Previously I knew only Todorov's essays on literary theory, which I found brilliant for the simple reason that they are. His writings on Dutch 17th century genre paintings (depictions of everyday life) are of the same ilk.
Not only did he write clever stuff, he wrote it in a style that is approachable and uncomplicated : None of the usual, French universitary loghorrea where Proustian professors seem to believe that prolixity is tantamount to prodigy.
Two of Todorov's statements on the Dutch Golden Age :
- Although morality in literature inherently transforms the text from the inside, in painting morality merely superposes another layer of interpretation. In other words, although morality makes a novel perfectly indigest, it somehow enhances the reading of a painting.
- Vermeer's work is so impeccable that the image is merely the starting point. He was the first to have his representation (the image) neutralized by the force of his presentation (the way he painted). Subsequent painters only caught up with him 200 years later, when a bunch of Frenchmen invented impressionism. (OK, this idea is not Todorov's, but so brilliantly explained!)
Food for thought, indeed. (Impatiently awaiting the forthcoming 'Scènes de genre' exhitbition at the Louvre. Also regretting Todorov's recent demise.)