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The Universality of Man: The Message of Romain Rolland

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Item Code: IDE311
Author: Ed. By. Sibnarayan Ray
Language: English
Edition: 1992
ISBN: 8172010958
Pages: 184
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 8.3" X 5.5"
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Book Description


From the Jacket:


Romain Rolland, French writer, musician, biographer, mystic, found in India what he needed for highest fulfillment. Though he never visited India his interest in Indian philosophy and its active exponents like Vivekananda, Gandhi, Tagore and A.K. Coomaraswamy helped the French readers in understanding the true nature of modern Indian awakening.

The papers in this volume are the outcome of the international seminar on Romain Rolland organized jointly by the Sahitya Akademi and the Festival of India to coincide with the 200th year of the French Revolution. The papers are by writers, thinkers and academicians from different parts of India as well as France and Europe who participated in the seminar and deal not exclusively with Rolland and cover a wide range of issues having a bearing on his life-long concerns - whether quest for peace and harmony, pacifism, oceanic feeling and mystical experience or meeting the East-West polarity.


About the Author:


Sibnarayan Ray, the Editor, it currently Research Director, Indian Rennaissance Institute. He is also editor of the quarterly Jijnasa since 1980, and the author of over 20 works in English and Bengali on literature philosophy and political theory.


Born on January 29,1866, at Clamecy in Burgundy, Romain Rolland lived long enough to witness two of the most devastating wars in human history. His lonely childhood, the deep influence of his widowed mother, intense and prolonged study of music and history, friendship with the elderly and richly experienced Malwida von Meysenbug at Rome, exposure to the philosophy of Spinoza and the ethical teaching of Tolstoy -all these contributed to the development of his personality and convictions. He came quite early to the realisation that ture feedom of the human spirit should transcend all restrictive loyalties and unreasonable limitations imposed by race, nation religion, or prejudice. The universality of man became his life-long credo, and this found expression as much in his writtings as in his personal relations an behaviour.

Rolland begin his career as a musicologist by publishing i 1895 Histoire de l'oper en Europe avant Lulli et Scarlatti. He followed this with Musiciens d' autrefois and Musiciens d' aujoud' hui. He also wrote two cycles of plays- Les Tragedies de la foi (1897-98) and Le Theatre de la revolution (1898-1902). But fame and success came with the publication of Vie de Beethoven(1903), followed by Vie de Michel-Ange(1905) and Vie de Tolstoi(1911). Meantime part of his famous roman -fleuve, Jean-Christophe, began to appear in Cahiers de la quinzaine. Its hero Jean-Christophe Krafft, a musical genius of German birth, found in France his second country; his friendship with Olivier, a young Frenchman, represented "the harmony of opposites" between Germany and France and Rolland's strong fait that a true kinship of spirit was capable of triumphing over geographic and national circumscriptions.

In 1915 Rolland was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. A pacifist, he was opposed to the war, and he lived in neutral Switzerland in preference to the country of his birth to which he did not return till 1937. In the same year that he was awarded the Nobel Prize, he published his historic pamphlet Au-dessus de la Melce (Above the Battle) which appealed to intellectuals in both France and Germany to respect truth and humanity and to campaign for peace. His clear anti-war position provoked much hostility in France, but he came to be gradually recognised as a principal spokesman of the pacifist forces throughout the world. The inner struggles and transformations which he went through during the First World War are revealed in the posthumously published (1952) Journal des annees de guerre 1914-1919.

Rolland's universalism and active pacifism drew him towards Asia, particularly India. He found in the Priciples and practices of the non-violent non -cooperation movement much that was of universal and urgently contemporary much that was of universal and urgently contemporary significance. His moving eulogy, Mahatma Gandhi (1924), made an important contribution to the development of western appreciation of the Indian struggle for Independence. There was also a strong mystical- religious streak in Rolland's personality. This attracted him to Ramakrishna and Vivkananda and found vivid expression in Essi sur la mystique et l'action de l'Inde vivante (1929-1930). He was interested in Buddhism, and he found in Rabindranath Tagore a great universalist of his age. There were issues on which Rolland did not fully agree with Tagore or Gandhi, but his admiration for them was boundless. To Rolland Asia and Europe were but two parts of one soul, and he took upon himself the onerous task of unifying them on a spiritual plane, while retaining his own individuality and European roots.

The rise of Nazism and Fascism in Europe disturbed Rolland very profoundly. In the twenties he had rejected the overtures of the communist writer Henri Barbusse and supported Gandhi contra Marx-Leni on the ground that good ends would not justify evil means and the use of violence was always evil (R. Rolland,Textes politiques, sociaux et phiosohiques choisis).The threat of Fascism-Nazism to drown western civilization in blood, however, raised doubts in his mind about the practical effectiveness of uncompromising non-violence, especially in the context of the contemporary crisis in Europe, In reaction to Fascist aggressiveness and the failure of bourgeois democracies to meet the crisis, he was moved to support the Soviet Union quite strongly and explicitly. However, he never joined the Communist Party, and later the Soviet-German pact thoroughly disillusioned him. Nevertheless, he remained to the end a confirmed antifascist, and he supported the antifascist in war. During the last phase of his life he tried persistently to reconcile two basic principles to which he was committed-universal harmony and non-acceptance of any form of exploitation, aggression and social injustice. This effort may be seen in such collections of essays as Quinze ans de combat 1919-34 (1934) and Par la Revolution, la Paix (1935), and in Cahiers Romain Rolland. It is debatable whether his notion of "revolutionary pacifism" really meets the problem of ends and means, but I do not think that Rolland's personal integrity as a universalist has ever been in doubt.

Romain Rolland was a great idealist who believed in the basic unity of mankind and worked throughout his life to promote a world order based on freedom, justice and voluntary international cooperation. In Jean-Christophe he portrayed a young hero who embodied his ideal; in Clerambault: histoire d'une conscience libre pendant la guerre (1925) he presented us with the view of a complete pacifist; and in his other roman- fleuve which was published in seven volumes in 1922-33, L 'Ame-enchantee, he created a heroine of great integrity and spirit. Besides his plays and novels, in the pages of the international review Europe which he founded in 1923, in his correspondence with the other great idealists of his age, Albert Schweitzer, Bertrand Russell, M.K. Gandhi, Albert Einstein and Rabindranath Tagore, and in his posthumously published Memoires (1956) and private journals, we find an uninterrupted record of his lifelong quest for a universal order where individuals will live in freedom and dignity and a diversity of cultures will be enriched by peaceful and appreciative traffic among themselves. This quest he bequeathed to posterity at his death on 30 December 1944.

It was but highly appropriate that as part of the year-long Festival of France in India an international seminar was organised to pay homage to this noble spirit who did so much to promote French appreciation of modern India. It was equally appropriate that the over-all theme chosen for the seminar was The "Universality of Man". The seminar took place at the Rabindra Bhavan Auditorium, New Delhi, from 15 to 17 January, 1990, under the joint auspices of Sahitya Akademi and Festival of India. The inauguration of the seminar was followed by four sessions each devoted to a specific aspect of the general theme. "Creativity in an Age of Crisis" was the topic of the first session. Topics for the next three sessions were respectively: "Quest for Peace and Harmony", "Literary Culture and Spiritual Vision", and "Meeting of Cultures: East and West". The seminar was inaugurated by Mr. Francis Dore on Monday 15 January and the valedictory address was delivered by Mme Michele Gendreau-Massaloux on Wednesday 17 January.

The present volume includes all the addresses and papers given at the seminar. Of the total of 21 texts, 10 are by Indians, and the other 11 are by guests from abroad. Among contributors from abroad, 9 are from France, and one each from England and Poland. As readers of this volume may notice from the brief biographical notes on the contributors, participants from abroad were mostly Rolland specialists, while those from India were mostly creative writers and critics. The papers and discussions at the seminar were not occupied exclusively with Romain Rolland but covered a range of issues as indicated by the four topic headings. However, all the issues raised at the seminar had close bearing on Rolland's lifelong concerns-the nature and role of creativity and specifically of music; the problems of pacifism and social revolution; the significance of oceanic feeling and mystical experience; and East-West polarity and the need for reconciliation.

The participants came from different social and cultural backgrounds, and they expressed a diversity of views. What, however, gave these views a large measure of unity were a shared faith in Universalism and a common regard for the Personality of Romain Rolland. The atmosphere was not one of debate, controversy, or dialectical progression, but there were important questions implicit in some of the presentations. Is revolutionary pacifism a self-consistent doctrine? Is it morally acceptable to those who care as much for the right means as for the right end? Is the modem world particularly repressive of creativity? How then is one to explain the great outburst of creativity in the West in the first half of this century which was a period of unparalleled violence and disorder? After all this was also the age of Matisse, Picasso, Chagall and Kandinsky; of Rilke, Yeats, Valery, Eliot and Mayakovsky; of Freud, Einstein and Russell; of Schoenberg and Stravinsky; of Marcel Proust, Thomas Mann, Kafka, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf and Frans Sillanpaa; of Pirandello, Eugene O'Neill, Sean O'Casey, Lorca and Brecht. What a galaxy of great stars to illumine a gory manscape! What is the nature of oceanic feeling or mystical experience? Is it very special to a spiritually privileged or gifted few, or is it common to mankind? Can this feeling or experience remove the built-in inequities or forms of exploitation in existing social systems? With the gulf growing between their material standards of living, what are the chances of the West and the non-West peacefully coming together on an equal basis, unless that is preceded by some kind of a global revolution?

To these questions the seminar did not offer or attempt any specific answers. Nor was it expected to do so. It is the editor's hope that the addresses and papers brought together in this volume will stimulate in its readers further thinking on the nature and problems of the universality of man. At least that is the expectation which has persuaded me to take time off from my other pressing responsibilities and accept the invitation from Sahitya Akademi to edit this volume. And now it is over to the publishers and the readership.

Index of proper names and titles of books has been prepared by Sri s. Bhadra. Names mentioned only once in the text have not been included in the index.


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