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Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life

Graduate Student Seminar: Art, Politics, Morality (reading The Limits of Art, 2011)

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Tzvetan Todorov
CNRS (National Center for Scientific Research), Paris

Date: Thursday, October 6, 2011
Time: 10:30AM-12:00PM
Location: Boisi Center, 24 Quincy Road

Tzvetan Todorov and a small group of graduate students to discuss his book, The Limits of Art (2010), among other topics.

About the Book: Tzvetan Todorov explores the complex relations between art, politics, and ethics in the essays that make up The Limits of Art. In one essay, “Artists and Dictators,” Todorov traces the intimate relationship between avant-garde art and radical politics in pre-revolutionary Russia, pre-fascist Italy, and pre-Nazi Germany. Todorov sets forth the radical idea that the project of totalitarian dictators and avant-garde artists actually “emerged from the same womb”: both artists and dictators set out to make it new—be it art or society.

Further troubling the role of art in the world at large, in “Art and Ethics” Todorov re-examines the age-old question of what can be expected from art and whether it should be emancipated from ethics. Must art be morally instructive, or should it be self-sufficient and concept-free? The answer is not an either/or to Todorov, who believes, like Baudelaire, that art has both cognitive and ethical aspects to it—even if it is presented as art for art’s sake.

Throughout the essays in The Limits of Art, Todorov insists on the essential need for artists to recognize, understand, and even love the world outside.

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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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