Literature in Peril
A narrow vision of literature has taken hold of literary criticism, education and even many writers. But readers still search for something that will give meaning to their existence.
In his new bestselling essay, the philosopher and literary theorist Tzvetan Todorov addresses the worrying state of contemporary literature. Todorov argues that the crux of this problem lies in an approach to literature that prevails among writers and literary critics alike: unengaged with the real world, they have reduced writing to either stylistic games or neurotic anguish. Todorov shows that much of the teaching of literature has become a lesson in analyzing form for form’s sake, while the true purpose of literary analysis – strengthening and contextualizing the experience of reading – has been lost. Todorov argues that this stale view of literature is polarizing literature between those nihilistically rejecting the world and those narcissistically withdrawing into the self, and that much contemporary literature is either purely stylistic, morally nihilistic, or just thinly disguised autobiographies. None of these forms of writing, however, pays heed to the primary purpose of reading, namely to make the reader more receptive to the world and more eager to search for meaning in existence. Such criticism of contemporary literature and formalism might hold less water were it not from one of the fathers of the European structural revolution itself – Todorov worked side by side with Roland Barthes and Gérard Genette. In this lucid and keenly-focused essay, Tzvetan Todorov makes an earnest plea for a literature whose goals are self-knowledge, a greater receptiveness to experience and, most importantly, the joy of reading. Praise for Literature in Peril: “One can only subscribe to this vision of a literature in direct contact with life which fully participates, decisively even, in our understanding of the world. It’s a traditional view perhaps, but certainly one that is necessary and well worth defending.” – Le Monde “Tzvetan Todorov argues for a stripping back of literature to its original purpose: that of uncovering a beauty, which enriches our existence and enables us better to understand ourselves.” – La Croix