Roger Caillois on the College de Sociologie and the rise of fascism

Response to the riots of 6 February 1934 in France, signed by Roger Caillois, Jules Monnerot and others later associated with the College de Sociologie, Contre-Attaque or Acephale, forging a brief unity between Bataillean and Bretonian surrealism.

We were just a few, scattered and awkward , lacking either energy or perse­verance, but sensitive to the secret eddies of the universe, not at all anaesthetized and not at all euphoric, very intelligent and always on the lookout, and not at all excited, not at all frantic, lost in the crowds that were blinded by frenzy and de­lirium, rancor and dread, or put to sleep by the torpor of gentle death throes . We were the last conscious beings in this world that pampered men too much, and we predicted that it would disappear, without sensing that we were not born to survive it, but rather destined, once its ruins were righted, to wretchedness, rid­icule, and oblivion . . . . We were too delicate, too scholarly, too difficult, too incapable of being content with a game that did not fulfill us . And then we came too late, we were too small, our hearts were too weak . . . .We will turn out to have been orators . . . . We did not belong to the dawn.

We feel the cold and fly clumsily, we are quick to hide in holes in the walls; we lie in wait only for small prey . We are the sinister and cautious bat of twilight, the bird of experience and wisdom, who comes out after the rumblings of day, even fearing the shadows that day heralds . We should call ourselves twilight creatures. Men of ambiguities and false positions, we loudly proclaimed our taste for violence and would, perhaps, have been driven to despair to see our de­sires fulfilled. . . .

The house was burning and we were tidying the cupboard . We would have done better to fan the fire . We didn’t dare . . . . Not being guilty was our consolation for being weak in a time when weakness was the utmost guilt. Nor did we try to build any sort of ark to save what should be saved . . . .We also lacked the generosity , the indifference to fate that, failing great joy , a familiarity with the worst downfalls provides and that the world to come will bring us . . . .

We were too weak, too much in love with very old and very frail things that we were holding onto more than we thought: beauty, truth , justice, every sub­tlety . We did not know how to sacrifice this. And when we understood that that was exactly what we had to consent to , we recoiled and found ourselves back again in our place, on the other side, in this old, spoiled world that has had its day and now must be liquidated.

Roger Caillois, “Seres del anochecer, ” SUR December 1940 (the quote is from the slightly revised French version of these pages: ” Etres de crepuscule , ” in Le Rocher de Sisyphe [Paris, 1946] , pp . 159 ff. ) . About this text, Caillois in 1974 would say (Approches de ‘imaginaire, p .60) that, even more than “L’Esprit des sectes , ” it “constitutes the real les­son that [he] personally drew from the episode” of the College. In this “confession” he says, “I admit the private defeat that was mine then. That is the express reason that it concludes Le Rocher de Sisyphe , whose writing as well as thought put an end to juvenile and arrogant pipedreams for me .”

Hollier, Denis, ed. 1988. The College of Sociology, 1937-39. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, p.378.


About anti

Anthony Iles is currently a doctoral candidate at the School of Art & Design, Middlesex University. A founder member of the Full Unemployment Cinema. A contributing editor with Mute / Metamute since 2005. He is the author, with Josephine Berry-Slater, of the book, No Room to Move: Art and the Regenerate City (Mute Books, London 2011), contributing editor to the recent publications, Anguish Language: writing and crisis (Archive Books, Berlin, 2015), and Look at Hazards, Look at Losses (Mute/Kuda, 2017) and a contributor to Brave New Work: A Reader on Harun Farocki’s Film A New Product. Recent essays have been published in Mute, Radical Philosophy, Rab-Rab: Journal for Political and Formal Inquiries in Art and Logos.
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One Response to Roger Caillois on the College de Sociologie and the rise of fascism

  1. Pingback: Pierre Klossowski on Walter Benjamin, the College of Sociology and ‘prefascist aestheticism’ | saladofpearls

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