Librarian of Alexandria


But what else results from this? Whoever acknowledges effective action in the thick of history as his essential task cannot prefer artistic action. Art acts poorly and little. It is clear that if Marx had followed the dreams of his youth and written the most beautiful novels in the world, he would have enchanted the world, but he would not have shaken it. Thus it is Capital that must be written and not War and Peace. We must not depict the murder of Caesar; we must be Brutus. These associations, these comparisons will appear absurd to contemplative minds. But as soon as art measures itself against action, immediate and pressing action can only put it in the wrong. It suffices to remember what Hölderlin wrote—Hölderlin about whom it would not be enough to say that his fate was linked to poetry’s, for he had no existence at all except in and for poetry. And yet, in 1799, speaking of the revolution which he saw imperiled, he wrote to his brother,

And if the kingdom of darkness erupts after all in full force, then let us throw our pens under the table and go in God’s name where the need is greatest and our presence the most useful.

Artistic activity, for him indeed who has chosen it, proves insufficient at the decisive hours—those hours that ring every hour—when “the poet must complete his message by renouncing himself.”

—Maurice Blanchot