Tzvetan Todorov (French: [tsvetan tɔdɔʁɔf, dzve-]; Bulgarian:
Цветан Тодоров; March 1, 1939 – February 7, 2017) was a
Bulgarian-French historian, philosopher, structuralist literary
critic, sociologist and essayist and geologist. He was the author of
many books and essays, which have had a significant influence in
anthropology, sociology, semiotics, literary theory, intellectual
history and culture theory.
1 Early life
3 Personal life and death
5 See also
7 External links
Tzvetan Todorov was born on March 1, 1939, in Sofia, Bulgaria.
He earned an M.A. in philology at the University of
Sofia in 1963. He
enrolled at the University of
Paris to do his doctorat de troisième
cycle (equivalent to the Ph.D.) in 1966 and his doctorat ès lettres
Todorov was appointed to his post as a director of research at the
French Centre Nationale de la Recherche Scientifique in 1968. In 1970,
he helped to found the journal Poétique, of which he remained one
of the managing editors until 1979. With structuralist literary critic
Gérard Genette, he edited the Collection Poétique, the series of
books on literary theory published by Éditions de Seuil, until 1987.
He was a visiting professor at several universities in the US,
including Harvard, Yale, Columbia and the University of California,
Todorov published a total of 39 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), A French Tragedy: Scenes of Civil War, Summer 1944
(1994), Voices from the Gulag: Life and Death in Communist Bulgaria
(1999), Hope and Memory (2000), Imperfect Garden: The Legacy of
Humanism (2002), In Defence of the Enlightenment (2009), Memory as a
Remedy for Evil (2010), The Totalitarian Experience (2011), The Inner
Enemies of Democracy (2014) and Insoumis (2015). Todorov's historical
interests have focused on such crucial issues as the conquest of The
Americas and the Nazi and
Stalinist concentration camps.
Todorov's greatest contribution to literary theory was his definition,
in Introduction à la littérature fantastique (1970), of the
Fantastic, 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 Jacques 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
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 is the text purely fantastic.
Aside from his work in literary theory, Todorov has also published
studies of philosophy. He wrote Frail Happiness about the writings of
Jean-Jacques Rousseau. 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, 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 counter-examples are numerous, even in Levi's
Todorov's honors include the CNRS Bronze Medal, the Charles Lévêque
Prize of the Académie des sciences morales et politiques and the
first Maugean Prize of the
Académie française and the Prince of
Asturias Award for Social Sciences; he also is an Officer of the Ordre
des Arts et des Lettres. He also received the Prince of Asturias Award
for Social Sciences. In 2015, he was awarded the [Wayne C. Booth]
Award for lifetime achievement in narrative studies by the
International Society for the Study of Narrative.
Personal life and death
Todorov was married twice. His first wife was the scholar Martine van
Woerkens and his second was Nancy Huston, with whom he had two
children, until 2014. He died on February 7, 2017, at the age of
77. He is survived by a son, Boris, from the first marriage, and a
daughter, Léa, and a son, Sacha, from the second.
Introduction à la littérature fantastique (1970), translated by
Richard Howard as The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary
Genre in 1973
Conquest of America: The Question of the Other (1984), translated from
the French by Richard Howard.
Mikhail Bakhtin: the dialogical principle (1984), translated by Wlad
On human diversity: nationalism, racism, and exoticism in French
thought (1993), translated by Catherine Porter.
French tragedy: scenes of civil war, summer 1944 (1996), translated by
Mary Byrd Kelly; translation edited and annotated by Richard J.
Voices from the Gulag: Life and Death in Communist Bulgaria (1999),
Tzvetan Todorov (ed.); translated by Robert Zaretsky.
A Passion for Democracy: Benjamin Constant (1999), translated by Alice
Facing the extreme: moral life in the concentration camps (2000),
translated by Arthur Denner and Abigail Pollack.
Fragility of goodness: why Bulgaria's Jews survived the Holocaust
(2001), a collection of texts with commentary by Tzvetan Todorov.
Life in common: an essay in general anthropology (2001), translated by
Katherine Golsan and Lucy Golsan; with a new afterword by the author.
Frail Happiness: An Essay on Rousseau (2001), translated by John T.
Scott and Robert D. Zaretsky
Imperfect garden: the legacy of humanism (2002), translated by Carol
Hope and memory: lessons from the twentieth century (2003), translated
by David Bellos.
New world disorder: reflections of a European (2005), preface by
Stanley Hoffmann; translated by Andrew Brown.
Torture and the War on Terror (2009), translated by Gila Walker.
In Defence of the Enlightenment (2009), translated by Gila Walker.
The fear of barbarians: beyond the clash of civilizations (2010),
translated by Andrew Brown
Memory as a Remedy for Evil (2010), translated by Gila Walker
Muros caídos, muros erigidos (2011), translated by Zoraida de Torres
The Totalitarian Experience, translated by Teresa Lavender Fagan.
Kolkata, India: Seagull Books, 2011.
The Inner Enemies of Democracy, translated by Andrew Brown. Cambridge,
UK and Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2014.
Insoumis: essai. Paris: Robert Laffont: Versilio, 2015.
"Humanisme, libéralisme et esprit des Lumières, entretien de Karim
Emile Bitar avec
Tzvetan Todorov ('Humanism, Liberalism and the Spirit
of the Enlightenment')" (in French). L'ENA hors les murs. June
"'L'esprit des Lumières a encore beaucoup à faire dans le monde
d'aujourd'hui' ('The Spirit of the Enlightenment still has a lot to do
in today's world')" (in French). Le Monde. March 4, 2006.
"'In search for lost crime: Tribunals, apologies, reparations, and the
search for justice.'" (PDF). The New Republic. January 26, 2001.
The Possibility of Hope
^ a b c "Tzvetan Todorov, essayiste et historien des idées, est
mort". Le Monde. February 7, 2017. Retrieved February 7, 2017.
^ a b c "Le philosophe et historien
Tzvetan Todorov est mort".
L'Express. February 7, 2017. Retrieved February 7, 2017.
^ "Frail Happiness : An Essay on Rousseau, Tzvetan Todorov,
Translated by John T. Scott, and Robert Zaretsky". Psupress.psu.edu.
2004-12-14. Retrieved 2013-07-01.
Media related to
Tzvetan Todorov at Wikimedia Commons
Tzvetan Todorov on the Enlightenment Today, a nineteen-minute
interview on Philosophy Bites
Tzvetan Todorov Book Interview
Interview with Tzvetan Todorov: "It is surprising to see so many walls
erected in the midst of globalisation", Barcelona Metropolis, num. 78,
ISNI: 0000 0001 2135 587X
BNF: cb11926748n (data)