Roger Caillois

Roger Caillois bigraphy, stories - Translators

Roger Caillois : biography

3 March 1913 – 21 December 1978

Roger Caillois (3 March 1913 – 21 December 1978) was a French intellectual whose idiosyncratic work brought together literary criticism, sociology, and philosophy by focusing on diverse subjects such as games, play as well as the sacred. He was also instrumental in introducing Latin American authors such as Jorge Luis Borges, Pablo Neruda, Miguel Ángel Asturias to the French public. After his death, the Roger Caillois French Literary Prize was named after him in .

Caillois’ interest in mimicry

When Caillois worked with Bataille at the College of Sociology, they worked on two essays on insects in the 1930s: ‘La mante religieuse. De la biologie à la psychanalyse’An English translation of the essay: The Praying Mantis, from biology to psychoanalysis (1934)(1934) and ‘Mimétisme et la psychasthénie légendaire’An English translation of the essay: Mimicry and Legendary Psychasthenia (1935) (1935) Caillois identifies the praying mantis and mimicking animals as nature’s automatons and masquerades. He formulates in his peculiarly naturalist fashion what it would mean to act and create without the intervention of the sovereign ego, that magnificent artifact of the modern West that surrealism and the avant-garde have taken such drastic measures to counteract.Cheng, Joyce: "Mask, Mimicry, Metamorphosis: Roger Caillois, Walter Benjamin and Surrealism in the 1930s" Modernism/Modernity (Baltimore, MD) (16:1) Jan 2009, 61-86. (2009) These articles might read like two obscurantist entomological studies that bizarrely try to contradict all evolutionary explications for animal cannibalism and mimicry. Their interest lay in the publication in the context of Minotaure. Such interest makes it possible to see them as the search for figures that evidence the possibility of intelligence without thought, creativity without art, and agency in the absence of the (human) agent.

Roger Caillois French Literary Prize

The Roger Caillois French Literary Prize for Latin American Literature was created in 1991 and has also been awarded to figures such as Carlos Fuentes, José Donoso, and Adolfo Bioy Casares.

Caillois’ key ideas on Play

Caillois begins Man, Play and Games (2001)Caillois, R. (2001). Man, play, and games: University of Illinois Press. with Huizinga’s definition of the play: Summing up the formal characteristics of play we might call it a free activity standing quite consciously outside "ordinary" life as being "not serious," but at the same time absorbing the player intensely and utterly. It is an activity connected with no material interest, and no profit can be gained by it. It proceeds within its own proper boundaries of time and space according to fixed rules and in an orderly manner. It promotes the formation of social groupings which tend to surround themselves with secrecy and to stress their difference from the common world by disguise or other means.J. Huizinga, Homo Ludens (English translation; New York: Roy Publishers, 1950, p. 13). On p. 28 there is another definition not quite as eloquent, but less restricted: Play is a voluntary activity or occupation executed within certain fixed limits of time and place, according to rules freely accepted but absolutely binding having its aim in itself and accompanied by a feeling of tension, joy, and consciousness that it is different from ordinary life." (as cited in Caillois, 2001, p. 177)

He provides strict and distinct categories of games which he describes 4 distinct game categories.

  • Agon, or competition. E.g. Chess
  • Alea, or chance. E.g. Playing a slot machine
  • Mimicry, or mimesis, or role playing. E.g. Playing a MMORPG
  • Ilinx (Greek for "whirlpool"), or vertigo, in the sense of altering perception. E.g. taking hallucinogens, riding roller coasters, children spinning until they fall down.

Caillois also provides a continuum between two opposite poles which the four categories can be divided into: