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This article is taken from PN Review 236, Volume 43 Number 6, July - August 2017.

A Plurality of Belongings: Tzvetan Todorov Nicolas Tredell
IN 1963, A 24-YEAR-OLD BULGARIAN whose spoken French was still halting, arrived in Paris; like his compatriot Julia Kristeva, who would reach the French capital two years later, he was an incarnation of De Gaulle’s dream of a Europe stretching from the Atlantic to the Urals. He planned to study there for a year but stayed for the rest of his life (apart from temporary teaching posts in America and elsewhere); he wrote over forty books, keeping a low public profile for many years (partly because of his early experience of a communist regime) but emerging in the twenty-first century as a defender of an increasingly beleaguered quartet: the Enlightenment, humanism, universal values and the European Union. His name was Tzvetan Todorov.

Todorov was born on 1 March 1939 in Sofia, the Bulgarian capital. His father was a university professor and the first director of the National Library of Bulgaria and then of a documentation institute. Seeing the strains which his father suffered in the attempt, under the communist regime that ruled Bulgaria from 1946 to 1989, to combine academic work with public life left Todorov with ‘a kind of general suspicion’ of the latter even when he went West. As an adolescent in communist Bulgaria, he had, like others of his generation, adopted a fatalistic and indifferent attitude towards politics: since the regime was unchangeable (as it then seemed), the best course was ‘complete detachment’. But the regime would nonetheless make an indelible mark that would, in time, fruitfully inform Todorov’s critical analysis of other regimes. His most deeply incised ...

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