le 17 février 2007
Tzvetan Todorov, citoyen francais d origine bulgare, est un intellectuel de haut vol, historien des idées et de la littérature, qui vient d écrire un vibrant plaidoyer pour les oeuvres littéraires qui donnent au lecteur la possibilité de mieux appréhender le monde et sa vie.
Il dénonce les abus, les errances et les impasses de la littérature nombriliste contemporaine. Il remonte aux Temps Modernes et à la Renaissance italienne en passant par l esthétique des Lumières, le romantisme, Benjamin Constant à qui on doit l expression "l art pout l art", Baudelaire, et le bel échange de lettres entre Flaubert et George Sand.
Sa conclusion est pleine d optimisme et de réconfort pour le lecteur qui croit en la haute littérature : il incombe aux adultes que nous sommes de transmettre aux générations futures "ces paroles qui aident à mieux vivre" (dernière phrase de l essai)
le 11 juillet 2014
Todorov revient ici à son oeuvre depuis le début, dès son arrivé en France. En dépit de sa formation au sein du mouvement formaliste, il arrive à une analyse très lucide de la situation difficile de la littérature aujourd'hui, en faisant son mea-culpa. Cela doit intéresser à tous qu'aiment encore la grande littérature.
le 25 mai 2007
This book was published within the Café Voltaire collection by Flammarion but it reads more like "Café Rousseau"; i.e., Todorov's confessions: I came from Bulgaria; I first loved books for themselves and for their value as a refuge from the difficulties of adolescence; at university I then chose formalism because it was apolitical--there is no Metonymie de gauche ou de droite; when I came to France I was surprised to find no one did formalism and I thought I could make a contribution by introducing it into the French system... I then saw less reason to continue with formalism myself and I branched out and became interested in many other things--mostly non-formalist things: e.g., history, philosophy, anthropology (i.e., the sciences of man); I have little experience teaching at any level in France, my knowledge of l'Education Nationale stems mostly from what I learned second-hand from my children's school experience and from serving on a committee of educational overseers. Now he's appalled at what he may have helped create: a soulless structuralist monster, Quel horreur ! But the author has no idea how this came to be. At one point he wonders if it is not a passing fashion. He also lets teachers off the hook; he claims incorrectly that universities don't have common programs, and then goes off to give a brief survey of the history of literary studies and aesthetics. If the author had left his CNRS laboratory more often, he would know that half the problems he describes derive from France's CONCOURS system. Which is more teachable/testable, literature or literary criticism? The latter of course, so that is what gets taught and tested.
T. thinks that if given the chance teachers would prefer to teach literature and not literary criticism. I'm not so sure. They might be less oppressed than he thinks and more like Bluebeard's wives in Maeterlinck's poem: when Ariane arrives to lead them out into the light, they don't want to go! They are married to their ignorance and narrow routines. One can agree with Todorov and say it's a shame that instead of teaching literature it's literary criticism that gets taught; however, I don't think that we need concede that literature is unteachable. What needs to be reasserted/redefined is what we are teaching literature for in the classroom. The uses of literature that Todorov goes on about are private uses that are difficult to transfer to the classroom without falling into sentimentalism, subjectivity, and near total solipcism. Literature and especially literary texts in the classroom are arguably not about or for having/expressing opinions: "This book makes me feel X." Instead one should perhaps recall (and T is helpful here) the earlier use of the study of letters (learning to think and write as opposed to learning to read/appreciate/decortiquer) for which literature was and could again be one of the best vehicles. In short, Todorov's heart might not be in the wrong place--I sympathize with his love of literature--but his ill-informed diagnosis of the problem will not allow anyone reading his book to know how to find or implement improvements that would put literature on a healthier and less perilous foundation.