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: October 6, 2011

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

Co-sponsored by: The Consulate General of France, The Clough Center for the Study of Constitutional Democracy, The BC College of Arts and Sciences, The BC Department of Romance Languages and Literatures.

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 a

About the Author

Tzvetan Todorov

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).

Event Photos

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Brenna McMahon, Graduate Research Assistant at the Boisi Center, introduces Tzvetan Todorov, CNRS (Paris), on Oct. 6, 2011.

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Tzvetan Todorov, CNRS (Paris), Oct. 6, 2011.

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Tzvetan Todorov, CNRS (Paris), on Oct. 6, 2011.

Read More

B.R. Rees, Pelagius, Life and Letters, Woodbridge, The Boydell Press, 1998. A critical study of Pelagius to date, together with a selection of his letters.

Saint Augustine, Confessions, Oxford, Oxford UP, 1991. In this intensely personal narrative, Augustine relates his rare ascent from a humble Algerian farm to the edge of the corridors of power at the imperial court in Milan, his struggle against the domination of his sexual nature, his renunciation of secular ambition and marriage, and the recovery of the faith his mother Monica had taught him during his childhood.

Peter Brown, Augustin of Hippo, A Biography, Berkeley and Los Angeles, University of California Press, 2000. A classic biography of Saint Augustine's life and teaching, first published thirty years ago.

François Flahault, Le crépuscule de Prométhée, Paris, Mille et une nuits, 2008.


Hope and Memory, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2003. Identifying totalitarianism as the major innovation of the twentieth century, Tzvetan Todorov examines the struggle between this system and democracy and its effects on human life and consciousness.

The Fear of Barbarians, Chicago, Chicago University Press, 2010.Todorov offers a reasoned and often highly personal analysis of the tension between Western democracies and Islam. His analysis is rooted in Enlightenment values and yet open to the claims of cultural difference.