cover image LIFE IN COMMON: An Essay in General Anthropology

LIFE IN COMMON: An Essay in General Anthropology

Tzvetan Todorov, LIFE IN COMMON: An Essay in General Anthropology

In this dazzling short meditation on the nature of human relationships, noted French philosopher Todorov (Facing the Extreme: Moral Life in the Concentration Camps) makes a scholarly and densely argued yet readable contribution to contemporary debates about the self. Arguing that philosophic thought equated solitude with wholeness until Rousseau "formulated a new conception of man as a being who needs others," Todorov traces the evolution of Rousseau's idea in the modern era and contemporary ideology. Drawing upon a dizzying array of sources—philosopher-eroticists Sade and Bataille, psychoanalysts Winnicott and Klein, William James and Sartre, as well as Hugo, Melville, Romain Gary, Proust, Gide and, of course, Freud—he examines how this new definition of the self in relation to others manifested in art and culture and has profoundly affected the construction of modern society. Drawing heavily upon the thought of Adam Smith and Hegel, Todorov is particularly concerned with power relationships and often delivers jarringly illuminating insights, such as his contention that the recounting of personal suffering to others provides a far greater sense of self than the actual experience. He also poses an astute argument for the primacy of the mother-infant relationship in determining our sense of self. While Todorov reaches no synthesis of Rousseau's contradictory statements—"I cannot conceive how someone who loves nothing can be happy" and "the more [man] increases his attachments, the more he multiplies his pain"—he presents a powerful meditation on their emblematic commentary on existence. (Apr.)