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Tzvetan Todorov

Tzvetan Todorov

Overview
Tzvetan Todorov (born March 1, 1939 in Sofia
Sofia
Sofia is the capital and largest city of Bulgaria and the 12th largest city in the European Union with a population of 1.27 million people. It is located in western Bulgaria, at the foot of Mount Vitosha and approximately at the centre of the Balkan Peninsula.Prehistoric settlements were excavated...

) is a Franco
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

-Bulgaria
Bulgaria
Bulgaria , officially the Republic of Bulgaria , is a parliamentary democracy within a unitary constitutional republic in Southeast Europe. The country borders Romania to the north, Serbia and Macedonia to the west, Greece and Turkey to the south, as well as the Black Sea to the east...

n philosopher. He has lived in France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 since 1963 with his wife Nancy Huston
Nancy Huston
Nancy Louise Huston, OC is a Canadian-born novelist and essayist who writes primarily in French and translates her own works into English.-Biography:...

 and their two children, writing books and essays about literary theory
Literary theory
Literary theory in a strict sense is the systematic study of the nature of literature and of the methods for analyzing literature. However, literary scholarship since the 19th century often includes—in addition to, or even instead of literary theory in the strict sense—considerations of...

, thought history
History of ideas
The history of ideas is a field of research in history that deals with the expression, preservation, and change of human ideas over time. The history of ideas is a sister-discipline to, or a particular approach within, intellectual history...

 and culture theory
Culture theory
Culture theory is the branch of anthropology and semiotics that seeks to define the heuristic concept of culture in operational and/or scientific terms....

.

Todorov has published a total of 21 books, including The Poetics of Prose (1971), Introduction to Poetics (1981), The Conquest of America (1982), Mikhail Bakhtin: The Dialogical Principle (1984), Facing the Extreme: Moral Life in the Concentration Camps (1991), On Human Diversity (1993), Hope and Memory (2000), and Imperfect Garden: The Legacy of Humanism (2002).
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Quotations

We should not be simply fighting evil in the name of good, but struggling against the certainties of people who claim always to know where good and evil are to be found.

Democracy brought to others through the barrel of a gun is not democracy.

People who believe themselves to be the incarnation of good have a distorted view of the world.

For evil to take place, the acts of a few people are not sufficient; the great majority also has to remain indifferent. That is something of which we are all quite capable.

Encyclopedia
Tzvetan Todorov (born March 1, 1939 in Sofia
Sofia
Sofia is the capital and largest city of Bulgaria and the 12th largest city in the European Union with a population of 1.27 million people. It is located in western Bulgaria, at the foot of Mount Vitosha and approximately at the centre of the Balkan Peninsula.Prehistoric settlements were excavated...

) is a Franco
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

-Bulgaria
Bulgaria
Bulgaria , officially the Republic of Bulgaria , is a parliamentary democracy within a unitary constitutional republic in Southeast Europe. The country borders Romania to the north, Serbia and Macedonia to the west, Greece and Turkey to the south, as well as the Black Sea to the east...

n philosopher. He has lived in France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 since 1963 with his wife Nancy Huston
Nancy Huston
Nancy Louise Huston, OC is a Canadian-born novelist and essayist who writes primarily in French and translates her own works into English.-Biography:...

 and their two children, writing books and essays about literary theory
Literary theory
Literary theory in a strict sense is the systematic study of the nature of literature and of the methods for analyzing literature. However, literary scholarship since the 19th century often includes—in addition to, or even instead of literary theory in the strict sense—considerations of...

, thought history
History of ideas
The history of ideas is a field of research in history that deals with the expression, preservation, and change of human ideas over time. The history of ideas is a sister-discipline to, or a particular approach within, intellectual history...

 and culture theory
Culture theory
Culture theory is the branch of anthropology and semiotics that seeks to define the heuristic concept of culture in operational and/or scientific terms....

.

Publications


Todorov has published a total of 21 books, including The Poetics of Prose (1971), Introduction to Poetics (1981), The Conquest of America (1982), Mikhail Bakhtin: The Dialogical Principle (1984), Facing the Extreme: Moral Life in the Concentration Camps (1991), On Human Diversity (1993), Hope and Memory (2000), and Imperfect Garden: The Legacy of Humanism (2002). Todorov's historical interests have focused on such crucial issues as the conquest of The Americas
Spanish colonization of the Americas
Colonial expansion under the Spanish Empire was initiated by the Spanish conquistadores and developed by the Monarchy of Spain through its administrators and missionaries. The motivations for colonial expansion were trade and the spread of the Christian faith through indigenous conversions...

 and the Nazi
Nazism
Nazism, the common short form name of National Socialism was the ideology and practice of the Nazi Party and of Nazi Germany...

 and Stalinist concentration camps.

Career


Todorov has been a visiting professor at several universities, including Harvard, Yale
Yale University
Yale University is a private, Ivy League university located in New Haven, Connecticut, United States. Founded in 1701 in the Colony of Connecticut, the university is the third-oldest institution of higher education in the United States...

, Columbia
Columbia University
Columbia University in the City of New York is a private, Ivy League university in Manhattan, New York City. Columbia is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York, the fifth oldest in the United States, and one of the country's nine Colonial Colleges founded before the...

 and the University of California, Berkeley
University of California, Berkeley
The University of California, Berkeley , is a teaching and research university established in 1868 and located in Berkeley, California, USA...

.

Awards


Todorov's honors include the Bronze Medal of the CNRS, the Charles Lévêque Prize of the Académie des Sciences Morales et Politiques and the first Maugean Prize of the Académie Française
Académie française
L'Académie française , also called the French Academy, is the pre-eminent French learned body on matters pertaining to the French language. The Académie was officially established in 1635 by Cardinal Richelieu, the chief minister to King Louis XIII. Suppressed in 1793 during the French Revolution,...

 and the Prince of Asturias Award
Prince of Asturias Awards
The Prince of Asturias Awards are a series of annual prizes awarded in Spain by the Prince of Asturias Foundation to individuals, entities or organizations from around the world who make notable achievements in the sciences, humanities, and public affairs....

 for Social Sciences; he also is an Officer of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
The Ordre des Arts et des Lettres is an Order of France, established on 2 May 1957 by the Minister of Culture, and confirmed as part of the Ordre national du Mérite by President Charles de Gaulle in 1963...

.

Theory


Todorov's greatest contribution to literary theory was his defining of the Fantastic
Fantastic
The Fantastic is a literary term that describes a quality of other literary genres, and, in some cases, is used as a genre in and of itself, although in this case it is often conflated with the Supernatural. The term was originated in the structuralist theory of critic Tzvetan Todorov in his work...

, the fantastic uncanny, and the fantastic marvelous. Todorov defines the fantastic as being any event that happens in our world that seems to be supernatural. Upon the occurrence of the event, we must decide if the event was an illusion or whether it is real and has actually taken place. Todorov uses Alvaro from Cazotte's Le Diable Amoureux as an example of a fantastic event. Alvaro must decide whether the woman he is in love with is truly a woman or if she is the devil.

Upon choosing whether the event was real or imaginary, Todorov says that we enter into the genres of uncanny and marvelous. In the fantastic uncanny, the event that occurs is actually an illusion of some sort. The "laws of reality" remain intact and also provide a rational explanation for the fantastic event. Todorov gives examples of dreams, drugs, illusions of the senses, madness, etc. as things that could explain a fantastic/supernatural event. In the fantastic marvelous, the supernatural event that occurs has actually taken place and therefore the "laws of reality" have to be changed to explain the event. Only if the implied reader cannot opt for one or the other possibility, the text is purely fantastic.

Aside from his work in literary theory, Todorov also dabbled in philosophy. He wrote Frail Happiness about the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a Genevan philosopher, writer, and composer of 18th-century Romanticism. His political philosophy influenced the French Revolution as well as the overall development of modern political, sociological and educational thought.His novel Émile: or, On Education is a treatise...

. He focuses on Rousseau's ideas of attaining human happiness and how we can live in 'modern' times.

In one of his major works, "Facing the Extreme," Todorov asks whether it is true the Nazi concentration camps and the Soviet gulags revealed that in extreme situations "all traces of moral life evaporate as men become beasts locked in a merciless struggle for survival"(31–46). That opinion is commonplace of popularized accounts of the camps, and also appears in accounts of survivors themselves. Primo Levi
Primo Levi
Primo Michele Levi was an Italian Jewish chemist and writer. He was the author of two novels and several collections of short stories, essays, and poems, but is best known for If This Is a Man, his account of the year he spent as a prisoner in the Auschwitz concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Poland...

, quoted in Todorov, writes that camp life is a "continuous war of everyone against everyone." To survive, all dignity and conscience had to be sacrificed and everyone is alone. Reports from gulag survivors are similar. However, in his reading of actual survivor testimonies, Todorov says the picture is not that bleak, that there are many examples of inmates helping each other and showing compassion in human relationships despite the inhumane conditions and terror. Survivors point out that survival always depended on the help of others. He concludes that life in the camps and gulag did not follow the law of the jungle and that the counterexamples are numerous, even in Levi's work.

External links


See also

  • Fantastic
    Fantastic
    The Fantastic is a literary term that describes a quality of other literary genres, and, in some cases, is used as a genre in and of itself, although in this case it is often conflated with the Supernatural. The term was originated in the structuralist theory of critic Tzvetan Todorov in his work...

  • Genre studies
    Genre studies
    Genre studies are a structuralist approach to literary theory, film theory, and other cultural theories. The study of a genre in this way examines the structural elements that combine in the telling of a story and finds patterns in collections of stories...