Roger Caillois

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Roger Caillois (March 3, 1913 - December 21, 1978), was a French intellectual whose idiosyncratic work brought together literary criticism, sociology, and philosophy by focusing on subjects as diverse as gems and the sacred. He was also instrumental in introducing Latin American authors to the French public.

Caillois was born in Reims but moved to Paris as a child. There he studied at the prestigious Lycée Louis-le-Grand, an elite school where students took courses after graduating from secondary school in order to prepare for examinations for a top spot at university. Caillois's efforts paid off and he entered the École Normale Supérieure, graduating in 1933. After this he studied at the École Pratique des Hautes Études where he came into contact with thinkers such as Georges Dumézil, Alexandre Kojève, and Marcel Mauss.

The years before the war were marked by Caillois's increasingly leftist political commitment, particularly in his fight against fascism. He was also engaged in Paris's avant-garde intellectual life. With Georges Bataille he founded the College of Sociology, a group of intellectuals who lectured regularly to one another. Formed partly as a reaction to the Surrealist movement that was dominant in the 1920s, the College sought to move away from surrealism's focus on the fantasy life of an individual's unconscious and focus instead more on the power of ritual and other aspects of communal life. Caillois's background in anthropology and sociology, and particularly his interest in the sacred, exemplified this approach.

Caillois left France in 1939 for Argentina, where he stayed until the end of WWII. During the war he was active in fighting the spread of Nazism in Latin America as an editor and author of anti-Nazi periodicals. In 1948, after the war, he worked with UNESCO and traveled widely. In 1971 he was elected to the Académie Française.

Today Caillois is remembered for founding and editing Diogenes, an interdisciplinary journal funded by UNESCO, and Southern Cross, a translation of contemporary Latin American authors published by Gallimard that is responsible for introducing authors such as J.L. Borges or Alejo Carpentier to the French-speaking public.

caillois, r, 73, 99-100, 109 Seminar XI PAGES 19, 22 HOMER