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Tzvetan Todorov (1939 - )

Related: fantastic literature - the uncanny - the marvelous - literary theory - structuralism

Titles The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre (1970)


Tzvetan Todorov (born 1939 in Sofia) is a Bulgarian philosopher. He has lived in France since 1963 writing books and essays aboutliterary theory, thought history and cultural analysis.

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 and the Nazi and Stalinist concentration camps.

Todorov has been a visiting professor at several universities, including Harvard, Yale, Columbia and the University of California, Berkeley.

His honors have included 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; he also is an Officer of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tzvetan_Todorov [Jan 2006]

Todorov and genre theory

Aside from dealing with the question of 'what is fantastic literature,' Tzvetan Todorov's The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre (1970) also has a very thorough exposé on the nature of genre and genre theory in general. Todorov starts with a critique of Northrop Frye's concept of genre as expounded in Anatomy of Criticism.

According to Todorov, the first question in genre theory is:

“Are we entitled to discuss a genre without having studied (or at least read) all the works wich constitute it [the corpus]?”

He answers the question with yes:

“Scientific method allows does not require us to observe every instance of a phenomenon in order to describe it; scientific method proceeds reather by deduction.”

But he also warns that:

“Whatever the number of phenomena (of literary works, in this case) studied, we are never justified in extrapolating universal laws from them.”

After which he goes on to quote Karl Popper and the famous black swan example of inductive vs deductive reasoning:

“no matter how many instances of white swans we have observed, this does not justify the conclusion that swans are white.”

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