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 subjects as diverse as games, play 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 Lycée Louis-le-Grand, an elite school where students took courses after graduating from secondary school in order to prepare for entry examinations for France's most prestigious university, the École Normale Supérieure. Caillois's efforts paid off and he graduated as a normalien 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. He participated in Bataille's review, Acéphale (1936–39).
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. In 1977, he started to write a book with the painter Bernard Mandeville (painter). He died, aged 65, in Kremlin-Bicêtre.
Today Caillois is remembered for founding and editing Diogenes, an interdisciplinary journal funded by UNESCO, and La Croix du Sud (Southern Cross), a collection of books translated from contemporary Latin American authors published by Gallimard that is responsible for introducing authors such as Jorge Luis Borges, Alejo Carpentier and Victoria Ocampo to the French-speaking public. He is also widely cited in the nascent field of ludology, primarily from passages in his book Les Jeux et les Hommes.
The Saragossa Manuscript by Jan Potocki. Edited and with preface by Roger Caillois. Translated from the French by Elisabeth Abbott. New York, Orion Press, 1960.
Man and the Sacred, trans. by Meyer Barash. New York, Free Press of Glencoe, 1960.
Man, Play and Games, trans. by Meyer Barash. New York, Free Press of Glencoe, 1961.
The Dream Adventure, 1963 edited by Caillois. New York, Orion Press, 1963.
The Mask of Medusa, 1964, New York, C.N. Potter, 1964.
The Dream and Human Societies, edited by Caillois and G. E. Von Grunebaum. Berkeley, University of California Press, 1966.
The Mystery Novel. trans. by Roberto Yahni and A.W. Sadler. New York, Laughing Buddha Press, 1984.
The Edge of Surrealism: A Roger Caillois Reader. Edited and with an introduction by Claudine Frank ; trans. by Frank and Camille Naish. Durham, Duke University Press, 2003.
- "Roger Caillois (1913-1978)" (in French). Académie française. 2009. Retrieved 2009-01-08.