Currently, the statement that the artistic avant-garde of the early twentieth century expanded the space and freedom of artistic inventions is almost a platitude. In this sense, the new possibilities and paths opened up by modernity in the Art also reached the narrative construction: after the realism developed throughout the nineteenth century achieve an amazing level of plot detail, even with the mimetic reproduction of nuances and peculiarities in perception, time, space, the modernity surpassed the need for systematic reproduction of the moment, the usual possibilities provided by common layers in everyday. Such creators have rediscovered the form of the plot without the myth of psychological, social and historical “need for depth", emphasizing repetition, ritualization, false paradoxes, erasure. In a word, returned in Space and Time for the powerful energies of myth, fairy tale, the legend, the supernatural. In this sense, the avant-garde artistic movements in the early twentieth century sought a curious ascendency, strains of certain antiquity, points of contact, missing links - a thriving and turbulent universe of narratives and representations was recovered within the huge and febrile, contradictory and conflicting tableau of aesthetic avant-gardist conceptions. It is in this complex context of rediscovery and conflict about this new territories we found the work of Roger Caillois (1913-1978).
Caillois was a sui generis author that driving between sociology and literature, Latin America and the Europe, the game and the sacred: in the youth, was attracted into the orbit of the Surrealists but soon stood against the movement, sensing his own directions (as some any of his allies, Georges Bataille was the best known among them, in Acéphale magazine and the Collège de Sociologie). Escaping the Nazis, he left France in 1939 and went into exile in Argentina, where he remained until the end of World War II. In this active exile, he discovered the literary experiences developed by authors such as Jorge Luis Borges, Alejo Carpentier, Victoria Ocampo among many others that he would present to the French public in the collection of books (released by Gallimard) La Croix du Sud, already in the 1950s. Caillois sought to unify the experience that can not be reduced to everyday perception (the dream, the myth, the delirium, the supernatural, the random order) of the individual to the collective sphere, being one of the first analysts to seek a sociological, anthropological and political reading these seemingly fragmentary, inaccurate, absurd and unreadable data, so commonplace in the kind of experience that shatter the usual existence. In this sense, the notion of fantastic would be very helpful: very important in French literature, the fantastic began to be treated more differently by critics even in the 1950s, largely due to the avant-garde work (notably the Surrealists) with the term commodification, repositioned to qualify narratives with that peculiar effect of ambiguity and disruption. In this effort is inserted the short treatise of the fantastic art by Caillois, Au cœur du fantastique, published by Gallimard in 1965. The volume is a reflection and a beautiful tribute to the theme, but soon to be harshly criticized by another critic interested in the fantastic, Tzvetan Todorov in his Introduction à la littérature fantastique (1970). The bold analysis and discontinuous intuition employed by Caillois, despite its magnitude, would have no place in the geometrical view of Todorov structuralism.
Putting Caillois and Lovecraft in the same compartment, Todorov simply qualifies both as "little serious critics” (so it would not be good to find serious critics defending the theories of both) that seek to define the fantastic in terms of cold-blooded reader or a vague notion of rupture/discontinuity of the "real world”. For the Bulgarian structuralist, it is vagueness, "fallacy of intentionality" and theoretical incompetence simultaneously the defect in these fragile competitors theoretical constructs. To illustrate his point of view, Todorov makes some brief quotes from the study of Caillois without mention that Au cœur du fantastique addresses figurative, not narrative issues. But this was no impediment to Todorov, although he probably should have read, impassive, the open of the first cailloisian approach. When trying to define an effect even difficult to express, passing literally before the eyes of a spectator contemplating a painting – and that Caillois knew, such an effect would have a different behavior in literary terms – the truth is that the old surrealist goes far beyond the structuralist. Already in the introduction Caillois propose the existence of a latent fantastic effect in the nature itself encoded in images and patterns, exemplified by this little critter, the mole nose-star, more suggestive to him than a Bosch hybrid. Much more than a break from everyday legality, Caillois fantastic resembles the rediscovery of these fringes defective in our fragmentary perception, the nonsense of a project to reduce the immaterial to nothing in the name of a principle of almighty reality. The Cailloisian fantastic is the mark of a strange imagery in Reality, shattering illusions of continuity and permanence.
I found this wonderful book at the Museu de Arte Contemporânea da Universidade de São Paulo (MAC-USP) library after to track it for years – a period without internet in which such findings, when it happened, was slowly enjoyed. Therefore, I have a copy, reliable and widely used. The book, to my knowledge, has never been reissued by Gallimard or any other publisher and also has no translation.