La Cailloise

Vincent Meessen

“Dear Caillois, it will still happen to me that, thinking of you, I try to listen to the stones.”

(Marguerite Yourcenar)

This work meets the wish expressed by Marguerite Yourcenar (Brussels, 1903 – Bar Harbor, USA 1987) in her beautiful elegy to the late Roger Caillois, of whom she took over the seat in the French Academy, thus becoming the first woman to enter this distinguished institution. She hoped that one day, a stone would be named after the one who knew how to ‘listen to the great voice of things’. Caillois, a sociologist and writer, was certainly a great mystic of modernity.

Hence, the ‘Cailloise’ refers to a stone. But contrary to the scientific logic, this name does not designate a certain category, but a mineral and formal singularity: a unique and ancient fossil of a flower with an anthropomorphic look. Indeed, this small fossil of velvet-like grey looks like a grotesque mask, thereby containing an intriguing chain of transformations: a plant becoming a mineral mimicking a human face.

Deposited on a photographic portrait of Roger Caillois posing in front of his scientific collection of stones (reproduced in Oeuvres, Gallimard), the ‘Cailloise’, covering his face, operates ‘diagonally’ by offering a series of oblique perspectives on various subjects that were dear to Roger Caillois: myth, mask, mimicry, and minerals.