The recent death of the Bulgarian-French cultural theorist and historian of ideas Tzvetan Todorov at the age of 77 flew largely under the radar of the digital commons. Precious few obituaries have appeared in English. The New York Times ran a good one. The literary scholar Françoise Meltzer of the University of Chicago wrote a nice tribute for the blog of the journal Critical Inquiry. That’s about it as far as I can tell, at least as of yet. This is surprising, given Todorov’s enormous influence and voluminous output across a wide swath of fields and themes.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Todorov a decade ago for Critical Inquiry. I had wanted to interview him for some time. I pitched the idea to the journal’s editor, W. J. T. Mitchell, over dinner at the Ethiopian Diamond in Chicago’s Edgewater neighborhood after an event for his book What Do Pictures Want?Mitchell (who would later have his own exchange with Todorov) immediately gave me the green light, for which I remain deeply grateful. Todorov and I covered a range of questions, beginning with his intellectual biography and style, onto a series of political issues — ones that remain strikingly relevant today.
My heart has been heavy since learning over the weekend of the death of the radical and marvelously lyrical Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano, whom I had the enormous pleasure of meeting some 20 years ago.
Galeano was an iconic literary and intellectual figure of the Latin American Left, but his work has a global footprint. Arguably among the most influential books of the second half of the 20th century, his landmark 1971 Open Veins of Latin America has been translated into more than a dozen languages and sold over a million copies. It stands with Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth, Albert Memmi’s The Colonizer and the Colonized, and Gillo Pontecorvo’s film The Battle of Algiers, in the pantheon of anti-colonialism and Third Worldism. Hamid Dabashi calls Galeano a “creative voice of an alternative historiography, a mode of subaltern thinking and writing before a number of Bengali historians made the term globally popular.” Continue reading “Memories of Galeano’s Fire: My Afternoon with the Late Uruguayan Writer”
Shakespeare scholar Stephen Greenblatt discusses his book, “Shakespeare’s Freedom,” presented by Harvard Book Store. Greenblatt discusses how Shakespeare was averse to the authorities of his time — religion, monarchs, and social structure — and how this spirit manifested itself in his work. (This talk took place on November 15, 2010)
Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia: This is an unashamedly opinionated film. In Gore Vidal’s America, the political coup has already happened. The right have triumphed and the human values of the liberals have been consigned to history. But how did this happen and who organized it? In this film Gore Vidal’s acerbic, opinionated and informed approach rips away at the facade of the new America. The film dramatizes Gore’s political views and his concern at the present state of American democracy using interviews and historical footage of his famous appearances on television and talk shows over the last fifty years. In the recently filmed interviews Gore examines the course of American history and policy making and draws dramatic conclusions on the fate of the nation in the modern age.
HARDtalk speaks to one of Africa’s greatest living writers, Ngugi Wa Thiong’o. Tipped to win the Nobel prize for literature, he decided years ago not to write novels in English but in Gikuyu, his mother tongue. His work includes extraordinary memoirs of colonial times and the Mau Mau uprising in his native Kenya. How far have today’s young Africans forgotten the sacrifices that brought about independence? And has that independence itself been a disappointment?
Frances Saunders talked about how the Central Intelligence Agency created the Congress for Cultural Freedom in 1947 as a secret program of cultural propaganda in Western Europe. The program focused on creating and sponsoring pro-American arts and literature. Following her remarks she answered questions from the audience.
Frances Saunders is the author of The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters, published by the New Press.