22. ilb 7. - 17.09.2022

Tzvetan Todorov

Tzvetan Todorov was born in Sofia in 1939. At the age of twenty-four, he left Bulgaria and went to Paris, where he obtained his doctorate in 1970. He published his authoritative work on fantasy literature in the same year. The »Introduction à la littérature fantastique« (1972; Eng. »The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre«, 1973) is an analysis of the fantastic as a genre in its own right. It brings together the influence of the Russian Formalists, whom Todorov translated, and the Structuralist investigations of Roland Barthes, his teacher.

Todorov started working at the Centre national de recherche scientifique in Paris, in 1968. Between 1983 and 1987 he headed its Centre de Recherches sur les arts et le langage, as Director of Research from 1987 to 2005. In over thirty books he dealt with literary analysis, history of ideas, moral and political philosophy, thus enriching cultural criticism as a whole, and became one of the best known intellectuals in Europe. In 1982 he published his »La Conquête de l’Amérique« (Eng. »The Conquest of America«, 1984), in which he made connections between anthropology and structural analysis and created a new entry into the problem of alterity. His investigations into the perceptions of the Other propound that the destruction of the pre-Columbian cultures in the Americas resulted less from their military inferiority than from the break-down of the natives’ symbol systems when confronted by the unfathomable otherness of the Spaniards. Todorov again dedicated himself to the theme of alterity in »Face à l’extrème« (1991; Eng. »Facing the Extreme«, 1996). Here he examines fascism and totalitarian Communism whose realities he experienced at first hand in his youth. He develops these issues in a later book, »Mémoire du mal, Tentation du bien« (2000; Eng. »Hope and Memory«, 2003).

Todorov also takes a stand on current political issues. Europe may only contribute to peace in the world if it defines itself by its democratic and pluralist values, as the author pleads in »Le nouveau désordre mondial« (2003; Eng. »The New World Disorder«, 2005). Art should assume an important role and not retract into a »formalistic-nihilistic-solipsistic« aesthetic, for which Todorov, in his latest book, »La littérature en péril« (2007; t: Literature in danger) criticises the contemporary French scene.

Todorov has acted as visiting professor at many universities, including New York University, Columbia, Harvard, Yale and the University of California, Berkeley. He has received numerous awards and honours, including the J.J. Rousseau Prize (Geneva), the European Essay Prize (Lausanne), the Spinoza Prize (Amsterdam), the Grinzane Cavour Prize (Turin) and the Mondello Prize (Palermo). He is member of the American Philosophical Society and of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and an Officer of the French honorary legion. Todorov lives in Paris.

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