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Myth and Legend: Malraux Ashes to Be Enshrined in Pantheon

November 23, 1996

PARIS (AP) _ He wrote best sellers about freedom. He flew daredevil missions to drop supplies to anti-Fascist Spanish rebels. He brought art to the people and had Paris’ blackened monuments restored to their original luster.

Novelist and militant, statesman and philosopher of art, Andre Malraux believed that ``ideas should be acted upon, not just conceived.″

He is being honored today _ the 20th anniversary of his death _ with all the pomp befitting the man widely regarded as the most influential French intellectual of this century.

Amid clashing cymbals and blaring trumpets, Malraux’s ashes will be enshrined in the Pantheon, the resting place for the nation’s greatest minds.

Giant posters bearing his well-turned phrases adorn Paris street corners. Documentaries provide live footage of his impassioned rhetoric in a quivering nasal pitch.

Even a stamp _ airbrushed to remove the ubiquitous cigarette _ honors Malraux, who died Nov. 23, 1976, at the age of 75. His ashes have been buried in a family plot in Verrieres-le-Buisson, just east of Paris.

``A life is worth nothing, but nothing is worth more than life,″ Malraux once said.

While generations considered Malraux the prototype of a ``committed intellectual,″ today’s youth hardly know his name. Many who do, find his novels difficult and dated.

The conservative government of Charles de Gaulle, seeking to capitalize on Malraux’s close association with De Gaulle, made his 1933 best seller, ``La Condition Humaine″ (``Man’s Fate″), required reading for high school students.

``Students have trouble with his style, which seems pompous today, but they identify with certain issues, such as commitment versus indifference and death as the ultimate absurdity of life,″ said Helene Lazar, who teaches French literature in a suburban high school.

As ``Col. Berger,″ Malraux helped to lead underground resistance to the Nazi occupation of France and to the Vichy government that collaborated with the Nazis during World War II. Before that, he fought alongside communist Chinese revolutionaries in the mid-1920s and helped organize the Republican air force to fight Franco during the Spanish Civil War. But he never embraced Marxism.

``Politics is not what we wish for, it’s what we do,″ Malraux said.

Born in 1901, a grocer’s son, Malraux had a compelling, intense personality. He was a fast-talking, heavy spender whose life was laced with drama, personal tragedy and triumph.

In 1944, his brother Roland was executed by the Gestapo and his second wife, Josette Clotis, was killed in a train accident, leaving him with two sons, ages 4 and 2. The boys later died together in a car crash.

Malraux served as Information Cultural Affairs Minister under De Gaulle in successive postwar governments. His activism brought art and culture into the lives of ordinary people, at home and abroad.

He sent the Mona Lisa on its first visit to the United States, founded the Paris Orchestra, organized the first major Picasso show in France and commissioned Marc Chagall to redecorate the ceiling of the Paris Opera.

Thanks to the famed ``Malraux Law″ requiring buildings to be cleaned every 20 years, Paris monuments are resplendent today.

Art, for Malraux, reflected the permanence of man. It was, he wrote, man’s triumph over death _ his affirmation of freedom over destiny.

The commemorations have stirred little debate. Some see them as a campaign to enshrine the conservative ideals of Charles de Gaulle and the democratic founding principles of President Jacques Chirac’s Rally for the Republic party.

``But there’s so much more to Malraux _ his unevenness, his view of art, his political evolution. The best possible tribute would have been some debate,″ French philosopher Alain Finkielkraut said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.

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