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Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life

Faculty Seminar: On Political Messianism (reading The Totalitarian Experience, 2011)

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Tzvetan Todorov

CNRS (National Center for Scientific Research), Paris


Date:
Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Time: 9:00-10:30AM
Location: Boisi Center, 24 Quincy Road

Tzvetan Todorov and a small group of faculty discussed an excerpt from his book, The Totalitarian Experience (2011).


About the Book: The fall of the Berlin Wall marked the beginning of the collapse of the Soviet Union, as well as many other communist totalitarian regimes around the world. But it would be naive to assume that this historic, symbolic event and its aftermath have completely rid the world of totalitarianism. Instead, we should ask, what is the totalitarian experience and how does it survive today? This is the imposing question raised by Tzvetan Todorov in The Totalitarian Experience. Here, he recounts his own experiences with totalitarianism in his native Bulgaria and discusses the books he has written in the last twenty years that were devoted to examining such regimes, such as Voices from the Gulag, his influential analysis of Stalinist concentration camps. Through this retrospective investigation, Todorov offers a historical look at communism. He brings together and distills his extensive oeuvre to reveal the essence of totalitarian ideology, the characteristics of daily life under communism, and the irony of democratic messianism.

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Tzvetan Todorov is a philosopher, theorist, and literary critic. Born in Sofia, Bulgaria, he has lived in France since 1963. Since 1968, he has been a researcher at the National Center for Scientific Research, Paris, where he has been honorary director since 2005. He is author of numerous books, many of which have been translated into English, including The Poetics of Prose (1977), Introduction to Poetics (1981), The Conquest of America (1984), Mikhail Bakhtin: The Dialogical Principle (1984), Facing the Extreme: Moral Life in the Concentration Camps (1996), On Human Diversity (1993), Hope and Memory (2003), and Imperfect Garden: The Legacy of Humanism (2002), and The New World Disorder: Reflections of a European (2005). His most recent books include: The Limits of Art (2010) and The Totalitarian Experience (2011). He is member of many scholarly organizations and recipient of numerous prizes, including the Prix Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1991), the Spinoza (2004), and the Prince of Asturias (2008).

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