through allegiance to the party. Dostoevsky’s revolutionary spirit would never have plumbed such unsuspected depths in the realm of metaphysics if he had not been involved in certain dissident political groups. cannot sustain the discipline that the party requires of them. and his dedicated opposition to fascism (he defended Dimitrov and Thalmann in the famous Reichstag fire trial in 1934). since it is only by reference to the individual that the idea of artistic creation assumes its fullest meaning.44 The plain fact is that.

for if in some superficial manner they appear synonymous terms. In this second sense. will finally eliminate the need for struggle. supine service of mankind. it has probably assumed its proper shape only in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The other kind of revolution which one should strictly call ’revolt’. the prototype of the dissenting artist who refuses to consent to the revolutionary spirit of communism because it devitalizes and depersonalizes man. or translating the new proletariat consciousness of revolt arising from the revolution. according to Trotsky in his Literature and Revolution. The one concerns the author who.402 Clearly. the incompatibility of which is most conspicuous in the communist-fascist dialectic which forms the basis of most of our twentieth-century thinking. for it combines all the rebellious elements contributing to creativity in man. and an intimate reflection of the material. fundamentally they are quite dissimilar. has shifted his emphasis increasingly from a social or outer change to an inner one. There exists a major. with the result that a kind of perfect stylization in construction. cannot but speak of the political revolution as the centre of his literary impulse.sagepub. will be the goals. Revolution and revolt must ulti- mately be defined as two antithetical notions. as he conquers it by projecting his own idealist image onto the world. The revolution undergone by the nation state has obviously produced a recoiling effect on the individual artist who cannot allow his personality to be contaminated by the gregarious movement of plebeian society. there are two kinds of revolution in the realm of art.com by bruna meireles on October 17. of course. It is significant that the artistic Downloaded from ehq. undisputable dichotomy between the ideology of revolt and the character of political revolution. characterized by the sole idea that collective man must be the sole master. Nothing can be further from the vision of the rebel/artist who. Revolt implies fascism as we see it in Nietzsche. avoids formal art. either using it as part of the plot. The intriguing feature in the historical development of modern Europe is that the creative artist. 2014 . possesses a much greater depth and permanency. throughout the contemporary period. and they have to be distinguished carefully. Trotsky is certainly correct when he affirms that the revolution cannot live with roman- ticism. the former stressing personal expression and the latter immersion in the collective. The dichotomy becomes most patent if we consider Trotsky’s ideas on the future of art under the aegis of the revolution which.5 Art as a form of rebellion has always existed but. he asserts. relegating materialism to a secondary level. while once able to identify himself with the socialist revolutionary ideal. Trotsky seems very wide of the mark when he remarks that ’there is no revolutionary art as yet’.

for all Trotsky’s contrary assertions.403 against socialist ideologies really assumed a well defined in the nineteenth century. but with what makes them great and unique. on the contrary. As Trotsky argued. now defected from the party due to the Soviet rape of Prague. just as the French communist theoretician Roger Garaudy. Nietzsche and Unamuno. They railed against the elevation of Carlyle. in many ways. for they are not really concerned with what binds men together. love. whether one distinguishes between revolution and revolt matters little if we regard the modern era as one essentially afflicted by loss of transcendence. Revolt suggests differences and a superior mentality. the herd instinct. Goethe and Marx. rising up on a plane with Aristotle. Indeed. we must have revolution. 2014 . and assumes more extreme forms such as Surrealism and Absurd Theatre which escape rational definition altomovement gether. For centuries. Trotsky maintains that the new proletariat will assume a ’beautiful’ form so that it is possible to speak of an aesthetic of revolution. The Russian critic sees revolution as contributing to an essentially new biological type. decency and so on. a situation abruptly terminated by the revolutionary era. keeping faith in the forces of moderation and reason. What occurred during the French revolution heralded an unprecedented succession of revolts throughout Europe for the following sixty years. this aesthetic involves dogmatic principles regarding literary composition and ideological formulae. when there is no other way out.com by bruna meireles on October 17. but here again. An aesthetic of revolt is.sagepub. a benevolent deity had been felt preside over the affairs and development of mankind. guaranteeing the continuity of certain values such as honesty. maintaining the status quo. a view he expressed at a lecture in Besangon in 1958. in so far as it arises from personal judgements and perceptions. which is Trotsky’s interpretation. however. less easily definable. in favour of a high and more aristocratic form of protest. allowed themselves to be overtaken by mobrule and a proletariat both starved and brutalized by neglect. The a to Downloaded from ehq. while revolution is linked to uniformity and impatience. and that it served as a central rallyingshape for point many giants of European literature. Of course. and cannot be considered as bourgeois reactionaries. and that leaders such as Mirabeau and Mounier. saw the Russian industrial worker appreciating the delicate and fragile art of Pushkin. including Dostoevsky. which left the populace irremediably destitute and the aristocracy enjoying the fruits of privilege. classless writers. the writers quoted above are. It is significant to note. that the French revolution was originally inspired by the rational and temperate elements of the ancien rogime.

national messianism. with the result that their poetry is filled with social strife and conflict. The most salient feature of the English poet’s verse and letters is precisely the constant urge to engage himself in the social and political disturbances of his epoch. and remained a challenge to all the liberal and revolutionary thinkers of the nineteenth century. indulged in insurrectional activities to the detriment of his career as man of letters. whom he saw quickened by the ideals of military heroism and sheer virility. but it is always a consolation. and had no one else to consult for bettering his lot. as far as the present study is concerned. was interpreted by his fellow romantics as the highest and noblest of actions. Byron wrote to his friend Mr Moore: ’And now let us be literary. Political revolution and the romantic movement in literature go hand in hand. 2014 . and the urgent desire to deliver the oppressed in the grand. apocalyptic manner. by which man realized he was essentially on his own. these disturbances exercised a determining and lasting influence on his concept of the poet.sagepub. Byron.404 essential feature in the closing decades of the eighteenth century is the mounting feeling of discontent which not only manifested itself in a social and political context. Mickiewicz and his Polish compatriot Slovaki saw revolution as the practical demonstration of the poetic ideal. For example. so that the latter may even be explained in terms of revolutionary politics. Byron. it has become one of the principal leitmotifs in the literature of the past two hundred years. After commenting upon the political agitation in Ravenna where he played a major role in the revolt of that town. where he spent his last months in support of the Greek cause of independence from the Turkish yoke.’6 Byron’s honourable. a sad falling off. A consideration of the interaction between political revolt and literature seems indispensable in the understanding of the cultural development of Europe during the opening decades of the nineteenth century. for they are expressions of one and the same spirit of revolt. if not glorious. Indeed. who was probably the first distinguished writer to seek permanent inspiration in revolutionary politics. death at Missolonghi. The most arresting characteristic of Byron. resides in his genius for expressing the revolutionary ideal in literary terms. This discontent assumed the shape of a double-edged sword commonly known as Revolution and Romanticism. The impressive combination of military commander and poetical craftsman invests his life with an extraordinarily Downloaded from ehq. On his own admission.com by bruna meireles on October 17. Whether political revolution preceded the romantic movement in literature or vice versa does not really matter. but also in philosophy and literature.

Byron created a lavish. and finally succumbing to death in Constantinople in 1855. enabled Byron to carry his awareness of rebellion beyond the local and the immediate. supporting identical causes.405 rich unity. so as to invest his novels with the tense atmosphere we have now come to identify with the human condition. He established a new pattern of creative activity. as he was attempting to consolidate a Polish legion in the conflict with the Tsar. Revolution was elevated by the English poet. because revolution shows men in an extreme situation where death and suffering are likely to be imminent. because it entailed an allegory of representation in which the whole of the Western tradition of freedom is extolled. for instance. E. The Polish poet Mickiewicz followed his example. Lawrence and Andr6 Malraux have all built their literary and philosophical preoccupations on the notion of political insurrection. Since Byron’s time the authors who have created literature under the stimulus of political revolt have become legion. The Seige of Corinth and Manfred were all born out of the fusion of the creative impulse and political revolt. T. Eschewing the wit and irony of effete classicism. Childe Harold. and this seems conspicuously relevant. struggling for the liberation of the Italian states from their Austrian oppressor. directly inspired by The Seven Pillars of Wisdom. for he sought to live what he wrote. namely Les Conquerants and La Condition Humaine. consonant with his notion of grandeur.com by bruna meireles on October 17. 2014 . conversations. In particular. Dostoevsky. which allows Malraux. he strove after the dramatic and dangerous circumstance. endowed with many of the traits associated with the romantic revolutionary. The revolutionary ideal forms the warp and woof of most of Malraux’s characters. The French novelist underlines the traumatic experience of the ’lost generation’ following the First World War. for they were composed during his years of travel and political commitment. and to write what he lived. Malraux. deprived of all ideological impetus. He took an Downloaded from ehq. into the inviolate realms of a sacred and perfect liberty. to comment upon the human predicament in far more dramatic terms and imagery. their aspirations. resenting the sterile Voltairian belles-lettres that held sway in the eighteenthcentury salon. Yet. A communist fellow-traveller but intellectually and artistically aloof.sagepub. and even the structural patterns in the novels. emerging as a leader and prophet for the whole of an aspirant continental Europe. seeing a Europe in ashes. he describes the Chinese uprisings of 1925 and 1927. the art of poetry. The Corsair. new trend in literary endeavour. however real and pressing. through the alchemy of the imagination. has used the concept of revolt against civic authority as the central force in the composition of two of his novels.

sagepub. 2014 . a felicitous phrase he is alleged to have coined as the watchword for the modem rebel. There clearly no need to labour the point that this persistent autocratic myopia was met with increasing violence. synthesizing the upheavals of the entire nineteenth century: larly There is only one serious matter in Europe in 1832 and that is revolution social revolution which attacks the foundations of society. Despite the idealism and generosity of their aims. and in order to satisfy his passion for the transformation of crucially. but invited disaster by refusing prescribe a more liberal and democratic form of government. like Talleyrand and Castlereigh. and accounts for the rebellious fervour gripping Dostoevsky’s characters.406 Eastern path society. and that compliance with the wishes of the people was an absurd thought. Amid the turmoil of the early part of the nineteenth century to is occurred a most extravagant and ambitious revolt that took place in Russia in 1825.. whose outlook was permeated by a nihilistic streak. in the wake of a fruitless carnage. in a strict historical context. expressed by an unending series of uprisings in Europe. The Decembrist movement. as it is called. he perceived the radical nature of political and social revolution.com by bruna meireles on October 17. as we have already more attracted to noted.’7 . was led in Northern Russia by a Colonel Muraviev whose modest intention was the establishment of a constitutional monarchy. but much more with the ’human condition’. Metternich. not only with the political uncertainties of the nineteen-twenties. It is significant because it anticipates the revolutionary theories of Belinsky. of man himself. especially that of the latter. The other leader was Paul Pestel. for instance. holding that only total obedience to the legitimate authority would contribute to the well-being of Europe.. the uprising was ruthlessly and characteristically crushed by Nicholas I who pursued a policy of stagnation and Downloaded from ehq. Bakunin and Herzen. The Austrian Prince Mettemich understood the real direction of this movement when he said of the year 1832. Revolt became for Malraux the most convincing and authentic expression of dissatisfaction. the movement of political revolution. It would be appropriate. inspired by the dream of a democratic republic. once it had been set in motion by the dissolution of the old order in 1789. to consider very briefly. not that he was particua communist form of government. In other words. Unfortunately. who sees in it the suggestion of a bankrupt metaphysics and a sick society. at this stage. stressed a reactionary policy in his Political Confession of Faith.

an expedi- Downloaded from ehq. were only secured by the repression of the more liberal and enlightened elements in Russian society. since each country took on the features governing the temperament of that country. where. published his Manifesto of the Communist Party just a few weeks before the Paris revolt of 1848. and by extension. revolution broke out in the form of a national insurrection. Pisa. Confronted with a reactionary and non-national Europe. The very precarious nature of nineteenth-century political thought is further illustrated by the severe repercussions felt in Central and Southern America. then. Turin. the Central and Southern American states. short-lived to be sure. revolution was in the air. In consequence. Greece. strange to say.407 oppression unrivalled by any regime after Peter the Great. the British intervened in support of the cause of South American independence. Budapest and Berlin. in the France of 1848. accomplished the very practical aim of carrying political dissent to every corner of Europe. In many cases.sagepub.com by bruna meireles on October 17. The downfall of Louis Philippe. Gleefully bent on harassing their European rivals. animated by the precedent of their giant northern neighbour. shattered by the nihilists who gained ground in Russia in the suance second half of the nineteenth century. and to from there to London. The dissident spirit owed much to the rise to power of Napoleon Bonaparte who. Vienna. spiritual authority. the most important figure in the nineteenth century. 2014 . Milan. In the first half of the last century. France and Belgium were all shaken by successful revolts in 1830. Prague. Venice. It was precisely during the 1848 uprisings that the Italian patriot writer Guiseppe Mazzini began to realize the concept of Italian unity. Florence. a number of nations acceded to independence well before their European parents. Significantly Karl Marx. threw off the yoke of their European masters. Rome. Leghorn. and putting the Pope to flight. according to Professor Isaiah Berlin. thereby contributing to the continued diminution in the papacy’s temporal. which has parallels in our own age. provoked a further series of rebellions acquiring such far-reaching consequences that this particular year has been justifiably called the grand year of revolution. The purof serfdom. and the maintenance of a rigid monarchy adamantly neglectful of the needs of the peasantry. albeit under French command. by transforming Rome into a republic. arriving in the French capital a day after its outbreak. apart from the mythical dimension he achieved in his own life-time. only to be promptly expelled to Brussels. while the Polish revolt against the Tsar in the same year achieved little of immediate benefit. Naples. The flame of revolt spread speedily from Paris Sicily.

will often and inevitably choose to express them through the medium of revolution and change. In short. Turgenev’s Fathers and Children. Moreover. denied the validity of aestheticism and romantic idealism which constituted the highest enthusiasms of the ’men of the forties’. as in Russia where the ’men of the sixties’ such as Chemyshevsky. and shows no real signs of slackening its pace in the present day. The details. Furthermore. and saw the possibility of increased trade with newly created states. profoundly committed to the socialist cause of man. The political aspects of revolution in the nineteenth century have. demonstrate the breadth and depth of this trauma which has persisted into the present century with the Russian revolution. it has now become traditional to expect the eminent artist to react against the preceding or contemporary generation. admittedly brief and summary. while it fell upon the indigenous revolutionaries Bolivar and Iturbide to free Columbia and Mexico respectively. The very obvious conclusion to be drawn from the Europe of the nineteenth century is that the revolutionary ferment represents. 2014 . Herzen for instance. placing the nihilist Bazarov and his friend Arkady Kirsanov in opposition to the latter’s father. revolution forms an integral part of the nineteenth-century way of life.408 tionary force was sent to help in the Argentinian revolt of 1806. Cochrane liberated Peru and Brazil. at a political and social level. largely due to the connivance of the Anglo-Saxon peoples who already enjoyed a large measure of democratic government. the most immediate and vivid expression of a much wider phenomenon. is a good literary case in point. Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground contains an analogous rejection of the Schilleresque idealist values of the eighteen-forties which mark the highest cultural point in the first half of nineteenth-century Russia. Although these details are especially familiar to the historian. The rise of the revolutionary ideologies received its initial impetus from the rational dissolution affecting philosophical and literary developments. When Bolivar died in 1830. What is most relevant to the present study is that any writer attempting to interpret and describe the passions and aspirations of his age. notwithstanding its outer veneer of Victorian respectability. although this medium need not necessarily possess a particular social or political connotation. Downloaded from ehq. African and South American countries.com by bruna meireles on October 17. they do serve to underline the political trauma that new social pressures were producing at all levels of European civilization. and that of numerous Asian.sagepub. the Southern part of the American continent was politically autonomous. and from the pronounced decline of Christianity as a cultural and spiritual force.

com by bruna meireles on October 17. were united in their recognition of the metaphysical revolution that was taking place in Europe. although nihilism was not advanced as a coherent ideology until the eighteen-sixties in Russia. propositional foundation.409 until recently. according to Maurice Bowra in The Romantic Imagination. in addition to which man seems to have convinced himself that any politically stable situation is unsatisfactory. in a comprehensive manner. Diderot. Of course. and which had begun by the rationalists’ attack upon the Church. witness St Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica. The romantic writers. Anti-rationalist philosophies physical Downloaded from ehq. presumably because it tends to be more spectacular. independently of literary considerations. What they did believe in is the creative imagination of the individual endowed with extra-sensory perception which provided them with an access to some indeterminate beyond. Ultimately. and may consequently be considered as one of the first nihilists proper. gave utterance to a profound preoccupation with the transcendent world. and the desire for an entirely fresh creation. and the order it implies. Kleist and Espronceda for instance. Bowra argues that Byron. The decline of Christianity as a formal and orthodox institution was quickly and unavoidably followed by a crisis of reason which had in fact partly helped to furnish the Church with a solid. The romantics carried this attack much further in that. the motives for social reform and change lie in the attitudes of Kierkegaardian Angst and mal du siècle. in the romantic and post-romantic periods. received much more critical emphasis than the metamalaise that first invaded Europe. political revolution is no more than a symptom of this malaise. denied the importance of the imagination in the establishment of a transcendent order. led by the French sceptical ’philosophes’. a chronic anxiety accompanying the disappearance of the traditional ideologies. they manifested a profound disillusion regarding the rationalist substitute which the ’philosophes’ offered as the panacea for the world’s problems. 2014 . The most radical form of revolt has evolved through the romantic artist. Lermontov.sagepub. it would be a gross exaggeration to assert that the real ineffectiveness of the reasoning faculties had not produced a metaphysical impasse before the romantic period. besides rejecting the spiritual propositions of the Church. although it has attracted much attention. while sharing many of the subjects and tastes of the romantics. but this world was far removed from the Christian notion of God and formal theology. Byron was probably the sole exception to this. and impresses more readily. Thus. D’Holbach and D’Alembert. given to the quest for concepts which he senses a priori are deprived of all firm bases. Shelley. In very sharp contrast.

a collective onslaught on the traditional notions contained in metaphysical investigation. and the proclamation of a new era of social justice. and elevating himself as the final arbiter of moral. The negative side that seems much more noteworthy is that. the publication of Victor Hugo’s Preface to his play Cromwell underscores the radical reaction literary circles were feeling. the romantics saw freedom as the new watchword capable of dissolving the carefully delineated classical concepts of form and genre. literary and most important of all. which is his distorted traditional image. In France. of course. spiritual devastation. Romanticism does not simply suggest the rebirth of ideas. numerous writers grouped themselves in order to deliver. for instance. practical with Cobden and Cavour. for the very first time. The romantic artist translates this all-embracing. but what does distinguish romanticism from all other periods of Western cultural history is the penetrating and collective realization that the world is apparently not controlled by a single. Russian nihilism. the proliferation of new literary genres. and the reasonableness and moderation of Voltaire and Diderot. 2014 save the general . momentous language. far from depending upon an orderly pattern. in relation to the classical unities of Racine. intelligible power. and that.410 have always existed because they form part and parcel of man’s mental and emotional apparatus. individual experience must be meaningless. is a mere product of insensible chance.sagepub. it may be safely argued that ever-increasing repercussions were being produced by the belief that the world. The conspicuous lack of all definitive meaning lies at the root of the confusion and agitation throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. survived many hundreds of years. in the name of romanticism. militant with Cochrane and Garibaldi. The true revolt implied in romanticism lies in its fundamental antithesis to system-building. Consequently.com by bruna meireles on October 17. constitutional with Mirabeau. Hugo writes: ance There are no rules or models. reduced to a purely personal level. but by emphasizing his own creative instinct. after all. the positive side of the movement. political with Danton. Scornful of the old order which had. the spirit of which assumed a multitude of forms. Romanticism developed its identity by stressing the supreme importof freedom. was the logical outcome of this anti-rationalist attitude. or rather there 8 laws of nature which hover over all art* are no other rules Downloaded from ehq. and poetic with Schiller and Shelley. In audacious. not by pining away in amorous language. all of which are. metaphysical values.

he had been engaged in revolutionary politics. and an impartial. coherent description of the world.9 He proceeds to speak of the nineteenth century as one which separates the past from the future. in all its lurid and apocalyptic disorder. Kirillov. a powerful. standing high on a wind-swept rock and surveying torrential streams covered in gloom. the first gleam of the future’. Hugo praises those plays in Greek tragedy which are embellished by the sense of the comic. One of the reasons why the novel The Devils assumed the form it did is that Dostoevsky perceived. and the illustration by Fuseli for Thomas Gray’s The Bard.. we are informed by Downloaded from ehq. by the writhing. quite consistently. in which the poet sees himself apart from the rest of humanity. monstrous figures of Goya (Satan Devouring his Children. This chaos is Needless to say. It is precisely the Satanical element in revolutionary politics which gives the theme of revolt in literature its most fascinating aspect. with an unusually uncanny penetration. at the time of the writing of his major works in fact (1864-80). and the political revolutionary.sagepub. and where one does not know.com by bruna meireles on October 17. The romantic rejection of the divine and temporal order of things was accompanied. The conclusive point in this romantic mingling of the genres is that the nineteenth century witnessed such a radical dissolution of the literary genres and types that it is no longer possible to invoke artistic canons as a means of justifying the structure of a work of art. a strong sense of the diabolical forms the kernel of this vision of disorder which informs much revolutionary thinking. for Satan himself must obviously be considered as the very first figure to be gripped by the denial of supreme authority. by a sense of social chaos which the French poet Alfred de Musset ascribed to the transitional phase between the old and the new.411 Arrogantly hostile to the concept of genre. which is neither the one nor the other and resembles both at the same time. the development of character. Musset wrote in 1836 that young people had been caught between a past destroyed forever and the ’dawn of an immense horizon. reflected. indissoluble link between religious fanaticism or madness. and three years’ exile that he spent in appalling conditions in a Siberian penal settlement.. an involvement which led to his implication in the Petrashevsky affair (1848). Reflecting upon society at the end of Napoleon Bonaparte’s reign. at each step one takes. Dostoevsky’s writings are the most vivid illustration of this particular point. for instance). if only in a dilettante way. 2014 .’ 0 . if one is walking on a seed or a ruin. Although the Russian novelist became less politically active in his later years.

the longer the spiritual problem of God’s existence remains unsolved. Tchen becomes a political terrorist precisely in so far as he suffers from a total lack of transcendence. in fact.sagepub. He exhibits an active recognition of the spiritual dilemma involved in the overthrow of the temporal order. the spiritual implications of political dissent. two of Dostoevsky’s previous novels. 1is committed to seditious activiresult of a strong religious motivation. personal disturbance. Dostoevsky and Malraux repeat and expand. if only momentarily. He lives in the ’House of ty Filippov’. Moreover. Again. the unique unchanging problem inherent in all existence. both names containing a religious connotation. Furthermore. in very analytical terms. in one as a Downloaded from ehq. 2014 . Dostoevsky is probably the most representative novelist of the nineteenth century. Hong (Les Conquerants). The problem obsessing Malraux’s Tchen is exactly that which obsesses Kirillov who commits suicide for both political and metaphysical reasons.com by bruna meireles on October 17. at least as far as the concept of change is concerned. in Bogoyavleskaya Street. no writer before the advent of the Russian novelist had analysed in such arresting and authentic imagery. and by blowing himself up in the hope of assassinating the Chinese military commander. As he states to the missionary Pastor Smithson: ’What does one do if one believes in neither God nor Christ? 13 Tchen can only forget his metaphysical problem by the political acts of murdering a businessman at the beginning of La Condition Humaine.’ ’ The novels of Dostoevsky and Malraux demonstrate vividly how dependent the political revolutionary is upon his metaphysical impulse and how. the privileged method by which the individual may conceal.412 of Dostoevsky’s commentators. that is ’Why do men not commit suicide? ’Such is the question raised by Kirillov in conversation with Stavrogin and later. an idea that is implicit in Byron’s poems. although the distinctive feature of the two novelists is their constant and deliberate preoccupation with the metaphysical significance of the revolutionary instinct. and especially Tchen (La Condition Humaine) whose suicidal terrorism borders on the mystical experience: witness the scene where he attempts to kill Chiang Kai-shek by throwing himself under a car as he clutches a bomb. in Dostoevsky’s view. other inhabitants of the ’House of Filippov’ have a similar passion for revolt at both a metaphysical and political level. Crime and Punishment and The Idiot suggest a very marked link between the two kinds of revolt. Political change becomes. and in this sense. the more fanatical the terrorist becomes. as though political dissent and terrorism are the practical consequences of a much deeper. It is very significant to observe that Kirillov is incontestably the prototype for Malraux’s revolutionaries.

non-violence cannot indicate an attitude of revolt but merely that of the conscience which remains unaffected by the world. The concept of the act draws the artist into combat with the material realities of his time. as well as by Albert Camus who regards it as the one outstanding obsession upon which all ethical codes must hang. has yielded to such a disquieting ebb and flow that it is no longer possible to formulate ideas in a definitive form. and then retire to a secluded spot and wash one’s hands of the existential dilemma? To avoid some kind of violent activity would be tantamount to the betrayal of the whole ethos behind revolt. the concept of revolt is indissolubly linked to the call to action or movement. if it is to survive. not merely out of duty or even ambition. The creator prefers the process of creating to the Action is Downloaded from ehq. draws the individual from his solitude. The rebel will therefore act. by extension. for is it possible to posit the question of revolt. in more analytical style. for he feels that his artistic impulse must affect the movement of society at all costs. The contemporary value attached to the act is partially explained by the disappearance of traditional modes of thinking.com by bruna meireles on October 17. Revolt. Conversely. Camus’s Le Mythe de Sisphe and L’Homme Révolté merely explore. The fact that the modem artist sees the need for revolt in society suggests that man has moved from an essentially passive state to an active one. They have to be constantly reconsidered and restated until an idea becomes the result of a conquest or a struggle. because it deliberately provokes the confrontation. 2014 . and he cannot choose eternal life without resigning himself. to evil. Camus writes: What can the attitude of the rebel be? He cannot turn away from the world and history without denying the very principle of his revolt. since what was once considered as firm and unimpeachable evidence of some transcendent and. Active revolt constitutes a kind of intermediary value between two self-excluding realities: the conscience and the world.sagepub. places him in society. the questions of murder and suicide raised by Kirillov and many other Dostoevskian characters for that matter.’4 indispensable to the conscience animated by the concept of the defiant affirmation implied in every act of revolt because revolt. since the latter deliberately seeks out action in order to realize itself more fully. and even consents to its apparently illegitimate pattern and order. social order. and frequently provides him with his only reason for living.413 the same novel. with Peter Verkhovensky. in some way. argues Camus. has to prolong itself through some form of violent activity. In other words. Revolt is the mediator. but from fidelity to the very sense of revolt.

about Downloaded from ehq. Isaiah Berlin comments The nineteenth century contains many remarkable social critics and revolutionaries no less original. Marx was the product of a world in turmoil. viewing it as the supreme test in the conquest of each and every situation. Therefore. right and wrong were meaningless in his world of incalculable social injustice. which explains the immense importance of Marx in the realm of social dissidence. by advocating passionate acts of terrorism in the cause of revolution. so absorbed in making every word and every act of his life a means towards a single. truth. 2014 . Needless to add. immediate and practical end. We may safely assert that the French revolution represents the first collective attempt to translate feelings into deeds. The revolutionary path was the only means at man’s disposal for acquiring both justice and meaning through the act it automatically implied. engrossed as he is in the association of creativity and movement. in labour pains. Marx raised the deed to its highest philosophical level. to which 5 nothing was too sacred to be sacrificed. suggests that the act or the process of expression takes precedence over the idea itself. the origins of the very real emphasis upon the act as the all-important gesture lie in the earliest revolutions of the modem era. loses its original validity. could not be deflected from his Herculean task of delivering the world. as soon as it is expressed. but not one so rigorously single-minded. Hume and Bentham. It is certainly no coincidence that Andr6 Gide. The creator desires unendingly the movement of creation as a refuge from the sterility of the fixed idea. 1 Marx perceived the fundamental weakness of the paralytic rationalism of Leibniz and Descartes.sagepub. fills him with a sense of exhilaration and liberation. and this seems very important in the elaboration of a philosophy of the act. not words. for instance. the continuous necessity for redeveloping an idea which. the wretched years he spent in London.com by bruna meireles on October 17. whether it be a work of literature or of the plastic arts. personifies this movement in the form of adolescent characters such as Protos and Lafcadio in Les Caves du Vatican Clearly. and it is just this unending movement that lends modern literature its youthful ardour. since the abstract notions of honesty. The revolutionary principle unrealized through the act itself proved futile to Marx who.414 static condition. Starting from the premise that philosophy had become separated from action until the advent of thinkers like Roche. no less violent. since the perpetual act of creation. no less dogmatic than Marx. Revolution demands of the individual that he submit himself to the discipline of the act. for all the grim persecution he had to endure.

E.. speed and complexity of events. the population of Europe grew by more than three hundred and fifty millions. Lawrence furnishes another recent example of an eminent thinker enmeshed in a desire so profound for the speed of the machine age that it finally killed him. in less than one hundred and fifty years. Faust sees himself borne into eternally new spheres Downloaded from ehq. motors. according to which matter itself. at a as a manifestation of the speed and vital impulse of our century.. as W.sagepub.415 an entirely new creation. even in the form of molecules. was shown to be in constant and unending transformation. 2014 . The Italian Marinetti’s collection of ten poems entitled Le Demon de la Vitesse provides a poetical extension of this mad thirst for speed and action.18cannot have such a great significance for the dynamic surge of activity may only be translated by the omnipotent deed. In all the deep metamorphosis which makes of the nineteenth century the first comprehensive revolutionary era. This geometric acceleration in speed and change naturally fostered the desire for movement and essentially action. Starkie comments to bring forth scene . engines of all sorts 6 being made to redeem mankind. For instance. 17 an exclamation pointing to the eternal innocence of action. and the artist’s constant intoxication with the act of creation which is eternally surpassed and destroyed by successive acts of creation. Goethe’s Faust displays an unusual belief in action as he transcends St John’s ’In the beginning was the Word’ with ’In the beginning was the deed’. A mere word. for he arrived on the historical time when Europe was witnessing an enormous increase in the range. eager even to sacrifice his life. To such a symbolize the attempt that is man. while new modes of transport enabled huge armies to be conveyed to the centre of warfare. argues Goethe’s commentator Gray. Scientific discovery began to reveal a universe not governed by static conditions but mobile ones. which informed revolutionary methods with a greater violence and impressed upon literature an urgency and immediacy it had never known before. governments assumed ever-increasing powers.’ Aldous Huxley’s Faster Faster reflects the self-same passion for an ever-increasing revolution of ideas through sheer speed. Revolutionary methods of commercial travel destroyed distance as an insurmountable factor. aeroplanes. Marinetti pursues a frantic course through space.com by bruna meireles on October 17. For example. Cities expanded at an unprecedented rate. T. the deed was obviously of utmost significance. while the romantics themselves became deeply imbued with an ideology of action.

spurned the life of ease and happiness in favour of adventure and political strife. while he Downloaded from ehq. Look at the querulous and monotonous lives of the genus . Actions-actions. and attractive lustre of will power that seemed to drive Napoleon. and not writing. Kleist. as we have already noted. least of all. and even as a further incarnation of his genius and energy. Napoleon cast a spell over Byron who. carried out his will to confer upon Europe a revolutionary form of government. Poland and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Aeschylus. Napoleon served to synthesize the recently acquired fruits of the French revolution. precisely because it implies a permanent preoccupation with the concept of revolution. N. idle brood it is. Dante. into the model of the man of action for many literary figures who elaborated their own principles of transcendency in the light of his power and daring in action.416 of fervid activity. he is able to write the following arresting words: Action-action-action. after a failure the previous week. as he seeks the mysteries of the universe. swimming and revolutionary warfare.except Cervantes.com by bruna meireles on October 17. Tasso.sagepub. caught up in his love for horse-riding. who were brave and active citizens. and some other of the antiques also what a worthless. Faust’s satanic thirst for knowledge is linked to his irresistible thrust of will power that can only be fully realized by the rejection and redevelopment of every moment in time. for all the formidable opposition. Thus. 2014 . Sophocles. boxing. Byron was quick to seize upon the identical initials for his name and Napoleon’s (i. Byron is at pains to stress his fondness of action. The basic point at issue here is that.). Washington and Bolivar. rhyme. Of course. I say.’9 Byron informs us in his Letters that he ’swam the broad Hellespont’ from Sestos to Abydos. for not only did he applaud the French commander but also considered himself as his rival. although nowhere in all literature may be seen the equal of Byron’s awe and approval of the French military leader’s conquests. despite the disapproval of his master the Duke of Weimar. but they lacked the dark magic. The newly found creed of action accounts for Goethe’s immense admiration for Napoleon. as he vanquished the reactionary governments of Prussia. Stendhal’s Le Rouge et le Noir and Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment develop characters (Julien Sorel and Raskolnikov) who personify their author’s attraction for Napoleon.e. Byron did express esteem for other military figures such as Wellington. that he ’may know what binds the world together’. Goethe revered the daemonic nature of Napoleon who. The French Emperor developed. as a consequence. dispensed liberally across Europe. said Demosthenes. Ariosto.B.

in his view. government and even literature. Yet. They wrote with humanity and social causes in mind.sagepub. 2014 . The commentators’ biographical interest in the English writer is therefore by no means an accident. he displayed a deep admiration for animals which do not intellectualize the feeling of strength and the surge of movement. is shot through with a prophetic sense which lifts Marino Faliero and Sardanapalus. The romantics emerge undoubtedly as the first group of thinkers to lay especial emphasis upon the act as the touchstone of life. Byron was probably the first great romantic to give literature importance as the expression of life as it is lived and suffered. as biography and history. for instance. injecting unceasingly into his expression an increased power and a search for action characterizing his whole life. For this very reason. since it establishes a contact between his own vehement nature and the passionate revolutionary spirit of all Europe. to refrain from action is the beginning of death. It is not possible to read Byron’s poetry meaningfully without following the events attending each circumstance of his existence and that he strove to shape. in all its complex details. academic manual. so much so that the authentic and accurate details of the event surpassed the poetical element. and the sea permeate Byron’s writings. boats. That Byron should be bent on living his poetry determined the extremely personal manner in which he interpreted historical events. As Professor Knight points out in his book Lord Byron: Christian Virtues. exalted by the vision of a revitalized Europe to be created by their active participation in the momentous events of the time.417 the Tagus at its widest point at Lisbon . this awareness of history.com by bruna meireles on October 17.2 0 The feats of remarkable endurance. For the rebel artist. The poetry of Cain’s revolt meant nothing to him unless he translated it into an armed struggle against unjust authority. With the advent of romanticism. He lived the idea of the poet more convincingly and fully than any other writer. Thus. from the local setting to a sense of the limitless progress that man can make through his own striving. the welter of biographical data in Byron’s life is a very necessary complement to Byron the poet. Rousseau and Goethe. confer upon Byron’s poetry a very distinctive significance since he creates a kind of poetry in action.21The English poet lived in actions his personal sense of revolt against society. Historical interest transcended the dry. and even a ship laid up in dock is ’a grand poetical sight’. Byron’s early poetry and later dreams were inspired by a very keen awareness of history. any more than is the same interest in the colossal figures of Berlioz. Images of warfare. litera- conquered Downloaded from ehq. and the permanent need for travel.

man must create and plan his own existence. beliefs and attitudes. while yet expressing a philosophical notion. A philosophy of the act ultimately signifies the permanent revolution of social and moral values. or life of the man who. The long development of romanticism culminating in Sartre’s concept of the act has witnessed a gradual elimination of theories. albeit in a more spectacular and thrilling form. which accounts for the current universal use of the term ’instant’ as a commercial attraction. reason. The metamorphosis that European culture has undergone. The act becomes the unifying factor affording subjectivity a meaning. is merely an extension of romanticism. The concept of ’instant’ suggests that reality is not so much a purely subjective phenomenon as the romantics or even the existentialists would have us believe. it uses concrete and living imagery accessible to the lay reader. in existentialist terms.com by bruna meireles on October 17. and a definite movement towards living itself. an unending act by which the individual projects his being against and beyond the world. All humanity can appreciate the significance of the physical gesture. until literature offers an entirely new aspect: that of the exasperated and violent expression of action. that is his environment. has led inevitably to the development of existantialist philosophy which. order. and not through reference to an absolute and detached being. has pervaded the narrative and dramatic fields of art. just as matter and spirit have been dissolved into a single. Since such notions as God. appealing to the personal life of the individual and seeking to transform that life. ’is born. but rather it relates the subjective to the objective.sagepub. urgent reality it had probably never known before. all humanity can participate in it and sense the thrill of its immediacy. 2014 . has meant that man now realizes himself through some form of physical activity. The main reason why existentialism has exerted such a popular appeal is that. after all.418 ture suddenly acquired a pressing. and to cross what was formerly considered an unbridgeable gap between reason and matter. indivisible unit. The existentialist’s most notable contribution to modern literature is precisely his romantic passion for the act as the sole method for justifying personal existence. from the stress on essence to the stress on existence. but the idea of creation entails a continuous movement. because the more imaginative faculties lend themselves more readily Downloaded from ehq. The growing interplay between literature and the raw material of the writer’s own existence. lives and dies’. The biography. and even nature have been divested of all ultimate meaning. Indeed. by virtue of its associations with the objective world. Activity helps the individual to achieve a kind of synthesis of objectivity and subjectivity.

as for Camus in the metaphysical sense.com by bruna meireles on October 17. the new Europe Inspired by the vision of the Nietzschean overman. This is why Andrd Malraux The whole of the end of the nineteenth century does seem to be building itself upon the act. Malraux attaches the highest importance to the concept of revolt only when it has been recorded. but took on an active role. so revolt itself assumes a lasting form only when it is clothed in a literary expression. it is not surprising that he sees a link between writing and the very act of revolt. an International Air Squadron against Franco in the Spanish Civil War. 2014 . in an admirable manner. and commanded a tank corps as Colonel Berger in the invasion of France by the Germans in 1940. it is the tool of revolution and social change. the social revolutionary Garine reflects on his Downloaded from ehq. and this link proves to be an eminently organic one. the honour of manhood. Although it is not altogether clear how far Malraux imperilled his life in the Chinese uprisings. exposing himself to perils which had the function of heightening his awareness of the act as a philosophical ideal.sagepub. The very palpable reality of the act may be viewed in Malraux’s own life if we understand that he did not ‘find’ events.22 was passive. Given Malraux’s viewpoint that modem culture is founded upon physical activity. it is abundantly evident that he organized. or in other words. Revolution is construed by Malraux as the highest and most privileged form of the act. it is beyond dispute that his novels of political and social revolution spring from living a very real encounter with danger. Malraux is probably the first European novelist to emphasize the primacy of action in the writer’s life as a method of authenticating ideas and theories. through the act. The legendary appeal attached to the figure of Malraux lies in his treatment of the theme of the man of action who sustains. revolution contains the essence of the act. it implies unending movement. For instance. for as we have noted. Just as writing a novel must be securely rooted in the concept of action both in connection with character and the flow of events. As far as Malraux is concerned.419 to a direct emphasis states in L’Espoir : on the physical gesture. He did not consider revolution in a detached. On innumerable occasions. they did not simply happen to him in a passive manner. submissive fashion. Although the myths surrounding Malraux’s life have obviously blurred the true facts of his exploits. but rather that he went in quest of them. the act becomes the all-important concept since. Furthermore.

in the sense that his use of words. scene construction. in so far as the English scientist saw in the process of natural selection an unconscious movement. aptly reflects both writers’ desire to approach the event as closely as possible. relying increasingly as he does on the herd instinct. ’The way it was’. the action in Hemingway’s novels and short stories receives both a lasting quality and a certain dignity through the author’s very strict adherence to the act of war. on the following page. most essentially. Man. Similarly. Events stream through their novels in a pulsating movement. is subject to a greater risk of degeneracy than every before. and the spectacle of greater political and own Downloaded from ehq. lacking the personal drive of the Nietzschean hero. staccato transference from one image to the next translates the imperative. it cannot be said that Malraux’s novels or Hemmingway’s for that matter. Malraux’s novels reveal a revengeful streak regarding the nature of the universe and society. argues the rebel artist. he contends. material sense of place. historical fact. and violent imagery. as though the authors need to escape the passivity and sluggishness of the very words they are using. Both Malraux and his American counterpart aim at the true description of what takes place. since he argues that the contrary is in fact taking place. Shade. The dictum Hemingway cherished all his life. constant necessity of the revolutionary to destroy what he has just created. the American journalist in L’Espoir witnesses scenes of warfare so as to present them to posterity and invest them with a permanent meaning. correspond exactly to the political revolutionary who can only satisfy his fervour by a permanent and bewildering destruction of social values. He cannot consent to the view that natural selection forms the real basis for the superior being. because the thirst for action gives them a strong. Again. time and.sagepub. 2014 .com by bruna meireles on October 17. ’What a novel my life is! ’ While yet a minor character in La Condition Humaine. The rapid. denouncing the determinism of the machine age. The true writer strives to acquire. This striving must be differentiated from the Darwinian concept of the survival of the fittest. Peï takes an important place in his author’s eyes precisely because it falls upon him to report the death of the terrorist Tchen in his attempt on the life of Chiang Kai-shek. the rebel suggests a refusal to believe in man as a progressing species. Thus. to a quotation originally ascribed to Napoleon. Opposing the concept of the superior type inherent in the Darwinian theory of evolution. are built so much upon a series of scenes as upon a series of images.420 existence: ’Which books are worth writing except Memoirs? ’23 and relates this. a new level of consciousness and applies his will power to that end. The latter attaches an exclusive emphasis to his conscious act above all else.

He tries unremittingly to discover in his art what is singularly human.com by bruna meireles on October 17. any more than Hungary or Czechoslovakia are governed from their respective capitals. offers a persistent denunciation of the general tendency towards group consciousness implying the ultimate immoral act. however indiscriminate. Happiness and community harmony may indeed constitute the ideals of the masses. a change the rebel fears above all else. What is designed to elevate the general level of society must unavoidably result in the disappearance of the outstanding exception. whether it be literature. what characterizes him as a suffering individual. The rise of socialism as a European and. 2014 . given the growing weight attached to the notion of ’power blocks’. and most important of all. Nietzsche and Carlyle who did not predict the general raising of the standard of the human species. The artist finally repudiates the social ethic of optimism which transforms the individual into a kind of non-entity. but its opposite. Modem art. Downloaded from ehq. which are moving towards the dehumanized condition of the individual. the rebel follows a path of solitude as the unique expression of his artistic genius. The weak gather their forces into comprehensive units in an attempt to deny the strong individual his superior powers. in more recent years. We are reluctantly brought to the extraordinary paradox of the necessity to defend the strong against the weak. in the alleged interests of the betterment. Against the gathering forces of socialism and all forms of totalitarianism. of society. that not only is man being lost in the political apparatus at a local or even national level. a fact that justifies the alarmist prophecies of Dostoevsky.sagepub. has consequently been countered by a mounting resistance on the part of the artist who cannot share Rousseau’s optimism founded on the perfectibility and inevitable moral progress of mankind. The sovereignty of the individual is constantly subject to erosion. as a world force. but these ideals militate against the restless soul of the rebel who creates out of disharmony and dislocation. hence his crusading spirit and his gesture of defiance. according to which England would no longer be governed from London. painting or sculpture.421 social organization. in support of this argument. his pride in putting the world and society in the wrong and stressing the rights of the individual. and not the weak against the strong. in all its guises. It must be said. but also at an international level. by removing from man what gives him his particular individuality. or even a North American state from its local state capital. The lure of adventure appeals more and more to him as he contemplates a civilization bent on social prestige and financial profit.

which is the rebel’s standpoint. Briefly. and one has the impression that it is no more than interesting that Samuel Beckett. is able to express the feeling of nothingness in Waiting for Godot. by a certain bourgeois spirit. 2014 . while the former contains the seeds of rebellion against social. the Absurd Theatre. in many cases. what has occurred in the past two centuries is that formal religious ideology was excised from philosophical enquiry by the romantics who replaced it. so that literature developed into a radically subjective discipline related to the concept of revolution. the nihilist prototype in that work. seeks to overthrow all authority and previously accepted ideas and judgements. One cannot discuss the theme of revolt in modern literature without some discussion of nihilism as a politico-literary creed. As we have already observed. The extreme notion of iconoclasm. This is why one of the latest manifestations of rebellion in leading discussion literature. the fundamental difference between romanticism and current thought is The played that.sagepub. Turgenev coined the word ’nihilist’ in Fathers and Children which was published in 1862. must precipitate his downfall. although even this philosophical concept is fraught with the traditional values of decency. who comes under his influence.422 highest forms of art have. comments upon him in the following manner: ness seems A nihilist is accept any a person who does not bow down to any authority. in the past hundred and seventy years. inherent in romanticism. this flower. The the question of nothing- to be sustained only by ingenious dramatic devices. Art has no other ideal save that of the expression of the enduring and expanding human spirit. found this bourgeois ideology of realism and naturalism equally uncongenial. spiritual impasse typified by revolving around introspection and into a is intense frustration. Arkady Kirsanov.com by bruna meireles on October 17. nihilism first developed in Russia in the middle of the nineteenth century. The dramatic and permanent revolution involved in introspection has ended by leading man nowhere. by virtue of excessive personal aattention. seems to be decaying. Endgame and Krapp’s Last Tape. Therefore. an indispensable role in the enlightenment and guidance of man. The moral to be drawn from all this is that revolution for revolution’s sake. political and metaphysical injustice (and these seeds grew into a sturdy flower). for instance. however much that principle may be revered. merely by changing the technique. The obsession with revolution inevitably opens out on to the destructive nature of nihilism. Bazarov. who does not 4 of faith.2 principle Downloaded from ehq. self-righteousness and so-called Christian charity.

created out of a sense of solitude and even uncongenial environment. and created the ideal conditions for extreme revolt.423 Endowed with an inflexible will power. uninhibited by a cultural tradition. That is to say. of a non-political nature. the peaceful and controlled progress of society at all levels. the entire Russian community remained pegged to its feudal system. they did not adhere to any traditional artistic ideal. Bazarov’s interests were. while the Divina Commedia and The Canterbury Tales were being written. in which poverty-stricken peasants saw themselves frustratingly separated from the aristocracy. the supreme type of artist alienated from his own society. so Dostoevsky and Turgenev did not belong with an indigenous cultural school. It requires little imagination to understand why nihilism flowered in Russia more rapidly than in any other European country. composed his works without the notion of discipline. a Shakespeare. curiously enough.sagepub. as well as an ardent desire to create a socialist utopia. except perhaps Spain. Dostoevsky. Baroja and Ganivet. a Cervantes or a Racine. bourgeois society. but it is a fact of considerable importance that Russian literature emerged at the turn of the eighteenth century even less affected than its Spanish counterpart by the periods of classicism and the enlightenment. and the German states saw the birth of a staunch middle class which ensured. While such countries as France and England. especially French. ’Russia was silent under the Tartar rule’. and was highly vulnerable Downloaded from ehq. 2014 . Dmitri Pisarev. Just as many Spanish authors of the late nineteenth century including Unamuno. but what was new was the Russian writer’s sense of creating ex nihilo. a sentiment that had been steadily gaining ground since the turn of the eighteenth century. Her persistent lack of a stabilizing. in a Europe that was witnessing a radical and tumultuous metamorphosis of the ruling classes.2 Obviously this kind of interpretation of both Russian and Spanish literature of the middle and late nineteenth century is coloured by a romantic streak which naturally tends to blur certain specific realities. While they were well versed in foreign cultures. a commitment to materialist philosophy.com by bruna meireles on October 17. dissimilar from his real life counterparts. Of course. Nevertheless. Bazarov crystallized. As Helen Muchin points out in her study on Russian literature. for the first time in the imaginative literature of Europe. at least in the long term and internally. Nikolai Chemyshevsky and Nikolai Dobrolyubov. they could not appeal admiringly to a Dante. order or direction. intensified the social vacuum. he displays with these political figures a great faith in reason. Yet. this kind of radical separation was nothing new.

He speaks of Lucania where the peasants live submerged in an indeterminate world. and while powerful reactionary forces. and neo-realism. The novels of Jesus Fernández Santos (Los Bravos). serve to centralize in a most pertinent. precisely because he felt closely identified with the strong undercurrent of nihilism arising from the intgllectual’s social isolation and natural affection for the peasant.424 to nihilistic ideologies. Dostoevsky’s primitive nihilism serves as a prelude to a whole field of literature of social revolt in the very specific context of naturalism. Whereas the Western romantic showed a concern for the distinctive nature of the peasant. for they all stress the false. The communist Carlo Levi underscores the very primitive aspect of the indigent peasant whom he knew only too well during his ’exile’ period in Southern Italy. in his efforts to interpret the nihilism of the Russian soul. the true birth of Russian literature was attended by a nihilistic brooding and melancholy. to mention only three authors among a whole host inspired by the neo-realist mood. violence and ultimate wretchedness of neo-realism. 2014 man does not . based on earlier traditions. and especially nihilism. Italy and Spain respectively. sophisticated elegance of city and aristocratic life as opposed to the struggle for existence of the disinherited. Dostoevsky by-passed middle class culture. Zola’s Germinal. the abandonment of the peasant by an industrialized. were exerting themselves in the West.com by bruna meireles on October 17. The formative period of Russian literature coincides with the iconoclastic motivation behind romanticism. that we see the origins of contemporary nihilism. stark manner. society and even intellect. The social protest of naturalism finally worked itself out in the cruelty. defenceless peasant. Russian creativity grew out of a compassionate attraction for the primitive man whom he understood mainly because of his own primitive. and it is just in this pristine climate. where Downloaded from ehq. This strongly felt link with the soil which attends the denunciation of city life lays a heavy stress on sheer physical destitution and financial distress.sagepub. Zola. nihilistic identity. and consequently. deprived of a sense of tradition. Verga and Blasco Ibanez illustrate the naturalist movement in France. Verga’s Novelle Rusticane and Blasco Ibáfiez’s La Barraca provide powerful evocations of poverty-stricken communities enslaved throughout their existence by a remote and inexorable social system. It is quite rightly argued that Dostoevsky’s primitive realism contains a much more authentic and moving note than the naturalism of a Zola. and ruthlessly capitalist society heedless of the poverty of the frequently naive. Ignacio Silone’s Pane e Vino and Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.

unadorned clash between the basic human problem of need and authority’s repressive manner. this resigned. exhausted themselves within the relatively short space of time of some nineteen years (1942-61). No new and truly fertile sources for literary endeavour are.26 The true inspiration for the composition of the neo-realist novel. establishing the perennial antithesis of bourgeois tyranny and peasant desolation. his beast or malaria ness of a painful nature which reigns there alone. collectively felt patience. its point of departure. in addition to which it rapidly leads to a literary impasse. As a consequence. Neo-realism draws much of its strength from naturalism. emphasizes the increasing preoccupation with man’s rights as an individual. apart from the deeper philosophical and metaphysical notions pervading the writings of Dostoevsky and Camus for instance. as with Beckett’s preoccupation with nothingness. Juan Goytisolo and Daniel Sueiro who are undergoing during these very years. Downloaded from ehq.425 the sombre passivedistinguish himself from the sun. It is a question of the brutal. in fact. as yet. As Lebedev. which explains why it could never have grown deep roots in England. the proletariat in its more rural aspect.sagepub.com by bruna meireles on October 17. an acute period of novelistic reappraisal. at least in the twentieth century. The limited social protest of a Camilo Jos6 Cela (La Familia de Pascual Duarte.. which seems to indicate a sure sign of the essential barrenness of literature when used as a vehicle for expressing the sense of injustice at a purely social level. forthcoming. the writer animated by the desire for social equality cannot expect posterity to see in him anything more than a passing phase in literary history. The only fundamental defect of neo-realism in the sphere of revolt inheres in the writer’s very real attachment to the ever-decreasing and localized question of the disinherited masses of Europe. a crisis has been reached by the present generation of Spanish novelists such as Luis Martin-Santos. It redeveloped and revitalized the sources of naturalist art by employing the same techniques. lies in the very real conflict between man’s wretchedness and society’s intolerable indifference. and why it found acute expression in such relatively underdeveloped countries as Spain and Italy. This defect explains why the latest trends in neo-realism. in Dostoevsky’s The Idiot states: ’Every one looks for his own rights’.. 1942) or of a Fernández Santos is evidently not the kind of protest which helps to confer immortality upon an author... Moreover. The literature of revolt in its social and political context. 2014 . while deepening and extending its content of social protest. secular and . that is in Spain.

1957). and especially the frightening punishment inflicted upon children which he records on innumerable occasions in The Diary of a Writer. 1931). 1953). 5. 4. and this particular obsession with ethical truth outweighs all other considerations. and even religious. despite his apparent disregard for civic duties.volution &eacute. misanthropic appearance. 1928). The question of rights is pushed to its limits by Ivan Karamazov who uses. 2014 . (Lon- Downloaded from ehq. the affectionate desire to defend and vindicate all that is worthwhile and irreplaceable in man’s psychological fabric. irrefutable indictment both of society and especially of the world order. among many other examples. 6.aise . A. for all the apparent disorder and sexual promiscuity.426 thereby underlining the intensely moral awareness of the present age. The demand for the restoration of social rights points to the fundamental motive behind much modem thinking: the rebellion against God in the name of ethical truth. 2 Ivan’s metaphysical revolt derives directly from his own author’s experience of prison life.e’. 1965).rants (Paris: Grasset. The rebel Ivan accedes to his rightful place in the moral realm. Magarshack) (London: Penguin. Revolt has become a literary preoccupation because it is linked to an ethical conviction which is the deepest conviction known to man. Nouvelle Revue Fran&ccedil. Rebellion reaches its most profound depths when inspired by the torment and suffering of mankind. and we need look no further than Dostoevsky for such an example. Camus. Walter Scott.com by bruna meireles on October 17. but notably within the context of metaphysical principles. Essais (Paris: Pl&eacute. 2.trangl&eacute. NOTES 1. not merely within the socio-political framework. The entire chapter entitled ’Rebellion’ in The Brothers Karamazov revolves around the intolerable affliction of small children. Literature and Revolution (New York: Russell and Russell.iade. 62. Behind his frequently sullen. XXXVI (1 April. heart-felt love for humanity. and Ivan takes the example of small children ’to make his case cleare’r’. The Devils (translated by D. vol.volt&eacute. despite Nietzsche’s trenchantly contrary views. 3 See ’La R&eacute.sagepub. 435. Les Conqu&eacute. lies a genuine. L’Homme R&eacute. The Letters and Journals of Lord Byron (selected). legal. The rebel is a leader whom we should admire and respect as an indispensable force for the proper functioning of society. the supreme image of innocent children callously butchered as a final. aesthetic.. 229. altruism and the public weal. 404.

3. 1963).. 60. Peace. Preface to Cromwell. 9. 29-30. 17. 19.iade.. 10. L’Homme R&eacute. Byron (London: Oliver and Boyd.. G. 518. Th&eacute. 11. 1947). 1886). See La Condition Humaine (Paris: Gallimard. 434. 20.com by bruna meireles on October 17. 143. Faust (Translated by A. 8. 24. 7. 1961). 7. Les Conqu&eacute. Ibid. 239. 27. 9. Hare) (London: Hutchinson. 15.24. 19. 1965). Dostoevsky: An Examination of his Major Novels (London: Cambridge University Press. 2014 . 1964). 18. 22. 14. Karl Marx (London: Oxford University Press. Ibid. 1910). L’Espoir (Paris: Gallimard. 74-5. L. 26. 1967). 1965). Magarshack) (London: Penguin. See Goethe: A Critical Introduction (London: Cambridge University Press. The Brothers Karamazov (translated by D. Pirandello (Berkeley: University of California Press. Cristo si&egrave. Quoted by A.&acirc. 23. Lathan) (London: Dent. Rutherford. 1958). 1966). fermato a Eboli (Turin: Giulio Einaudi. 210. 12. 1971).rants . Talmon. Fathers and Children (translated by R. Romanticism and Revolt (London: Thames and Hudson. La Confession d’un Enfant du Si&egrave. 388. 285. 26.volt&eacute. 185.cle (Paris: Garnier. 21. Ibid. 54.sagepub. Downloaded from ehq. 13. 1946).tre Complet (Paris: Edition de la Pl&eacute. 57. Quoted by J. (New York: Dutton. 1960). 16.427 don. Essais. See R. 1937). See Letters. 15-16. 25. 190. An Introduction to Russian Literature. 1967).