“Culture is the patrimony of the nobility of the world”

Known writer, Goncourt Prize in 1933 and creator of the Maisons de la culture, André Malraux he is Minister of State for Cultural Affairs pursuant to art General de Gaulle between 1959 and 1969, responsible for the influence of cultural policy in France and beyond its borders. Between 7 and 15 October 1963, the leading politician and writer visits Canada, between Ottawa and Quebec. During his trip he gave several public speeches and addressed the themes dear to him, around the themes of civilization, education and culture.

General de Gaulle and André Malraux, Minister of Cultural Affairs, in 1965.
General de Gaulle and André Malraux, Minister of Cultural Affairs, in 1965.

© AFP
– DISTRIBUTION / AFP

Hymn to culture

On Saturday 12 October, in France, the 7:15 am Inter News antenna broadcast a speech delivered across the Atlantic by Malraux, which begins with “Culture is the heritage of the nobility of the world”. This extract is kept in the INA archives:

“Culture is the patrimony of the nobility of the world. The only force we have against the element of the night is precisely all that, in us, escapes death. The definition of a work of art is that which has escaped death. You understand, Canadian youth, that the fate of the mind around the world will be played out now, in the next twenty or thirty years. Otherwise, civilization will accept that it is nothing more than a reflex stimulus. free of bourgeois society will be the idleness of proletarian society. In this case, that for which man is man, can perfectly disappear or diminish in such a way that civilization changes nature. Or, on the contrary, those who have in mind the responsibility that is yours, since you are in this house, they will have understood that they are guarantors and witnesses of human greatness and that it is in their poor hands that the des end of the world. “ Speech by André Malraux in Quebec

André Malraux in Quebec, 12 October 1963, excerpt from his speech at the Inter actualités.

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During this trip to Quebec, this speech was most likely delivered on Friday 11 October, in a more general way aimed at motivating young people and bringing the two sides of the Atlantic closer together. If the precise origin cannot be established with certainty, the elements brought from the writings of the academic Claude Corbo – author of Malraux in Quebec: words and speeches, 1963 -, the INA and the newspapers keep this date of 11 October, on the occasion of the inauguration of the French industrial exhibition or during the state dinner that followed. It is in fact possible that some of André Malraux’s comments on the occasion of the inauguration of the exhibition were recorded and then broadcast on the radio the next day without being recorded in the written diaries.




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Already on this day of 11 October 1963 the Minister had given a speech defining culture and transcribed in the pages of the newspaper The duty on October 15, with elements of language that announce the themes of the song on air: “Modern civilization does not know why it exists. The machine leads man to never think about himself but to think about what he is doing. […] Being a man is not thinking about what you do, but thinking about who you are […]. To put it simply, either all the dream factories (cinema, radio, literature, etc.) will enslave humanity to the powers behind these dreams, or humanity will choose from what has survived its most important part. if culture has any meaning, it is simply the nobility of the world. “

These observations will be repeated until the end of his stay in Quebec, since the October 15, 1963during a lecture at the University of Montreal, he uses elements of this discourse on art in front of a room full of students and professors, reaffirming his convictions on the capital importance of art which, in his words, represents “something that has survived and is in a kind of eternal present. […] After all, art is everything in us that escapes death. “

Seal the France-Quebec relations

In this month of October 1963, the journey of the Minister of General de Gaulle was dense and punctuated by numerous dinners, receptions, inaugurations and inaugurations, a reflection of the political action initiated by the President of the French Republic. The arrival of this French emissary is driven by the desire to start talks and reach a protocol between the two territories, a solid collaboration and a strong representation of France in Quebec.

The unmasked goal of this official visit is to bring French Canadians closer and to reaffirm and remind the population of General de Gaulle’s interest in the province of Quebec. “He arrives here, laden with a strong reputation, also entrusted with a mission by General de Gaulle, who told him: ‘One day, Malraux, we must take care of Quebec'”. Claude Corboauthor of Malraux in Quebec: Words and Speeches, 1963 (VLB editions).




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Directly invited by the Quebec government, André Malraux made this trip in a completely official capacity: he was received first in Ottawa, then in Quebec. In the eyes of foreigners he is perceived as one of the most prestigious ministers, enjoying his position as the right arm of General de Gaulle’s culture. On the spot, it is Georges Emile Lapalme, who is none other than his Quebec counterpart, minister-creator of the Ministry of Cultural Affairs in 1961, who welcomes him. The two men already know each other personally, after a first meeting three years earlier.

“If France really wants to take an interest in the Francophonie, it seems to us that it must begin to act where, outside of France, there is the most important, strongest and best organized island, but also the most attacked, most threatened by erosion. daily “. Georges-Émile Lapalme to André Malraux, October 1963.

André Malraux, Paul Comtois and Jean Lesage (Premier of Quebec), during the French exhibition in Montreal in 1963.
André Malraux, Paul Comtois and Jean Lesage (Premier of Quebec), during the French exhibition in Montreal in 1963.

© Getty
– Keystone-France / Contributor

On the other side of the globe, if André Malraux’s future presence in Quebec reassures certain nationalist circles in their cultural affirmation, his official stay will not arouse popular enthusiasm for him. At that time, Quebec experienced an important period of reform and modernization, called the “Quiet Revolution” and which took place in the 1960s, under the Quebec government of John Lesage, then Prime Minister. This revolution is part of a current of national affirmation, especially abroad, where Quebec wishes to be more recognized as a nation and to occupy a privileged place on the international scene. At the same time, the establishment of the Maison du Québec in Paris played a crucial role in this affirmation of identity.

If André Malraux disengages from Quebec following the resignation of his Quebec counterpart Georges-Emile Lapalme in 1964, this October 1963 visit will have been a major turning point in establishing relations between Quebec and France under Gaulle’s mandate. A few years later, in 1967, the general traveling to Montreal will in turn deliver a strong speech that causes a deep crisis with Canada, asking Quebec to obtain its independence, in a famous and unequivocal speech: “Long live the free Quebec!”.




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