Tzvetan Todorov

One of the great thinkers died this week. Tzvetan Todorov would have been 78 on March 1. If you weren’t on college campuses studying literature in the mid-1970s, you can’t quite appreciate the thunder of The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre. Heck, most of us hadn’t imagined that the fantastic was a genre, that something connected fairy tales, the Arabian Nights, and Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis.” And while the book claimed kinship through his mentor Roland Barthes with the Structuralist movement, it was clear at once that Todorov was already beyond any single critical system. In his career we would write history, anthropology, literary criticism, semiotics (the study of sign systems that is NOT, Dan Brown to the contrary, called “symbology”), and ethics. If he had written a history of matchbooks, it would have been interesting. And culturally revealing. He also had really great, wild hair, as if his thoughts were trying to burst out in all directions.