In an unremarkable section of Paris, Roger Caillois saw hiding places for ‘floating beings’.
Pity the Fifteenth! Paris’s most populous arrondissement is also one of its least celebrated.
Stretching from the Front de Seine high-rises in the northwest to the Tour de Montparnasse in the southeast, the Fifteenth is sleepy, residential and architecturally undistinguished.
Home to minor government agencies and the headquarters of various corporations – its streets and thoroughfares are named for military officers – former colonial possessions – inventors and Émile Zola – France’s dullest great novelist.
Rue des Entrepreneurs intersects Rue de Commerce where it branches off into Rue de l’Église and Rue Mademoiselle which gives a good indication of what was on the minds of the men who incorporated the small suburban villages of Grenelle – Javel and Vaugirard into the metropolis in the early years of the Second Empire.
To make matters worse the Fifteenth is tantalizingly adjacent to some of Paris’s genuine landmarks like the Eiffel Tower – located just across the Avenue de Suffren in the Seventh – the Cimetière Montparnasse on the other side of the neighborhood’s eponymous and much-reviled skyscraper or the tony apartment buildings on right bank of the Pont de Bir-Hakeim.Yet this is Paris and even the most unremarkable stretches of Zone 1 have their devoted mythographers.
Born in 1913 in Reims the jack-of-all-genres Roger Caillois knew something about being fame-adjacent.
If you were to look at the faded group photographs of some of the most important avant-garde literary movements of the twentieth century you would see him in the background with his thick eyebrows and chubby cheeks – manuscript in hand ready to launch into a lecture about his latest intellectual obsession: mimicry – ludology – the sacred – gemstones – secret societies – science fiction – the City of Light.