What do you do when a full-length translated manuscript is left on your doorstep, of Guy Hocquenghem and René Schérer’s 1977 book Co-ire? Hocquenghem is a HOMINTERN regular - he’s featured in several articles and we’ve run great translations of his work before (see Editor’s note on that piece for a paragraph description of Guy). When read through his English-language publications Hocquenghem’s story seems too neat (though no longer, with Max Fox’s translation of Amphitheater of the Dead), a gay martyr kicked around radical left-wing groups until his premature death from AIDS, a seminal figure conveniently preserved in the amber of queer theory as a concrete link to the rest of the ’68 left they love to cite. But Hocquenghem lived to see his ex-Maoist friends turn into Mitterand’s courtiers, and the moral backlash of the late 70s along with AIDS in the next decade fragment an already-split homosexual Left. Through all this he wrote, maintaining his trademark mixture of acceptance of present possibility and disgust at foreclosed future. We regard this text as a historical document for anyone interested in that moment of social realignment.
The reader may notice that several pictures have been pixelated. We did this to err heavily on the side of caution with regards to our web hosting. All pictures are available in the original French uploaded to aaaaarg.fail.
In January 2020, on a street in the 14th arrondissement of Paris, a plaque was erected to commemorate Guy Hocquenghem, the writer and militant homosexual, indicating the house where he lived from 1973 to 1977. On the third of September, a plaque was removed that had been dedicated to Guy Hocquenghem, the “fervent apologist for pedocriminality.” The plaque had been defended by Christophe Girard, a gay politician publicly criticized for his friendship with the pedophile writer Gabriel Matzneff and accusations of rape against a then-sixteen-year-old boy. Its removal came after its vandalization with tomato-sauce fake blood by members of a feminist groupuscule.
The original supporters of the plaque now claim to have been unaware of Guy’s writings about children, and this claim could be made by most of his anglophone fans as well: he’s known primarily as the queer theorist who wrote Homosexual Desire, with his other works mostly untranslated and far less read.Céline Carez, “Paris enlève la plaque polémique d’hommage à Guy Hocquenghem, ami de Gabriel Matzneff,” leparisien.fr, September 3, 2020, https://www.leparisien.fr/paris-75/paris-enleve-la-plaque-polemique-d-hommage-a-guy-hocquenghem-ami-de-gabriel-matzneff-03-09-2020-8378052.php.
This, then, is the book behind the controversy! Co-written with Guy’s one-time erastes René Schérer, it was published in 1976 by Félix Guattari’s group CERFI, while Guy lived in a house that does not bear any plaque. It’s an ambivalent work, making edgy claims (“children want to be abducted!”) while insisting on the modesty of its aims: not a political treatise, barely a theoretical work, only a display of raw materials, an attempt to put childhood in the context or “constellation” proper to it.
An excellent write-up of the current “Hocquenghem affair,” and the necessity in the face of it of continuing to read Guy, has been provided by the French queer publication Trou Noir. You can find my translation here. However, I’d rather the question of “pédocriminalité” not completely overshadow the book itself, which is not about sexuality, even if it involves it. With that in mind, I also refer the reader to an interview with Foucault, who I think does a fine job explaining the role sex should be understood as having in Co-ire:
Some say that the child’s life is sexual. From the milk-bottle to puberty, that is all it is. Behind the desire to learn to read or the taste for comic strips, from first to last, everything is sexuality. Well, are you sure that this type of discourse is effectively liberating? Are you sure that it will not lock children into a sort of sexual insularity? And what if, after all, they didn’t give a hoot? If the liberty of not being an adult consisted just in not being a slave of the law, the principle, the /locus communis/ of sexuality, would that be so boring after all? If it were possible to have polymorphic relationships with things, people and the body, would that not be childhood? This polymorphism is called perversity by the adults, to reassure themselves, thus coloring it with the monotonous monochrome of their own sex. . . . Read the book by Schérer and Hocquenghem. It shows very well that the child has an assortment of pleasure for which the “sex” grid is a veritable prison.Michel Foucault, “Power and Sex,” in Politics, Philosophy, Culture: Interviews and Other Writings, 1977-1984, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Routledge, 1988).
A few pieces of terminology weren’t self-explanatory, so I’ll clarify them here rather than leave long footnotes.
Co-ire: the title of this book is a play on coitus, turning it into an infinitive and resurrecting its literal sense of together-going. I’ve tried to approximate the joke in my rendition. An alternative would be to form coïtioning from coition, by analogy to transitioning.
Rapt, ravisseur, ravir: literally speaking, these mean abduction, abductor, to abduct. Through etymology, though, they pick up the connotations of rapture, of ravisher, and—in the archaic sense emphasizing swift seizure and carrying-off—rape.
There’s a history to this sense of abduction which carries a charge of potential, ambiguous consensuality. Rapt in France once designated an impediment to marriage, a factor recognized by the Church as making a marriage unlawful, specifically “the violent and forced abduction of a woman from her established place of residence for the purpose of marriage.” In the sixteenth century, though, it became a legal category, a crime defined to protect not the rights of the participants in a marriage, but the rights of parents over their offspring. Inducing a minor—a man under 31 or woman under 26—to marry against the will of their parents was rapt whether it was forced (rapt de violence) or consensual (rapt de séduction). The definition was even stretched to include cases like the marriage of non-minors without parental consent and the seduction of a minor without intent to marry.Mark Cummings, Elopement, Family, and the Courts: The Crime of Rapt in Early Modern France (Ann Arbor, MI: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 1976), http://hdl.handle.net/2027/spo.0642292.0004.023.
It’s this conflation of violence and seduction that Hocquenghem and Schérer play with in Co-ire. English lacks words that capture a history of romantic bridenapping, I substitute kidnapping in the translation. I’ve mostly kept to the word ab-duction, but it should echo with se-duction.
Pédérastre, pédérasque: pédéraste in French may mean homosexual as much as pedophile, and the pejorative pédé is often translated fag. Hocquenghem claims to enjoy swapping it for common slips of the tongue, which he takes as evocative variations: pédérastre as in Zoroastre, pédérasque as in the Provence mythological dragon Tarasque.Guy Hocquenghem, Homosexual Desire, trans. Daniella Dangoor (Duke University Press, 1993), 52–53.
The latter version also appears in Genet’s Notre-Dame des Fleurs. I’ve gone for Zarathustra and pederastra over Zoroaster and pederaster, because astra sounds cosmic where aster sounds like an agent noun.
Citer-pause, pause, trans-lude, post-lude: the system of these odd in-between chapters is pulled from Fourier, a favorite of René Schérer’s whose influence he seems to have spread also to Guy. Italo Calvino explains them thus:
Eagerness to include the whole universe pervades [Fourier’s] farraginous volumes, with their labyrinthine structure upon which complicated subdivisions proliferate a mass of prefaces, interludes, and conclusions indicated by a riot of terminology such as prolégomenes, préambule, intermède, cislégomenes, extraduction, arrière-propos, as well as a selection of antienne, cis-médiante, trans-médiante, intrapause, cis-lude, ulter-pause, ultralogue, ultienne, postienne, postambule, etc., etc., with lists and synoptic tables arranged according to a particular numbering system, so that the numbers alternate with special graphic signs that indicate the pivot, or center of the series (from which radiate the two wings and the two ailerons, ascending and descending), and the ambigu, or term of transition from one series to another, an arrangement that can also correspond to a musical scale, with chords in the major or the minor.Italo Calvino, “The Controller of Desires,” in The Uses of Literature, trans. Patrick Creagh (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017).
This structure appears in Hocquenghem’s La dérive homosexuelle and his and Schérer’s L’Âme atomique; you can probably find them elsewhere as well.
In January, I started working on this project as a way to teach myself to read French, imitating Hyppolite’s trick of teaching himself German by translating Hegel’s Phenomenology. It’s an amateurish bootleg, not approved for human consumption or individual resale. I stopped editing the moment I got bored and no later. Many thanks for tips in translation and editing to O. B., A. B., A. C., A. M., J. Z., and that French-fluent person whose name I don’t know, that I met online right before their account got suspended.
Table of Contents
Episode One: Abduction
dreams — abduction and kidnapping — perversion — digression on fantasy — working machines and money — abduction and capital — theory of abduction — the guardians — not fooled.
Quote-Break: A Childhood Novel
Episode Two: The Forbidden Child
emotional blackmail — privatization — fathermother — a false pretext — generalized childcare — the personalization of children — the antinomies of child-thought — the rights of the child in question
Break: The Pederastra
Episode Four: The Mandrake
unknown father and mother — restoration of the stork — the twin body — the marionette — disguises: the motley cobbled-together child — the mandrake — the Hordes and the Bands
Postlude: Twins and Letters
sibling incest — we got ’em good — the included middle or comical incest — twin contacts — twin telepathy — the twin drama — repetition and boredom — cryptophasia. childhood secret — on the surface of the letters — childhood mannerisms — fallen back into childhood
Pivot: The Constellation of Childhood
Appendix: Open Letter by René Schérer
Index of Names
This book is written in the margins of the system which created, defined, and compartmentalized modern childhood, and which sustains it less in a state of subjugation and constraint than one of acquiescence and numbness. But far from us is the pretension of arousing or dictating anything. Our project is not political, and it is barely theoretical; it’s essentially descriptive. Descriptive, not investigative. And it is for this reason we are going on principle, first and above all, to the novelists who spoke best of childhood, because they didn’t care to explain or direct it.
We are not fixated on revelation, and above all, not on the revelation of childhood. We seek nothing behind the screen, but to drag the images onto the page accurately. Not, in our turn, to put the constellation in full light, but to leave it in suitable shadow. With the systematic bias of evoking instead of suggesting, and in the hope that this undertaking will find accomplices.
Episode One: Abduction
dreams — abduction and kidnapping — perversion — digression on fantasy — working machines and money — abduction and capital — theory of abduction — the guardians — not fooled.
There is no doubt that children are made to be snatched. Their smallness, their weakness, and their prettiness invite it. No one doubts it, starting with themselves.
In the background of childhood daydreams, the captivating idea of abduction [rapt] always glimmers. The princess of legend, the lady at the high window awaiting the knight errant in the hope of her deliverance, the page on horseback, prey of street entertainers or a bird (the child abducted by a bird, that old tale); childhood recognizes itself in these distant figures where it plays at being in the time of knight and page, princess and bird. Every child is Maldoror and his youthful victim, and both the Erl-King and the throbbing little body carried at a gallop by its father. Children are in eternal expectation of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, haunted by his demoniac power:
Les enfants jouaient dans les courées
L’enchanteur parcourut les rues
Il siffla et en un éclair
rafla un cent de beaux enfants
[The children were playing in the alleys
The enchanter wandered the streets
He whistled and in a flash
Snatched a hundred beautiful children! Achim von Arnim and Clemens Brentano, “Der Rattenfänger von Hameln,” in Des Knaben Wunderhorn (Berlin, 1806).
Always, accompanying children and adults, in a child’s strength or pain, the idea of abduction undermines daily security and slips into the lukewarm hearth. It’s that it can be terrible, evoking the shadow of Gilles de Rais or of those comprachicos, the child-buyers in Stuart England, which Victor Hugo has devoted wonderful pages to in The Man Who Laughs. A fearsome, attractive idea, always double-sided, impossible to divide. Because abduction is, for children, feared as much as desired; it is desired through the very fear it inspires. The break it implies with humdrum existence, by an invasion at a strange time from a strange place.
But why is abduction more appropriate to childhood and its faint freedom than departure, vagabondage, or running away? Why abduction, which darkens what flight promises to escape and tinges it with anguish? Our age is lenient to running away, which it knows and prepares return paths for; it doesn’t forgive abduction and its irreparable violence. However, it is in this violence in fact that we detect its seductiveness.
Let’s look closer. Between abduction and departure, vagrancy, running away, travel, there is a manifest kinship. There is no static abduction-on-the-spot, but neither is there running away without the anticipation of a possible abduction, a journey worthy of its name that is not considered kidnapping.
One of Stevenson’s most beautiful novels is called Kidnapped. Because, to make a great journey in the Scottish Highlands in the company of the exciting, fantastic Alan, the young David Balfour needs this first yank that impels his departure, avoiding the stream of permissions and regrets. The little Rémi of Nobody’s Boy leaves, bought (or abducted, it’s all the same) by Vitalis. In The Pupil by Henry James, the young Morgan begs his tutor to kidnap him: “We ought to go off and live somewhere together . . . I’ll go like a shot if you’ll take me.” Like a shot: between the mire of familial compromises and their slowness, abduction is quick and accurate; it goes beyond or below, in any case in the margin of this mesh of half-acquiescences and reluctances which are the daily bread of children with family, and which even running away alone doesn’t allow them to escape. Anyway, the first stopover in the flight, the event which makes it irreversible and turns sudden impulse into self-affirmation, is always a form of abduction that authorizes or prepares it. Michel, the young fugitive in Récidive by Tony Duvert, knows secretly upon entering the forester’s cabin that he is in for a consensual rape. Raoul, the hero of The Young Student by Madame Guizot, would never have had the idea of absconding if he had not had the example of Victor as a guide, and if he weren’t certain of meeting up on his way. Even when abduction doesn’t kick things off, the runaway is always in for unheard of encounters, shocking to families and those who stay cloistered. Therefore, abduction is what illuminates vagabondage, not the reverse. Rousseau, who plays at leaving the child alone (“To travel for the sake of traveling is to wander, to be a vagabond”Jean Jacques Rousseau, Emile, or On Education, trans. Allan David Bloom (New York: Basic Books, 1979), 455.
), ends up with Madame de Warens, the beautiful abductor [ravisseur] and devourer of young people. Abduction stops running away from being pointless. And conversely, the solitary flight, whether between children or for its own sake, is only a failure to be abducted. It shows its own failure and soon returns to its starting point, home.
Going deeper: this is why running away is fairly easy, in our societies where the confinement of childhood induces, accepts and forgives it. It’s even dressed up equivocally, so as to delight self-righteous in the end, as mere precociousness. It comforts the imagination with the fiction of a child already in control of themself and their adventures, a healthy child who just maybe hasn’t had enough attention paid to them. But in fact, nothing ever happens this way, if it’s true that the attraction to flight is itself rooted in an essence of abduction: the attraction of the extra-familial, of the infinite wealth of a social, animal world of things, in which to roam. Whether a seducer arrives, is present in flesh and bone, or whether they loom remotely, they are always there. They are the evil genius whom children need to assure themselves exists. They are willing to undergo even the devouring test of the Ogre, provided that it releases them from the enclosing parental thinking, the slow pedagogical path of growth that prepares them for having the right to begin existing. Only a sudden rapid seizure, a cross-cutting in the compact encircling fabric, simultaneously enacts the tear and the deliverance. An eye-opening encounter, an encounter of two obsessions whose shock expels the sheltered little innocent from their bedrock.
That’s where the scandal is, and the danger. That is where the fear coupled with expectation is for children.
Only fear without a counterpart, apparently, that of the parents who lose them, whom they are wrested from. Because there isn’t, they say, a crime more revolting, more universally disgraceful or more universally condemned than the abduction of children. More than murder itself.
But clearly, that overemphasis is essential. We point it out as where to look for the meaningful force of abduction, the sources where its threat originates.
Abduction and Kidnapping
A distinction is necessary at this point, though. We’re talking about abduction, not kidnapping in its modern sense (in Stevenson’s novel cited above, Kidnapped does not have this sense).
In kidnapping, in contrast to abduction, it’s not the child who is snatched for themself, because they’re worth the trouble, the object of desire. Kidnapping is a relationship between adults where the child acts only as an item believed to be valuable to the parents, as a bargaining chip. Apart from rare examples where kidnapping has ambiguous overlap between the desire of the kidnapper for the child, and the fact that, to the eyes of the child, the kidnapper is usually adorned with the prestige of abduction—keep in mind the enchantment of little hostages when they’re allowed to speak in the papers—kidnapping is not part of the same class, having more in common with barter than abduction. And usually, a wonderful revealer of real fortunes, it takes the form of a wealth tax.
Whereas poor children are constitutionally subjected to abduction, there is no poor child that would have a reasonable chance of being kidnapped; when it does happen, it’s as a mistake. Also, as a relation is established in adult society regarding the children taken as exchange value, kidnapping does nothing but reproduce the existing social relations, either directly, or in an inverted image, its revealed essence. For example, a nineteenth century bourgeois family could exempt their child from military service by buying him out, or (and this is still being done) paying for a private education. It’s a way to guard their child against ransom. Overall, the wealthy purchase the right to make what they want of their children. It’s the formula of the kidnapper: if you want the child, pay.
But apparently, it does not go the same for the poor. They entrust their children to the State, the institutions, and not only do they not need to pay, but it’s to their advantage, in the form of educational savings, family benefits, etc. So the formula of kidnapping seems not to conceive of this situation at all, since it is the kidnapper who pays to have the child and would revoke the money if the child were retaken.
Nevertheless, let’s not be taken in by appearances. If in the general formula of kidnapping, the child acts as a guarantee, they are also a guarantee in the latter case, but of something more important, which cannot be immediately quantified in money: they are a guarantee for society altogether. In modern society, the education of children and concern for their health and future are the strongest restraint against revolutions and the overthrow of the social order. One can already note many indications of this in the works of Ch. Fourier. Also, even there, there’s the logic of kidnapping, only it’s inverted: keep quiet, says the State, make your money for your children, make sure that they’re learning and doing well in school, or they will be socially dead. Or, in more direct form, when it’s a question of institutions, army, asylums, and prisons that keep them without returning them: you’ll only get them back when they’re dead, because their debt and yours are infinite!On the subject of laws on the protection of childhood “in moral danger,” we read in a recent study: “The removal of children is a means of penetration and pression on families whose life must change” (Philippe Meyer, “La correction paternelle,” Critique : revue générale des publications françaises et étrangères., no. 343 [December 1975]: 1271). The same article also talks about the “normalizing pressure” that has been brought to bear on families, since the beginning of the twentieth century, the laws for protection of minors. Blackmail and kidnapping mixed.
This subject can still be elaborated on, but what matters here is to note that kidnapping always stands on the logic of simple alternation, with death as the outcome.
With abduction, a third term is introduced that scrambles this logic and illuminates something else.
Because abduction doesn’t necessarily lead to death, and if a child is snatched for their own sake, even avoids it on principle—but it always lets the menace of perversion linger. That’s what’s dreaded in it, behind the phantasm of death advanced by the parents. When death actually occurs, it’s only ever following an initial perversion which prevails in horror: look at Gilles de Rais, the sadist. Also, though the abductor is openly suspected of being a potential murderer, what is repulsive in them and forms a serious danger is that they above all are the one who intervenes in the slow educational journey that, for the parents, must shape their child to their likeness. Abduction is the irreversible evil for this slowness that stands on the steps of maturation, growth, and the surveillance of every moment, because it comes to smash everything in a flash. Rousseau noted this already, not about abduction exactly, but something of the same nature: vagrancy, contact with the unknown stranger, or bad company: take your eyes off the child for one moment, he thinks, and he is lost. Instantaneity against lengthy supervision: we see what the effect of the opposing force is—and that death, which can be foreseen and cultivated by those who have responsibility for children, is less to fear.
Even if, for the child, the path must be deadly—the long path of growth, or, spatially, the lawful path to school—the parents will at least have a death to their liking, a death that, faced with the anguish of abduction, they secretly wish for. We can read this meaningful comment in a book in the mid-nineteenth century Library of the Young Christian, from a mother whose children had been stolen:
The pain might have been less extreme if they had died, innocent dead to be taken up to heaven by the angels. But to know that they were in the hands of beggars which, without any doubt, were using them to excite public pity, and that they were prisoners of bandits who would give them their bad morals, and pervert them and lose their souls, was horrid to think.Ernest Fouinet, Gerson ou le manuscrit aux enluminures, Bibliothèque de la jeunesse chrétienne (Tours: Mame, 1854).
Abduction is the door opening on the unknown, the monstrous, the inhuman. Victor Hugo dedicates his chapter on the comprachicos to describing practices aimed at physically deforming the stolen or purchased children, putting them in pots and cages which shape their malleable bodies into grotesque animal likenesses, and subjecting them to the chilling operation which freezes the face of the Man Who Laughs into a mask and forever shuts him out of the policed society of men.
Such is the horror of abduction, and yet we say that it is in the projection of desire. Such is its denial of childhood that it deforms it to unrecognizability, and yet we say that its idea lives in the childhood that it fascinates. Certainly one could make the distinction between two types of abduction: the seductive abduction of the beauty by the knight, and the horrific abduction by the torturer, the Ogre or the bandit. This distinction applies to most of the books on childhood, which intend to deflect the one of bad company, recklessness, and vagrancy, while giving free reign to the lawful part of fantasy. Dickens wept over the unschooled, lost child, the associate of thieves. But we also know well that, in Oliver Twist, it’s the school of theft that entices, not the return home. And where are we to put the journey of Humbert Humbert and Lolita, in Lolita by Nabokov, or the travels
of the fake father conman with the little girl in Addie Pray by Joe David Brown, to pick at random in the swaths of literature where brown-haired women wearing hooped earrings roam in their caravans, surrounded by monkeys and trained dogs? For every child thief butchering fresh meat in the style of Erckmann-Chatrian,Emile Erckmann, Hugh Lamb, and Alexandre Chatrian, “The Child-Stealer,” in The Invisible Eye: Tales of Terror, 2018.
how many tantalizing gypsies are there, just as much dreaded by mothers, if not more!
No, the distinction doesn’t hold. It is hardly necessary to stress that the place of the warning is where the strongest seduction derives, that all that stands out from moralizing books is the fanciful embroidery which carries the imagination towards the land of the stranger.
“Listen to me, Pinocchio, retrace your steps,” says the Cricket.
“On the contrary, I want to go on.”
“It’s getting late.”
“I want to go on.”
“The night is dark.”
“I want to go on.”
“The way is dangerous.”
“I want to go on.”
And here again, in one of these little nineteenth-century children’s books by the Christian libraries, there is a scene which shows that adults also know how to turn it to their advantage, to delight their inner child, as their educational aims are made a fool of by the fantasy that carries them away:
Marguerite was dying of fright. The grown woman barely noticed, and, pulling her roughly by the arm, made her clamber up the sharply angled steps to the attic: there, in the glow of a smokey lamp, she opened a case, pulling from it a red skirt all cut up on the bottom in great wolf-teeth bites, from some of which [the strips of fabric remaining] there dangled a copper bell, as well as an ugly pointed cap rimmed in red and green and sporting at the top a clump of bells that made a hellish noise at the slightest movement. Then she set herself to undressing the little one who, finding some energy in the excess of her despair . . .
Marguerite was obliged to let herself be stripped of her pretty dress and her cool hat and to change into the hideous costume of madness the shrew had assigned her.Le livre des enfants et des adolescents, by Madame Gaël, first part, Récits d’une
grand-mère, Paris, international library, 1869
Nothing is lacking, in the remainder of the text, for our delectation:
Presently, the brutish marm took the little one by the arms and flipped her over until her head almost touched the ground, and, having attached her hands to her feet, she made her perform a series of tumbles rolling herself like a ball.
Later, she tosses her in the air, such that
the child at each toss had to redescend perfectly balanced on her straight pedestal, without stumbling to the ground where her poor little body would be bruised, and whence she would be lifted again by the buffoon who would straightaway administer an energetic lash of the whip.Madame Gaël, “Récits d’une grand-mère,” in Le livre des enfants et des adolescents. Récits, dialogues, drames et poésies, (Paris: Librairie internationale, 1869).
Stolen child, or beaten child. From a certain perspective, it’s all the same; but also and especially: the metamorphosis of pupa into butterfly, a new being whose extraordinary feats leave stunned those that gaze from the edge of the circus, or from familiar shores where their roots remain attached.
Note on Fantasy
The emotional charge that accompanies the mention of abduction and its implications, the jewel and archetype of romantic literature, immediately evokes that of fantasy. In the last example mentioned, there is even, it seems, a direct emergence of the well-known fantasy described by Freud: A Child Is Being Beaten, and there would be no need to look further for what, in it, captivates us. The violent delight of seeing a child other than me being beaten is intertwined with that of being beaten as a sign of love. The reversal of the abuse on the person of the subject is the sign of an original propensity to sadomasochistic passivity, the end of the drive, and cause of enjoyment [jouissance]. Abduction would be one of its variants, since in it the subject is both passive and active, and the fact that it is often accompanied by the fantasy of beating would only prove it.
But is that certain? Should what we have called in an indeterminate fashion an “idea,” a “daydream,” a “fascination” with abduction be treated as a phantasy in the Freudian sense, referring back to “A Child Is Being Beaten,” or the one that Serge Leclaire discovers and studies: A Child Is Being Killed, both of which reduce to sadomasochistic propensities within initial parental relationships? Is it possible to construct “A Child Is Being Taken” in the same vein and in the same sense?
The question is not merely formal. It involves understanding abduction according to a mechanism other than the mechanism of fantasizing, which we know isn’t needed for it to happen, that it substitutes the factual history of the subject for a coalescing of desire and helps affix desire to the paternal and maternal poles. Does abduction have to do with that category, or is it rather of the nature of the event, present or wished for, but in any case real, and to be understood in the context of rupture? If this is true, it can’t be of interest to psychoanalysis, which only ever pays attention to the relationship with the parents, and makes fun of the abducted child.
What could give this impression is that it is indeed, in abduction as in fantasy, a question of “the prohibition in the position of desire.”Jean Laplanche and Jean-Bertrand Pontalis, The Language of Psycho-Analysis (London: Karnac Books, 2006).
What is more forbidden? What is more desired? But the psychoanalytic prohibition doesn’t have the same nature as the prohibition of abduction, and that of abduction is derived, in relation to the forbidden and that which forbids, from the Freudian theory of fantasy: it bears on another field than the one where the drama is played out in which the paternal prohibition sets forth its law.
Let’s look at this specific fantasy “A Child Is Being Beaten.” What is given there besides what is visible from the Freudian point of view in that enticing scene of which a naïve example was quoted above, and that we find, more artistically, in the well-known beatings in the writings of the Countess of Ségur, or in the whipping of orphan children in Nobody’s Boy by Hector Malot? What else, if not precisely what is outside the scope of the analysis: Sophie being whipped by the stepmother, Madame Papovski by the ispravnic, the orphans by a child trafficker. On either side, there is the intrusion of the alien that only sleight of hand can reduce to the position of the child between the two members of the couple, and fascination of the event as such, irreducible to the hallucinatory satisfaction of a fantasy developed on the basis of what the child can understand of family romances.
The hallucinatory Freudian fantasy is always linked, in the end, to the famous “primal fantasies” which are the observation of parents’ sexual relations, seduction, castration: textbook scenarios and in limited number. Fantasy only expresses, in this sense, the passivity of the subject, it never indicates an outside, a potential escape. Quite the contrary. As aptly stated by Laplanche:
the child, impotent in his crib, is Ulysses tied to the mast or Tantalus, on whom is imposed the spectacle of parental intercourse. Corresponding to the perturbation of pain is the "sympathetic excitation" which can only be translated regressively through the emission of feces: the passive position of the child in relation to the adult is not simply a passivity in relation to adult activity, but passivity in relation to the adult fantasy intruding within him.Jean Laplanche, Life and Death in Psychoanalysis (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013), 102.
Certainly, this formulation could apply to abduction, if we only consider in it the passive repetition of a primal fantasy. This is to concede precisely what it must demonstrate, and what abduction in its specificity and importance disputes: namely, that there is no relation to adults other than on the basis of a fantasy that guarantees the father in his role and seals that association by the power of the hallucinatory.
However, let’s not be too quick to say we’ve satisfactorily identified the difference, because there may also be another psychoanalytic way to take things, and to introduce abduction in the series of fantasies, without threatening the myth of paternal omnipresence. Indeed, it can be effectively treated as fantasy, reintegrated in the “family saga,” provided that one treats it as a detour, serving to strengthen in the child, to promote, not to the level of the real, but of the symbolic, the indestructible image of the father. One can read in G. Groddeck:
You certainly remember that period of your childhood when, either through play dreams, you pretended to have been stolen by gypsies from your parents of high status, the beloved father and mother whom you lived with being only adoptive parents. There is no child who has not had some thoughts of this type. They are, at heart, repressed desires. As long as we rule the house as babies, we are satisfied by our parents, but when education, with its procession of justified and unjustified requirements, comes to shake up our dear habits, we find that our parents are not at all worthy to have such an exceptional child. We degrade them (for although we are still in our pants and despite our other weaknesses, we thereby give ourselves the illusion of maintaining our importance) to the rank of distorted parents, donkeys, witches, while we consider ourselves mistreated princes. This is what stands out—it will be easy for you to realize this by yourself—from tales and legends; or, if that seems to you more convenient, you will find it in the very intelligent books from the school of Freud. There you will at once discover that originally, we each thought father the strongest being, the best and most intelligent that existed, but that progressively as grow older, we become aware that he sometimes bows humbly before certain people or certain events and that he is therefore not the absolute master that we had thought we saw in him. However, because we essentially hold to the idea of being the offspring of high personages—because respect and pride are feelings to which it is impossible for us to renounce—we invent an imaginary life where child abduction and substitution come to give us back all our dignity.Georg Groddeck, Au Fond de l’homme, cela, trans. Lily Jumel (Paris: Gallimard, 1963), 173.
Let us not be mistaken: the blindness of Groddeck (who has, moreover, written strong things on childhood) to abduction’s proper scope is striking. At first glance, the emphasis in abduction on the child replacement aspect can appear as an indication of desire for separation from the father, a mark of his downfall. But in fact, if the text is read carefully, it is instead about the replacement of the father and not of the child. The father’s role comes out of it endowed with more dignity. The ambition of the subject is only to rediscover the glorious father, to become the child of a better father, and it is therefore naturally assimilated in the passive scenario of fantasy. In this analytical explanation, there is nothing other than this: primary parental narcissism, which projects itself on the child from the start to reabsorb them, is appropriated by the child and turned against those that insert it into them, renouncing them. But like the phoenix, they are reborn from their ashes, immortalised on the line of the great symbolization that forbids the child from ever failing to be identified as the child of their father. Anyway, they will always have one; this is the only desirable and livable situation, “according to their pride and self-respect.” The proof, Groddeck continues, is that as a universal exchanger of paternity, the child invents God: “And furthermore, let us not forget to mention that under the pretext that eventually the king doesn’t seem to us to occupy an exalted enough situation, and to satisfy our insatiable lust for greatness, we declare ourselves to be the children of God, and create the idea of God the father.”
The meaning of the position adopted by Groddeck and the Freudian school is clear: it is the point of view of paternal paranoia (lust for greatness), a point of view whose corollary is, with Groddeck at least, the impossible substitution of the mother, which everything returns to by right in the child’s desire.
But this is only a partial, distorted approach to things, and, in contrast to what the analyst believes, not extracting a hidden meaning, but letting oneself be deceived by a sham. In Nobody’s Boy, for example, it is very true that the search for rich true parents and returning to the family form the plot. However, this is not the appeal of the work. What happens is completely different, a series of abandonments, purchases, semi-snatchings by false parents, erratic connections where a passional energy freely unfolds, in the company of an old vagabond, little beggars, swindlers—strong marks of a trajectory which is made to stand out by the contrasting trivial dullness of the return to the familiar harbor and final anchorage. In the same way, in Collodi’s Pinocchio, the entire actual story, what happens and exerts the irresistible seduction is the irony of the moral openly displayed, “Woe to the children that rebel against their parents, and that abandon their father’s house on a whim; they will never be happy in this world and sooner or later, they must repent it bitterly.” To which Pinocchio responds, “It’s always the same song. Goodnight!” It’s true that this is only a wooden puppet, and not a little boy in accordance with Freud, Groddeck, Melanie Klein, etc.
The woes of the wandering or abducted child, like the “loss” predicted by Rousseau, is what parental paranoia would have us believe, this is indeed what it sincerely believes in, and obviously ends by resonating with children to the point of making them demand morality and wish for the return journey, the touching discovery of the father or mother, or both, after the period of wandering. This is why for adults, who are ultimately the ones writing or speaking about it, abduction is always transcribed in the famous paternal metaphor, and finds, in this case, the classic form of the fantasy: that of the scene where desire is silhouetted on a background of lack, and draws its strength only from the hackneyed form of the family novel.
An example: it can be found wonderfully in The Man Who Stole Children, by Jules Supervielle. If a few beautiful phrases would be capable of signing the non-fantasmatic, but initiatory nature of abduction for children: “The word ‘stolen’ nearly put Antoine into a temper, but the other children used it with the respectable air that a nobleman might assume in speaking of the nobility.”Jules Supervielle, “The Man Who Stole Children,” in Selected Writings (New York: New Directions, 1967), 185.
The paternal fantasy comes back double-quick and occupies the scene with its compulsory urgency. This Man Who Stole Children is instead the story of the failure of a man who only steals to reconstruct a family, undeniably out of lack. This need for false and hopeless paternismTr. This is Fourier’s paternisme, the passion parents have for children, which Fourier extracts from its familial circumscription.
is a dead-end, for both the children and for himself. In love with the little Marcelle, Colonel Bigua avoids touching her, and is satisfied with fatherhood-by-proxy or fatherhood to the second degree, when she announces herself pregnant by a young boy. All the familiar taboos are conserved in this abduction, and even carried to the second power, returning indeed to paternal narcissism. For Bigua, all that counts is his self-satisfaction with his own lack of being: This abduction will have been a realization for me. I needed it to prove to myself that I am alive.
Thus the loop can be easily closed, abduction recuperated. Its intrusion changes nothing, any more than the intrusion of abandonment fantasy does when it’s offset by a fictitious parenthood. Abduction even reinforces the stability of family structures, and social structures more generally.
There may paradoxically be such a recuperation of abduction on behalf of order, and it may become the object of an acknowledged desire, while it is otherwise presented as the most dishonourable crime, and this is what is shown in the cases where it comes to the rescue of familial appropriation, or adoption. Right-thinking Europe and America descended, as a family, on the orphans or purported orphans of Vietnam, at the moment when, in all good conscience, a new market was opened to the families. A sign, certainly, of the fascination exercised by abduction, the theft of children, but of a perverted abduction, misdirected from its meaning and true function—the function, as they say, of a “deterritorialization” of the child permitting them to no longer invest their desires solely in the little familial cell, or rather revealing to them—because they never, for their part, took this imposed limitation seriously—that they can effectively take them elsewhere.
A last word on fantasy and abduction’s impossible reduction to it. Provided one understands it in a structure that is familial, or institutional in general (where the child operates as an item whose place is marked by a dialectic of projections and introjections, always on the basis of fixed terms), abduction can only be fantasy, i.e. envisaged as a hallucinatory danger, but whose possibility is, in any event, “out of scope” or “outside the question.” There is a dialectic where children are at stake, living in their parents’ desire, a dialectic where the order of terms can be scrambled, and psychoanalysis’ is to reestablish it. If that is not enough, or when the desire is that the child does not come into being (which can also be a form of parental desire, provoking psychosis and autism), the institution, taking over from the family, can replay the game of setting up structures; it wrenches the child from the deadening environment, but is careful in its turn that they do not escape it. See Bettelheim.Bruno Bettelheim, The Empty Fortress. See in particular, in this book, the danger represented by the always-possible abscondment of the autistic child, usually without clothes. Hence the necessary prior agreement between the institution and the police. And of course, it’s hardly possible to do otherwise, under the treatment’s conditions. But it’s exactly this vicious circle which we want to emphasize.
One can go further, and Maud Mannoni speaks of “the shattered institution,”Maud Mannoni, Éducation impossible, Le Seuil, 1973
of the beneficial necessity of “situations of rupture,” of journeys, of departures, of “distant sojourns,” implicitly recognizing in doing so the remarkable value of abduction, which no longer plays in the fantasy buried in the family and the institution, the good family, and between them, but is “extroduced” in a rupture of the internal structuring dialectic. However, let’s not be mistaken: neither the “shattered” institution nor the family can tolerate or comprehend abduction as such, the flight in its radicalness, and whatever is connected to their nature. Fantasizing of them, it destroys or reduces them. They shine at an incommensurable distance, in the absolute of a gap which makes the child suddenly jump into another orbit, outside the coordinates of a system whose netting can be stretched, but in which they are imprisoned, whatever they do, as long as they remain under the gaze of those that are in charge of them, whether they’re hostile or benevolent.
Working Machines and Money
In any case, in an attempt to determine the specificity of abduction in this way, on the side of psychoanalysis, again and again something is forgotten which is necessary to clarify, or risk going in circles. What psychoanalysis and its interpretation are unaware of is forgotten, in the forced reduction that they operate on the “familial novel.” We contrast this type of novel, in which it is only a question of the relation to the father and the mother, with the escapes of the “childhood novel.” Abduction is not a familial affair, nor a private one, nor a semi-private one, nor indeed public; the different institutional forms feeding through to the familial which they return to. The child’s “investments” in their daydream of abduction—let’s not call it a fantasy—always concern strangers and wanderers. This erratic character is primary and constitutive. When Fernand Deligny (who is the only one who has made a sincere and serious attempt to “take” the young wanderers, the indomitable mutes, a non-institutional attempt, not to adjust or cure them, but to live with them) talks about children, he finds the word wander. “Wander, the word came to me . . . There is a way gained of advancing, of walking, of speed . . . a very rich word that deals with walking, the sea, the animal.”Fernand Deligny, Nous et l’innocent (Paris: F. Maspero, 1977); Cahiers de l’Immuable. (Fontenay-sous-Bois: Revue du Cerfi, 1975).
This wandering is unsystematic: the child is not going to search for a father or a mother that they have lost; they are simply going. Their gait can direct it toward the discovery of the other, the expectation of the other that kidnaps or the seduction of that other child that they are not. In the nineteenth-century bourgeois family which psychoanalysis deals with, all of this is easily identifiable. The attraction exerted by the little wanderer, as by the street entertainer, has the nature of abduction, even if it only keeps certain aspects of it, and also the horses, and also the machines, where they’re working. But for the therapist (since it’s they, institutionally, who have the monopoly on children and who give us their characteristics) it cannot be a question. The wanderer, the beggar, the little pauper, the street class: all of this does not exist. To go towards them is unthinkable and must therefore be interpreted. The only authorized movement is one that digs the oedipal hole on the spot, the interior pothole that can expand, but remains closed structurally.
For Melanie Klein, neither motorcycles nor roads nor railway stations exist. When the child speaks of them, it’s only a symbol of his mother’s body or his own.Melanie Klein, The Psychoanalysis of Children. (New York: Grove Press, 1960), 253.
But in Récidive, Tony Duvert has described the presence and network of runaway trains, those that really depart.
For Freud, a bourgeois child obviously can’t ride on a trolley — a thing — beside a little worker, especially if he imagines him naked. This was Little Hans’ one idea, however simple, instantly reinterpreted and reduced by his father, who was a friend of Freud and had the complicity and evident approval of the father of psychoanalysis:
“April 22nd. This morning Hans again thought something to himself: ‘A street-boy was riding on a truck, and the guard came and undressed the boy quite naked and made him stand there till next morning, and in the morning the boy gave the guard 50,000 florins so that he could go on riding on the truck.’”Sigmund Freud, “Analysis of a Phobia in a Five-Year-Old Boy,” in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, trans. James Strachey (London: Hogarth Press, 1975), 2069.
Comment: “I told him it was not allowed, and that if he did the guard would be after him. A second element in this phantasy is Hans’s repressed wish to be naked.” Repressed, whereas directly, he has just expressed consideration of the other boy, from this little lecherous Hans, who is said to have been chasing after boys as well as girls, until his father and Freud interfered.
The idea of “means of transport” generally, which Hans has a phobia of in addition to horses (understandably, considering all the bludgeoning he’s subjected to) is a symbol of “trading sex.” If we leave aside the interpretation to keep to the text, where everything is clear, there the 50,000 florins remain. They are outside of the interpretation, the father and Freud, and we can elaborate on them freely. It’s a question of money, the child, and purchasing. Either the child acquires a right, or he is bought, or he buys himself out. In any case, thanks to the 50,000 florins, he’ll be free. And this refers us to the profound connection existing between the abduction, theft, and purchase of children, the near-constant theme of the childhood novel. Through purchase, as they act as the one bought, children find the means of freeing themselves from the supposedly infinite debt which they are worn down with. Money enables lifting the mask on the dubious interest which adults display to them, as they are either progenitors or in charge of their education, and it can be the means of clearing up an ambiguous situation. “Don’t they pay you?” demands the young Morgan of his tutor in James’ The Pupil. This is the first step in his relationship with the tutor towards a straightforward situation where Morgan will eventually take the lead.
The direct (or, we mean, non-symbolic) introduction of money unveils the hypocrisy of the free interest that grown-ups bear toward him, and of the attention to children “for their own good.” Unproductive children, devoid of independent means of existence, in this sense never free, are constantly in the position of saying to their seducers: “if you want me, buy me.” A sale which is, contrary to appearances, not alienating but liberating—prostitution which we must see flipping the money game in favor of the one that apparently is the object. Because childhood is always a mark, stake, or value of exchange within the family and its social accomplices, the “socius,” as long as it remains caught in their snare, it can only be redeemed by becoming the great prostitute. In Duvert: “it costs you five francs just to touch it or give it a few licks with your tongue ten francs if you want me to touch yours fifteen francs if you want me to give you a blow job but I’m warning you I won’t swallow it and twenty francs to fuck me up the ass that is if your prick’s regular standard size if it’s too big then it’s thirty francs”Tony Duvert, Strange Landscape, trans. Sam Flores (New York: Grove Press : Random House, 1975), 197.
Someone reports to us, from a little boy who doesn’t know who Duvert is: “If you want to touch me there, a tin soldier, and there two, and there three, and there only one” and so on. Deligny: “To masturbate an American soldier, that pays three oranges.”Fernand Deligny, Les vagabonds efficaces, et autres récits, etc. (Paris: François Maspero, 1970), 97.
Abduction and Capital
For some the distance between the Imaginary and the Real is surmountable. For others it is not, “across these symbolic bars that keep apart these two worlds,” as Baudelaire says, which are not necessarily those that insulate the castle from the highway, but the boundaries of class, education, supervision, and family. In this sense there is not one but two childhoods, one “wild,” the other imprisoned, united only in that, for the second, abduction and all the thoughts surrounding it compensate for what it dare not attempt and does not enjoy. A real connection can take place, and then it’s escape or running away, or again this Walkabout,Nicolas Roeg, Walkabout (Max L. Raab Productions, Si Litvinoff Film Production, 1971).
as in the Australian film of the same name, where the body is discovered, gestures are reinvented, where in the absence of all terrifying parental figures, unknown and nomadic investments are made in animals and things.
But the latter example, it’s true, makes an important distinction appear. The film Walkabout concerns two white children who, originally lost, roam the desert in the company of a young savage they meet, and it’s he who makes them discover new territorializations, like what for him is a departure into a bushland full of life and sexual presences—co-itus, as Géza Róheim describes it—in the company of the uncle who abducted and initiated him.Géza Róheim, Héros phalliques et symboles maternels dans la mythologie australienne (Paris: Gallimard, 1970), 39.
There we find the ancestral concepts, those of the moment when the child, not secluded in the bosom of the single conjugal group, would find fathers and mothers in all, and would perform their rites in broad daylight. And the Greek concept of Cretan abduction would also be encountered.Georg Wissowa, Wilhelm Kroll, and Kurt Witte, “Knabenliebe,” in Paulys Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft (Weimar: J. B. Metzler, 1995).
Abduction and the modern European vagrancies are of a different nature: they are contemporaries of the privatization of children, succeeding a patriarchal and more communal form of life, where, as Phillipe Ariès has shown, children circulate in the city and mingle with work and families. As well as indicated or likely sexual implications. Children are admitted to cabarets with the drunks and prostitutes. This is the age where Thomas Platter, as early as nine years old, as a “greenhorn,” leaves to beg on the streets, to study in the schools of Europe in the company of his “bacchant” cousin.Philippe Ariès, Centuries of Childhood: A Social History of Family Life, trans. Robert Baldick, 1996.
In Spain, those picaresque adventures of Lazarillo de Tormes. These travels are abductions. There may indeed be some that end badly: a few centuries earlier, like the Children’s Crusade which was ended by a great devastation and a grand commerce of children, or the servants and pages of Gilles de Rais that their families were happy to entrust to the lord.Georges Bataille, The Trial of Gilles de Rais, trans. Richard Robinson (Los Angeles, Calif.: Amok, 2004).
But abduction, such as it lives in the imagination, the nineteenth century’s fear and desire and often ours, is to be read in the history of incipient capitalism. Only, the parental fantasy inverts the sense of the event. It’s not the vagabonds, thieves, and gypsies that threaten the order and the bourgeoisie’s children—they are already protected, set aside in the familial environment, and the corollary educational institutions—it’s Capital, i.e. “primitive accumulation,” with forced expropriation, the ruin of the countryside, that first made children public, then abducted them in the name of the wealthy and landlords, and locked them up.
This abduction, which the bourgeoisie fosters psychosis of in regard to its own children, was exerted by the bourgeoisie themselves against the victims of its expansion, and in a massive way. In his classic text,Michel Foucault, History of Madness, trans. Jean Khalfa and Jonathan Murphy (London: Routledge, 2007).
Michel Foucault has described the famous “Great Confinement” in France, of vagabonds and beggars, fools and the like in the seventeenth century. But we also read, in Marx, of sixteenth-century England, the formation of this displaced, dispossessed populace, and the bloody legislation which it was subjected to: “The proletariat created by the breaking up of the bands of feudal retainers and by the forcible expropriation of the people from the soil, this ‘free’ proletariat could not possibly be absorbed by the nascent manufactures as fast as it was thrown upon the world. On the other hand, these men, suddenly dragged from their wonted mode of life, could not as suddenly adapt themselves to the discipline of their new condition. They were turned en masse into beggars, robbers, vagabonds, partly from inclination, in most cases from stress of circumstances. Hence at the end of the 15th and during the whole of the 16th century, throughout Western Europe a bloody legislation against vagabondage.”
Among all the laws that took place after Henry VIII, those of Edward VI in particular dedicated the following measures to children:
All persons have the right to take away the children of the vagabonds and to keep them as apprentices, the young men until the 24th year, the girls until the 20th. If they run away, they are to become up to this age the slaves of their masters, who can put them in irons, whip them, &c., if they like. Every master may put an iron ring round the neck, arms or legs of his slave, by which to know him more easily and to be more certain of him.
At the time of Elizabeth (1572): “Unlicensed beggars above 14 years of age are to be severely flogged and branded on the left ear unless some one will take them into service for two years.”Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Karl Marx, Frederick Engels. Volume 35, Capital Volume I (London: Lawrence & Wishart Electric Book, 2010), 723–25.
Greatly outnumbered, little girls martyred by gypsies! This massive abduction, which, according to Foucault’s words in Discipline and Punish, will progressively lose its bloody and ostentatious character to become more carefully “disciplinary,” indeed leaves the little abductions (minor abductions) occasionally enacted by seducers, gypsies, or ogres far behind. Taking it into consideration as a determining factor in the genesis of the bourgeois psychosis of abduction makes it possible to enact a separation On one hand is an Order, which we will rightly call with Fourier “subversive,” because it is born from the destruction of an old balance, and is maintained by the aggressive reversal against the victims of a first aggression—the imprisoning of thieves and beggars disturbing “order.” On the other hand, there is this margin of freedom that vagabondage expresses, and that, between two societies, non-localizable, only just named because having escaped from repression and imprisonment and strict codification, it will, for several centuries, persist in the cracks in the Order. Wretched wandering, yes, but exerting an inarguable pull on the inmates of the prisons or industries. It’s the haven of a free energy that, despite its precarious existence, is the last vestige of a vanished world. Within industrializing capitalist society, it begins to act as the spectre of vagabondage, all the more appealing as it might have signalled, at the very formation of a new corporate society, another outcome than that of family or factory.
It’s necessary, for this purpose, to quote all the text where Marx speaks of gangs of seasonal workers passing through England in the eighteen century and at the beginning of the nineteenth, text which certainly falls under, to use Jean-François Lyotard’s expression, the “libidinal economy” of Capital.Jean-François Lyotard, Libidinal Economy, trans. Iain Hamilton Grant (London: Continuum, 2004).
The gang consists of 10 to 40 or 50 persons, women, young persons of both sexes (13-18 years of age, although the boys are for the most part eliminated at the age of 13), and children of both sexes (6-13 years of age). At the head is the gang master, always an ordinary agricultural labourer, generally what is called a bad lot, a scapegrace, unsteady, drunken, but with a dash of enterprise and savoir faire. He is the recruiting-sergeant for the gang, which works under him, not under the farmer. He generally arranges with the latter for piece work, and his income, which on the average is not very much above that of an ordinary agricultural labourer, depends almost entirely upon the dexterity with which he manages to extract within the shortest time the greatest possible amount of labour from his gang. The farmers have discovered that women work steadily only under the direction of men, but that women and children, once set going, impetuously spend their lifeforce — as Fourier knew — while the adult male labourer is shrewd enough to economise his as much as he can. The gang master goes from one farm to another, and thus employs his gang from 6 to 8 months in the year. Employment by him is, therefore, much more lucrative and more certain for the labouring families, than employment by the individual farmer, who only employs children occasionally. This circumstance so completely rivets his influence in the open villages that children are generally only to be hired through his instrumentality. The lending out of these individually, independently of the gang, is his second trade. The “drawbacks” of the system are the overwork of the children and young persons, the enormous marches that "they make daily to and from the farms, 5, 6, and sometimes 7 miles distant, finally, the demoralisation of the gang. Although the gang master, who, in some districts is called “the driver,” is armed with a long stick, he uses it but seldom, and complaints of brutal treatment are exceptional. He is a democratic emperor, or a kind of Pied Piper of HamelinEmphasis added.
. He must therefore be popular with his subjects, and he binds them to himself by the charms of the gipsy life under his direction. Coarse freedom, a noisy jollity, and obscenest impudence give attractions to the gang. Generally the gang master pays up in a public house; then he returns home at the head of the procession reeling drunk, propped up right and left by a stalwart virago, while children and young persons bring up the rear, boisterous, and singing chaffing and bawdy songs. On the return journey what Fourier calls “phanerogamie,” is the order of the day. The getting with child of girls of 13 and 14 by their male companions of the same age, is common. The open villages which supply the contingent of the gang become Sodoms and Gomorrahs, and have twice as high a rate of illegitimate births as the rest of the kingdom. The moral character of girls bred in these schools, when married women, was shown above. Their children, when opium does not give them the finishing stroke, are born recruits of the gang.Marx and Engels, Karl Marx, Frederick Engels. Volume 35, Capital Volume I, 685–86.
Marx’s offended prudishness fails to conceal the attraction that the bands offer, even for him—the margin of freedom that, even through the misery and exploitation, they offer to a disciplinarized society. The phantasmagoria of these bacchic processions, rightly appealing to childhood, where it swarms, fornicates, intermingles. This marginal anti-society is another world indeed, the desired world. A possibility of history offered, but missed, thanks to these great movements of deterritorialization which periodically gave: Moll Flanders, introduced as early as childhood into prostitution and adventure, then today on a massive scale the fifteen-year-old Khmer Rouge, yesterday the fighters of 92, whose youth battalions were inseparable from the dawn of a new society, for Hölderlin for example, who wrote it in his letters.Friedrich Hölderlin, “Letter to Neuffer,” 1792.
Marx’s double reference to Fourier shows well that for him, the mention of gangs (only evoked to be rejected, it’s true, but what counts is the explicit letter of the text more than its doctrinal intent), concerns a world of desire, and more specifically a desire where childhood takes its place through the full and happy exercise of its passions. The reference to the charming Pied Piper is there as a reminder that escape outside towns and family is its condition, that this childhood in freedom needs first of all to be abducted. It is true that Fourier’s society, the phalanstery, is not vagabond in the same way, that it is no longer enslaved to grueling and alienated labor. But there are also bands of Chivalry, Love, or Industry wandering among the phalanxes, from one to the other and through the world, so it is equally vagabond in constitution, and, in a manner of speaking, from within. Because the children are appropriately trained through little bands or hordes, and all circulate from one point of work to another with a mixture of sexes and ages. In Fourier, the band is taken seriously as a model of attractive cohesion, put to work in social production according to a passional order, and not according to the rules of discipline.
Thus the band could be another outcome for civilization than the strict disciplinary form adopted for the factory, first by capitalism, then by Marxism following in its steps. An outcome for childhood other than the alternative, first for bourgeois, then proletarian: either factory work, or “liberating” education, the two being in the same relationship with the repression of the blossoming of passion, with discipline and the privatization of children in the familial circle, the single place where children will be required to transport all their desires and all their daydreams.
But children themselves, or what remains of them, dream of the rat catcher. “Phanerogamy,” i.e. open blossoming of sex and love, attracts them, far from repelling them; the road is their domain.
Theory of Abduction
Compared with this irresistible tendency to vagrancy, toward the outside, which should be understood not as an individual fantasy of the immature or disturbed being, but as another historical possibility, it is clear that the psychoanalytic childishnesses don’t cut it. We refuse to treat vagrancy, flight, and everything that is placed in the context of abduction and belongs to its category, as a characteristic of psychic dysfunction. The opposite is true, which is the social and individual disease of sedentism, the great distortion for which all the techniques of power and confinement had to be mobilized.
We have said that Fernand Deligny’s great idea was taking the side of vagrancy, but we must repeat it as a principle: it’s no longer about catching children in the institution to bring back, reconciled, to their families, but of allowing them to exist outside of everything that the family denies.Deligny, Nous et l’innocent; Deligny, Les vagabonds efficaces, et autres récits, etc.
Jean Genet speaks in the same sense in The Criminal Child, not to try to rehabilitate the delinquent despite himself, but to bring out the force of his own affirmation and revolt: “[Y]ou must not presume that it is enough for you to condescend to the criminal child, lavishing your attention, your concern, your indulgence upon him in the belief that he will respond with affection and gratitude . . . I’ve made my own decision, however: I’m on the side of crime. And I’ll help these children, not to return to your houses, your factories, your schools, your laws, and your sacraments, but to steal them all.”Jean Genet, “The Criminal Child,” in The Criminal Child: Selected Essays, trans. Charlotte Mandell and Jeffrey Zuckerman, 2020, 11.
Even if adapted or “shattered,” the institution has nothing to do with childhood. Childhood’s natural or native place is not the home, however it is described (debilitating and infantilizing, where everything is done to remind children of their weakness and dependence). Rather, it is the outside or escape, where there is no problem at all of children’s subordination (any more than of their consent or their present childish desire, “envy”), but only a problem with respect to what, for adults, is irreparably limited by the codified circles they move in, whether they be those of profession, class or family, of that which sets them apart.
At this point abduction intervenes, with its effect of harsh disruption and liberatory violence against the codes, from the outset in a very real and obvious relationship, but, with respect to the language made to refer to the child’s membership in some family or institution, unnameable. What would the child be alongside an abductor, pederast or not: his boy or his son, his disciple, his follower, his apprentice, his sidekick? The words fail to name the thing. We had the page, the greenhorn, the catamite. But in any case, the relationship is unclassifiable, hence its scandal and its cost.
We say abduction, and not the fiction of children left to themselves.
The modern theories debate between two conceptions of childhood, each as artificial as the other: one where children are produced by couples and whatever they do, can’t disentangle themselves from their parents, the other which makes them into blank slates susceptible to everything in its spontaneity, provided that adults give them what has been called since Rousseau a “negative education.”
In both cases adults have full control over children, either because they are their producers, or because they are the only ones to penetrate their mystery and possess the secret of the arrangements appropriate to them. Thus, holding themselves back and letting a being which they are the author of evolve in the space of freedom that they have arranged for him, they can spy the incursion of the danger, of the absolute disturbing and savage Other, to oppose the violence which would upset this arrangement.
Having created this fictional being, they can therefore give themselves the luxury of “leaving them to themself,” knowing all too well that, formed in their image, in any event they will come back to them. That’s why they aren’t so much afraid of children being “free,” of that freedom encoded in controlled structures, but rather of them being taken from them.
The child is not an entity as such. Some have discovered this and said it (Mannoni and Mendel, among the latest),Maud Mannoni, The Child, His “Illness,” and the Others (Maresfield, 1987); Gérard Mendel, Pour décoloniser l’enfant., 1971.
but to bring the obvious into the standard, psychoanalytic, political: making children exist outside the words of the parents and their desire that annihilates them (Mannoni), that with those of the same age they acquire a class existence in front of adults (Mendel), without damaging, on either side, the structuring of the world they belong to and which has constituted them as “children.” Yet the fact that there is not a child “per se” means above all that childhood is not a fixed stage which the adult age simply follows, but that there is a permanence of childhood regarding not only this but society in general. It means this furthermore, and even firstly, because this must be the starting-point: that the “child” is not the family’s child, irrevocably identified, that this supposedly constitutive membership is, on the contrary, an avatar.
We are victims of the invincible, historically produced illusion which originates from a slow habituation to the familial appropriation of children. They have been progressively stripped of what allowed them to exist as social beings, to become private property. But we know that this appropriation, this supposedly natural state of things, is in fact the result of an initial violence, which, in its social massiveness, could only be tolerated because it was and remains constantly denied. It must be the case that children have never been stolen, destroyed, and then reshaped by Capital, assigned to responsible families, so that the State institutions may appear as the slow development of progress “for their own good” and abduction can be constituted as a social danger and fantasized of as a major crime.
It’s only in the periods where the abduction of children becomes massive again that it again starts to play the role of critical revealer with respect to the modern system of childhood, and that it makes manifest the libidinal energies invested and perverted in it, in its tragic and ambiguous beauty.
Michel Tournier, in the fifth part of The Erl-King, “The Ogre of Kaltenborn,” knew how to play with this ambiguity admirably well. On one side is the bloody order of Nazism, which organizes the abduction of children for war training and eugenic selection (the institution of Napola). But built on this, there is the investment in the register of desire of the pederastic passion of Tiffauges, with the homosexual community of children that he organizes, where he perverts the institution.Michel Tournier, The Erl-King, trans. Barbara Bray (London: Collins, 1972).
In Tiffauges himself the two are mingled and at the same time make him the sinister recruiter of Napola, the Ogre, and the seducer who revives and reveals the secret impulses, the buried beauties. For us, it’s not here about returning to the example which can be given—as Deleuze and Guattari showed, following Reich, in Anti-OedipusGilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Mark Seem, Robert Hurley, and Helen R Lane (New York: Penguin Books, 2009).
—that Nazism, in order to be suffered, was desired. That is, to show how the oppressive social order is only maintained as the object of monstrous investments in the libidinal sphere. What interests us is not the economy of Nazism (nor does that form Tournier’s theme), but understanding how abduction, carried out for the sake of the great despotic machine, is made not the flattener and destroyer of childhood, but rather a poem of childhood, carrier of childhood: how it modernizes the “phoria”—this is Tournier’s word, and the door to a “paroxysm of incandescence.”
Unlike another poem, which is said to be pedagogical, by the educator MakarenkoAnton Semonovich Makarenko, The Road to Life: An Epic of Education in Three Parts (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1955).
—whose objective is to normalize wandering childhood in the iron corset of the adult Soviet citizen and so to essentially channel or standardize its libidinal aura, its wild threatening drives, to identify it so as to make useful for the political discourse—The Erl-King interrogates the essential distinctiveness of childhood, emphasizing above all that its appeal depends on its otherness. Children are not “the future of mankind,” they are its contemporary, carried by a desire that isn’t the one of parenthood or education, and doesn’t refer to any pedagogical matrix; as we said above, it is implied by nothing in language, unnameable. It is therefore necessary, as everything in the institutions and discourse refers to their transformation into another, that children, in order to become what they are, first be abducted. Only abduction manifests them as desired bodies, it gives them the objective presence of being that, under the pretext of recognizing them as “people,” pedagogy’s reductionist (and not “phoric”) vision, which sees in them only the man in training or development, denies them. “Objective” phoria, but in the positive that a spiritual humanism gives it, not a pejorative one. It is objective in the sense of the objective being which alone exists. A materialist stance for the apprehension of the child such as in themself they call abduction, the man ready to carry them. We are not far from Marx’s materialist propositions on objective being; “A being which is not itself an object for some third being has no being for its object; i.e., it is not objectively related. Its being is not objective. . . . A non-objective being is a non-being”Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, “Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844,” in Karl Marx, Frederick Engels. Volume 3, Karl Marx, March 1843-August 1844 (London: Lawrence & Wishart Electric Book, 2010), 337.
A proposition in which it is by no means a matter of opposing the passive “object” to a “subject” thought to be only private and active, but on the contrary of restoring all its power to the real bodily presence, within the network of passional forces, against the idealist conceptions of the famous “reciprocity.” Children, objective beings of desire, objects of abduction, cease to be reduced to their sign function, i.e. to what they represent as potential substitutable subjects, for the survival of the adult world; abduction reveals what is irreducible in their precious individuality.
But do they understand it? They turn away from it, they only want to see the sign-child. As objects of desire, they must die. That is the condition of their access to social survival in the arms of the father: an incurable blindness, a deadening fantasy where the incandescent abduction is transformed. Serge Leclaire, citing Goethe’s ballad “The Erl-King,” only remembers the last verse, “the child lay dead in his arms,” to illustrate from it the fantasy “a child is being killed.”Serge Leclaire, A Child Is Being Killed: On Primary Narcissism and the Death Drive, trans. Marie-Claude Hays (Stanford University: Stanford University Press, 1998), 2.
He forgets that the Erl-King, in his mystery and his charm, is not an evocation of death, but an appeal to another life. Not the child’s death, unless seen from the father’s point of view, but his phoria. And if the ballad expresses death alright, at the same time it suggests to the child the enchanted shores where the Child-Bearer [pédophore] is going to lead him, the desired violence which can only be opposed to slow death by suffocation. The child’s death is only ever the consequence of the repeated silence that the father sets against his demand
’Father, father, do you not hear
what the Erlking softly promises me?’
’Calm, be calm, my child:
the wind is rustling in the withered leaves.’
But the only response to this oblivious denial is the life-giving seduction from the one who evokes and arouses:
’I love you, your fair form allures me,
and if you don’t come willingly, I’ll use force.’Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “Erlkönig,” in Schubert, the Complete Song Texts, trans. Richard Wigmore (London: Gollancz, 1992).
Finally, we must revisit the close kinship which links abduction, flight, vagabondage, abandonment, theft and purchase. Not only because these “figures” are linked in children’s desire, but because children effectively define their own being to themselves as “for others” and this is what marks out the very special place in these figures that the adult inhabits. Certainly it could be objected that this place, perfectly assigned in abduction, is not the same to them in flight or abandonment, which are even distinguished by their lack of adults and draw for children the path or course to a free state. Let’s leave aside, of course, the reductive interpretations which, seeing a traumatizing occasion in abandonment and a pathological behavior in running away, effectively bring these figures back to scenarios evolving around the adult, father or mother, whose presence is required in the identification process without which children are supposedly unable to survive (see Mannoni, Klein, Laing, etc.). But, outside this famous identification which leads one to believe that being understood always and exclusively as “child of…” is constitutively necessary, the fact remains that understanding the child-as-wandering-orphan as pre-given is an illusion. There is always someone, only it can’t be father or mother. Runaways go before a world which isn’t, as has been said, an empty desert, and even they can only be assured against the temptation to go back by new investments. Not so much that they needs support in their weakness, but because only the intrusion of an adult in a new form (the seducer, corruptor, or protector, either way one that’s no longer in the parental or pedagogical position) guarantees through their power of seduction the assertion of a runaway’s own being.
It’s necessary to go even further, in fact, and instead of conceiving abduction or abandonment as aberrant facts, admit that from the beginning, from their birth, children are in the power of abandonment and abduction. Real abandonment and abduction are only the redundancy or explanation of what their initial condition is. It took the ideological bashing and theoretical illusion precisely produced by psychoanalysis for us not to yield to this evidence, coming to the support of the movement undertaken by (particularly pedagogical) disciplinary bodies in the course of the last century.
We start from the idea that familial production of children involves a strict intrafamilial dialectic. This is hardly believed anymore at the level of the general economy, but is increasingly believed at the level of desire (libidinal economy). We said dialectic, because this word implies and integrates a whole system of contradictions. Certainly, what makes a doctrine like psychoanalysis strong, asserts its influence and establishes the mystification that it sustains, is that it conceived family relationships structured by integrating hate as well as love, rejection as well as acceptance, desire for death as well as the one of enjoyment and appropriation. But eventually it comes down to what happens inside the couple with their offspring. Its position would have been untenable, it is true (although in its popular form it boils down to this), if it had been content to confirm the sanctimonious and political ideology of the couple in the way it’s developed explicitly in contemporaneous society: there is no greater love than familial love, the child loves their mother and father more than all the world, and the parents cherish their children and can’t lose them, give them away or abandon them voluntarily. No, amid all this and to make it seem real, it’s necessary to mix hate, devourings, rejections, but ultimately just to confirm the indissociable unity of the matrix cell. The interpretation indeed cements the relationships around a drive complex more fundamental than simple and positive love, it makes intrusion from outside into something ancillary or secondary. What happens inside is always the key. Thus psychoanalysis contents itself to refine and complicate moral ideology’s famous maternal or paternal instinct, rather than contest it. The pure and simple rejection of children, the desire to be rid of them can never be taken seriously, but must be understood on the basis of an original desire which has only been diverted or frustrated. In constructing the child in the theoretical perspective of the symbolization of the relationship of women and men, as representing the unreachable phallus, organizer of all desire, contemporary psychoanalysm can understand everything and integrate everything by bringing it all back to the same. A couple can’t get rid of a child any more than the phallus. Or, if they really do it, it’s because they hold to it all the more.
But if we discard these theoretical postulates, things are presented in a completely different way. If we consider that psychoanalysis is rooted in making absolute a family which is temporary and artificial, if not fictional, produced from the ideology of the couple, and which for children became their natural environment only historically, rejection and abandonment cease to be problematic—both on the child’s side and the couple’s side.
For children, the couple’s life is only ever the monstrous limitation required of their affectivity and investments. So how is it surprising that they look elsewhere for what they need?
For the couple, the obligatory child—i.e. obligatorily fastened to their mother and father and taken charge of—is equally only the unwanted representative of this limitation that history has imposed. Fourier saw this well, from the beginning of the nineteenth century; he was the first and the only to have pushed this piece of evidence up to its ultimate consequences, unmasking the different faces of familial hypocrisy emanating from the constraint imposed by the couple’s falsity as an unbearable group. He dismantles both its material and its libidinal economies, detecting in it the source of all the false antinomies and false feelings, since a mother can equally well not want to nurse or love, a father may want to get rid of his children, and the children may desire to be free of either. In capturing the family in its historical empiricity, he reduces to nothing all the conjuring tricks of those who look for irreducible structural necessities in it.
The truth is that the family can only get by and live in this ideological straitjacket by carefully maintaining hypocrisy within itself. When rejection or abandonment of children surfaces, it causes scandal. “Unworthy parents” are spoken of for a few months, those of Aiglemont, for example, who for the month of August in 1975 had gone on vacation, leaving their children at home unsupervised; one must seriously wonder as to whether “not loving one’s children is a crime” (Le Monde, 24 October). But the question must be presented the other way around: whether familial love is only bearable because in the majority of cases, the financial and emotional burden of children is constantly handed over to others, without daring to say so explicitly.
In Freud’s time, it was maids whom his blind moralism condemned as the early seductresses, while from the point of view of children whose senses were awakening as much as as that of the parents they relieved of loathsome or exhausting jobs, they were the ones who made the bourgeois family’s existence possible. And, more than the maids who tend to disappear and hardly concern any but the bourgeoisie, more than this little world of servants and valets, “corrupters” by nature (see The Turn of the Screw by Henry James and the two films based on it, The Innocents and The Nightcomers [Le corrupteur]Jack Clayton, The Innocents (Twentieth Century Fox, Achilles, 1961); Michael Winner, The Nightcomers (Elliott Kastner-Jay Kanter-Alan Ladd Jnr Productions, Scimitar Productions, 1972).
); more than the father and mother, the “natural” framework of childhood was the troop of “friends of the family,” second-hand tutors, or “guardians.”
Taking a closer look, there is undoubtedly no bourgeois or proletarian family that is not surrounded by them, and we say that this is indeed the condition (though it still kills) for surviving it. Although at this point childcare by collective institutions tends to bury or regulate this type, in this way turning children’s world into a desert, plunging it into rebellion, disease, and disarray. Because the introduction of the institution that penetrates throughout the family certainly does not aim to multiply outcomes of beneficial and wandering passions, but on the contrary to complete by its encirclement the reduction of the socius to the smallest and most false group. With the support of advanced techniques, first and foremost psychoanalysis, the collective institution forces the couple to no longer be anything but itself, linked to a string of assigned children.
But we see in contrast in the golden age, the nineteenth century, the proliferation of this troop of child-ravishers [ravisseurs d’enfants] with the tacit collusion of families, and the ambiguity of their role. Because on one hand, they participated in the broad agreement of adults, while on the other they served to ensure an arrangement between adults and childhood which can no longer be found.
The paradox or irony is that these figures generally come into the familial or educational novel. One sees them sprawl obligingly in these edifying books for the young, though as a counterpoint, those same books are rife with the dreaded abductions, done by street performers or vagabonds. That’s when the good guardian is opposed to the corruptor, the English M. Georgey, guardian of the little Julien and Frédéric, to the perverse band which Alcide is part of, in Le mauvais génie [The Evil Genius] by the Countess of Ségur, and the generous dandy Abel, guardian of Jean-Who-Laughs, to the bottom-floor company of his cousin, in her book Jean qui grogne et Jean qui rit [Jean-Who-Grumbles and Jean-Who-Laughs]. It’s a guardian, Monsieur Féréor, who ensures the Fortune de Gaspard. In The Young Student by Madame Guizot, it’s a series of cascading guardians: Victor, the enigmatic and attractive stranger, saves the young Raoul from the fall, as he has been pulled himself from villainy by the generous Monsieur Leblanc, who is welcoming to young people estranged from their families.Madame Guizot, The Young Student, or, Ralph and Victor, trans. Samuel Jackson (New-York; Philadelphia: D. Appleton and Co., 1844).
All that is properly moral, apparently. But it’s not the explicit lesson that matters; what is shown by all these novels is the fascination, close to childhood and families, exercised by guardians. It matters little whether they corrupt or bring back to the fold, because from the point of view where we place ourselves here, every guardian necessarily occupies the place of corrupter. Outside the family is indeed a focus of attraction, a compass of passion, the displacement of the linchpin, as Fourier said.
In his Harmony, Fourier, who is adept at taking up the hypocritical tolerances which slip into the cracks of the civilized order in a positive way, rightly multiplies for childhood these graybeard lovers of girls or young boys, with the preferential inheritance that they pass out, and who sanction the departitioning of ages and classes, in a world finally defamilialized.
Because the guardian’s intervention, as much as it is a counterbalance to familial confinement, disinfantilizes children, not only by putting in motion their stifled passions, but because it brings them into contact with the real world. It brings them into contact with the adult and what remains the great secret of the family’s father, money, the source which children never have access to, and whose lack of enjoyment is always one of the primary reasons for their dependency. It’s a burdensome prohibition, because to refuse children money is to make them inaccessible to others, money being always in the last resort what their families “hold them with.”
Yet, whatever it costs in money, whatever money is always at stake between the institutions they’re hauled among, which their bodies and souls are sold to or their health bought from in small pieces, children always have an alienating certainty of it. They can only be freed from it by direct sale by prostitution, the intervention of the guardian, or actually becoming producers. By producer, we mean having an actual, invaluable, even decisive function in social production, as is indicated by Fourier for instance, and not simply being put to the task so as to be occupied, maybe earning a little pocket money. Operation in production, share in wealth, and non-insertion in the “world of work,” Mannoni proposes, as an exit from the legal and familial double closure. Because this insertion, for the sake of small change or apprenticeship, again standardizes the child according to the adult. It doesn’t withstand the criticisms which can be put against the idea (truth to tell, rather strange) of compensating one alienation by means of another. In any case, let’s be sure of it, what frees children, like everyone else, is not work, but access to money: their situation is no more freed by signing employment contracts than is that of “free” working adults. They can buy in this way only a fictive freedom, all the more equivocal since they remain the prey of both institution and family, where relations of domination and servitude rule.
A guardian on the contrary frees them from these relations, including by the money they can give; even if, for the child, this money continues to come from another and is not directly the product of their activity, because the fact that the guardian has chosen them already enables it. That another is in a position to contest their progenitors and that they abduct them for their own sake—it’s at this point that the cut is made in the compact tissue of their alienation, this transversal displacement that permits them to be with the adult, not on an equal footing—formal “equality” is hardly important, and what does it even mean?—but on a footing of complicity. The child being accomplice of the adult means the possibility of escaping from the mire of the family “We”Jules Girardin and Émile Bayard, Nous autres (Paris: Hachette, 1900).
to cast a new gaze on “their own” which allows the child to say just as easily “them.”Henry James, “The Pupil,” in The Complete Works of Henry James., 2013.
Playing the card of complicity in their turn against the great adult complicity directed against them is the strategy of childhood, if there is one. Caught up in the interweaving of different discourses, revising the assumed and the unspoken is their way of not being fooled by the traps. Children can play the fool to bug the othersMannoni, The Child, His “Illness,” and the Others.
; on the cutting line of their flight, they can also grasp the beam that an adult stretches to them on occasion. But let’s pierce the illusion; childhood is never where it’s looked for. It’s always a way of being outside, of overturning the adult logic by the speed of its movements. When taken, the child is removed, in each of the interventions that come from themself, just as one says of a line or a sketch that they are removed (like a fabric stain). The essential thing is knowing how to scoop them up at the right time.
The unique interest of Henry James’ short story The Pupil comes from what it acknowledges in childhood, this mixture of both lightness and heaviness which makes it always the master of the devices that the adult has put in place to enclose it, that it shows the child lifting the adult masks, unveiling the assumptions of discourse, preparing himself, by breaking the loose complicity and providing himself with new ones, the capture [enlèvement] that will finally allow him to be, because his own life is at stake.
We must first recall the story, even though it’s indescribable and challenges any condensation: the little Morgan is entrusted by his parents, the Moreens, to a young tutor, Pemberton. The Moreens are bohemians, adventurers of the wide world who, while having a sincere and admiring affection for the exceptionally and precociously intelligent Morgan, only have one thought: to offload him on someone else, as much as possible without paying. Morgan suspects it, knows it, and is ashamed of them, and reveals it to Pemberton, whom he quickly develops a tender friendship with. But Pemberton loathes to recognize the falseness of his situation, only resolving himself to it reluctantly on the boy’s insistence, and, helped by the boy, who cannot bear the behavior of his family, temporarily finds a place elsewhere. He is soon recalled by Morgan’s mother, who entrusts him with the child again until, facing a financial collapse, she begs him to take charge of him totally, to take him away. This fulfills the dearest wish of Morgan, who has already envisioned this outcome several times, but overcome by too strong an emotion, the little boy dies at the announcement of the satisfaction of his desire.
Let’s leave the summary, and instead look at the interweaving of themes, where the extraordinary comes into resonance with very familiar secrets: the child and his family, humiliated by his own, the child with his tutor as comrade he believes in and befriends, the child as perceptive judge of adult hypocrisy who takes action to outwit it. The Pupil is the ironic reversal of the educational novel, the veil lifted on the unspoken fact that the true questions in tutelage are not those of teaching but of money, mocking the serious adult in order to substitute a completely different seriousness. From the start, the child puts adults against the wall, reminding them of their cowardice, their inconsistency and their falsehood.
But it’s also the child among the adults, enjoying himself by outwitting their plots, not looking for his autonomy by separating himself from them, but by opposing his truth to their masquerades. It’s not merely a little world of childhood opposed to the other, the real, and where, in its insignificance, the adult would be all too happy to confine the child.
For Henry James, and other of his works confirm it, there is only one world, where the child acts as revealer. The Morgan’s strength and that of James’ text come from the fact that the child doesn’t try to run away alone, but induces Pemberton to take him away, that he questions him: “‘Take me away—take me away,’ Morgan went on, smiling to Pemberton with his white face.” What he prepares is “escape” with an adult whom he’s put in a position to take him away if he doesn’t want to be the accomplice of his parents and their spinelessness. What Morgan requires of him is to break the tacit agreement of adults against childhood. Being an adult, on the other hand, hesitating between the parents and “his little charge,” Pemberton doesn’t care at all to “have Morgan on his hands again indefinitely,” although he loves him. In fact, he would be satisfied by an average and mundane solution without problems. Paradoxically, he’s more comfortable with the false situation that Morgan was first to expose (“You know they don’t pay you up,”) than with the idea of putting a child on his back and taking him with him. He’s not at all the Child-Bearer; Morgan has to prepare his own abduction.
On the parents’ side, The Pupil exposes the inherent charlatanism in handing children over to the hands of educators: forcing their hands to care for them, but not wanting to be accused of abandonment: The mother declares that “[h]e had taken the boy away from them and now had no right to abandon him. He had created for himself the gravest responsibilities and must at least abide by what he had done”; but, if they go as far as offering that he take the child away, it’s with the restriction temporarily: “to take their delightful child temporarily under his protection.” So, when Morgan understands “forever”: “‘For ever and ever? Comme vous-y-allez!’ Mr. Moreen laughed indulgently.”
Between tutor and parents, there would easily be an agreement of convenience, a little like in Dostoevsky’s The Eternal Husband. An agreement to bury under simple verbal declarations the desire-to-be of a child that everyone agrees is intelligent and gifted, adorable, his mother’s darling, loved by Pemberton. All this is sincere, up until the act.
Morgan’s act is breaking this agreement, forcing the tutor to emerge from compromises. And let’s note that it’s not a matter of the familial novel’s love-starved child or the runaway. Morgan is not a pathological case, he’s the lightning flash of understanding of what is woven around and about him in the comedy of love and education. There is certainly a shame he feels, seeing his parents act in dishonest and stingy ways, which makes him cry out “rascally crew!” But this is the anecdotal part, a way Henry James has of circumscribing an otherwise unspeakable situation, by latching onto more recognizable feelings like the child’s offended dignity and his rebellion against the scandal of a family he bears the name of. James’ novel is not familial. It is a novel about a breach which is not justified by good sense or morality, but is based on the awareness that the child has of only being contingently bound to parents.
The important thing, which only certain touches imply: the third person which Morgan uses to refer to the Moreens. “[T]hey,” “theirs,” “those who ‘bore his name,’” “them.” “He tries to imitate me,” says he of his elder, to the great amusement of his mother, and while the younger is supposed to respect the hierarchy of ages in the family. But it’s the fact that he’s aware, on his own, of “how little he had in common with them.” The question that Pemberton asks himself at his first meeting with Morgan: “Where his detachment from most of the things [his family] represented had come from,” which he tries to explain as an atavism, or the granting of an exceptional intelligence, has no valid response except “exception” itself. It’s an exception only if it’s put into the familial logic; it becomes the rule if the conventions this logic defines childhood by are reversed.
When it’s done, The Pupil acts as an apologetic. The surprising thing is not that children differ from their parents, but that they resemble them (or are forced into resembling, as the psychologist Zazzo observed very well of twins in a different contextRené Zazzo, Les jumeaux, le couple et la personne (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1960), 684 and following, chapter 10, “couple parental et couple gémellaire.”
), not that they judge them, but that they acquiesce to them, not that they consider their names an embarrassment, but that they slip under them so easily, not that they wish to be carried off, but that they fear it, and not that there can be child abductors, but that there is so much cowardliness in abducting them.
Because it is well understood that James’ “extraordinary little boy” Morgan is only an ordinary child, who begins to exist as soon as he leaves the familial triangle in the company of whomever else he trusts and loves, “unconscious and irresponsible and amusing,” with a “freshness [which] still made there a strong draught for jokes.” A child who “as regards the behaviour of mankind, had noticed more things than you might suppose, but who nevertheless had his proper playroom of superstitions.” The child is not fooled, is beyond all bargaining, and only abduction, in whatever form it takes, can make that visible.
Quote-Break: A Childhood Novel
“You want to know why? . . . Of all the trades in the world, there’s only one that really suits me.”
“And what trade would that be?”
“That of eating, drinking, sleeping, playing, and wandering wherever I like from sunup to sundown.”
— Collodi, Pinocchio
This first quotation should be followed by a threading of novel quotations, fiction quotations; thus would what we call a childhood novel be built. A web of fictions cut from a stack of books—books all the more easily butchered as they’re perfectly heterogeneous. Round them up: the big white-covered novels (Lolita, The Erl-King, The Chosen…) the children’s books, the old flea books (Le perroquet vert, L’écolier…), small slightly precious volumes like those by Henry James or one short story by Thomas Mann, forming a shaky stack, a heap of fun books. The only “credentials.” Barely credentials at all, since it’s a matter of readings taken in their emotion, not their meaning. It would be best to reach a novel of novels, a fictional rhapsody; only the Novel in the broad sense tells us anything about it.
About what, by the way? We were going to say “about childhood,” but we are going to quickly discover that the expression “world of childhood” is only the sad classifier that serves to seal off that fictional proliferation. The rhapsody of intuitions-impressions that we describe is prior to the systematic concept of the family/school demarcation childhood. Descriptive continuation of a native constellation, novel of a novel, that of the childhood novel.
We already know that pedagogic logocentrism at the same time constitutes both the pedagogy which gives the child its place, and the idea-world or discourse whose nonexistent existence makes necessary and establishes the neutralization of childish affects.
The inevitable swirling vacuum which the theoretical literature on childhood sinks into reminds us that all these tests (in the sense of the pedagogic method, trials and errors) only shape the constitution of the same child in a hollow, armor as empty as that of Calvino’s Nonexistent Knight.
Only the novel speaks to us of what has been returned and emptied of substance in “childhood,” because only the novel is self-sufficient, “pure event,” as said a twin then unpaired in The Logic of Sense, elsewhere present in person as a “logical novel.” There is a difference, we are told, between a masochist and Sacher-Masoch. The first experiences a familial novel, whose symptoms he tries to perform, the second writes a novel for its own sake. The childhood novel whose motifs we have in mind to describe is distinguished from the “interior world of childhood” in the same way as effectuation of the family neurosis. A childhood novel or a childhood novelized outside family, an equivalence which makes sense in the place where we are. And we see how much one has to be entangled in family/school values to require in the name of “truth” that the children (“themselves” will certainly be added) be asked to tell the novel of childhood, to tell it to the sociological tapes.
Thus one passes from what is told to the law of the one which tells it/him to tell it. Return the childhood novel to its supposed subject, confuse the underling imposed by the familial construction and the colorful stream going through it, that is what is imposed on us with “investigations.” But then, if only the child can speak of childhood, we would have to admit:
The child/adult cut as evident in each of us, “forgetting > childhood,” or retaining it only as unconscious. No one, it is > claimed, can live more than one single childhood, and this is what > we find more and more dubious. “It is not more surprising to be > born twice than once.” We make this phoenixian motto of Princess > Bibesco’s our own.
That childhood is indeed that collection of attributes and > projections of the surveilling gaze, a simple object of study and > obstacles to adulthood.
That the great pedagogical and familial Difference, the one between > reality and fiction, still concerns us.
The anodyne required of the novel is of the same nature as what is called in Freud “screen memory.” But only the screen interests us, and not what there is behind: we will persist in taking the images manifested there as such, in their anecdotal and anodyne wealth, far from the bloodlessness of childhood memories. The discourse of experiences secured to the child forbids us the transversal clash whose price we feel. “Lived experiences” are only the subjective and involuntary strengthening of a discourse on children—so many symptoms.
We will therefore settle for describing the colorful and intense patterns appearing in a childhood sky that is really present overhead. It is enough to lift it instead of bending it on itself—the unconscious child. A novelistic [romanesque] sky, to be sure, that pedagogy will hasten to name by distorting as “romantic.”
All this that the System of childhood only sees in indications of the refusal to become, material for the test to grade, is the only surface where the Difference that brings the imaginary back to a claim to reality is abolished.
Hence the descriptive pace and hopping step, since it’s only in leapfrogging and interweaving that we can find our way in it, or get lost in it as ex-children. There we see the right method to stop “making childhood” by assuming the game of exteriority/interiority. Therefore we will describe the following patterns: twins, the ogre, cryptophasia, the green parrot, the maniac pederast, stars of the childish constellation . . .
The novel, with its own movement, blows up the difference between novel and reality. There is certainly a difference between little Patrick, who made the Edouard-Pailleron college burn like straw, and Tournier’s character, Tiffauges, setting fire to his own high school in The Erl-King: the one introduced by the pedagogical intervention (which Patrick will be indebted to for many years of reeducation). It’s exactly what we’re accused of: they confuse novels and life, these child-torches. They don’t know how to mark the Difference, being indeed more gifted for repetition than difference; look at the continuation of school fires since. Like Pinocchio, they don’t make the distinction between a painted (or imagined) fire and a real fire—the adventure that Collodi can only have placed at the start of his text to pedagogically introduce said difference.
Sure, the fire will burn Pinocchio, but we will see that it won’t inconvenience him otherwise. The pedagogized fire only burns the fingers of kids already enslaved to the apprenticeship of reality.
We will speak of the child as a nymphet, an animal, and an aesthetic object, anything but as a child. But let it be clear that this isn’t about a system of representation or a metaphor: nothing is more real for us. We will also see later coming out of shady parks with stagnant waters, these precious fine pale blond little mannerists who can tell us so much about that important chapter of the childhood novel, minor incest and love between brothers and sisters. But here is a passage from Nabokov’s Ada which encourages us to see the entire world as a painting:
At the next turning, the romantic mansion appeared on the gentle eminence of old novels . . . Notwithstanding the variety, amplitude and animation of great trees that had long replaced the two regular rows of stylized saplings (thrown in by the mind of the architect rather than observed by the eye of a painter) Van immediately recognized Ardis Hall as depicted in the two-hundred-year-old aquarelle that hung in his father’s dressing room: the mansion sat on a rise overlooking an abstract meadow with two tiny people in cocked hats conversing not far from a stylized cow.
If Van immediately recognized Ardis, which he only knew as a painting, it’s because he instantly incorporates it like in a chapter of his own novel. The ardors of Ardis burn like the painted fire in Pinocchio, by their abstract virtue, thanks to the conquest of bright colorful surfaces without depth, with comical, slippery, rapid movements and bold colors. It’s also that of the cartoon, the one which the young Edwin Mullhouse, immortal author of the great childhood novel Cartoons, participates in. His classmate Jeffrey Cartwright told The Life and Death (he died at eleven) of the brilliant novelist in the work by Steven Millhauser. A fine example of interweaving between fiction and “the real,” covering our contemporary writer with the fictional biography of a fictional author.
In Jeffrey’s text, any house is only the open-roofed dollhouse, the sky is watercolor, the horizons and the sun are cartoon projections. Storm:
with a sound of crumpled cellophane, it began to rain. The drops were immense; within minutes the playground was uniformly dark. The wind flung rain against our windows with a sound of fingernails against glass, and scraped the gleaming garbage-can cover in short sharp bursts across the tar. A zigzag flash of lightning sawed the sky in half, followed by words like CRASH! and BOOM! Edwin’s nostrils flared; flushed and bright-eyed he searched the sky, as if anything so loud had to be visible.
Edwin says it over and over again, and this would be his last message: “I aspire to the condition of fiction.”
Strictly speaking, these two kids live a cartoon, a world without thickness, which each page of the text meticulously describes with intense colors, a universe exclusively artistic, simple crust on the transparency of the cellophane.
Our “artistic” bias could surprise, but the principal danger menacing here is that of understanding the castle of Ardis as the fantasy of the exalted spirits of Ada and Van, the romantic trait of their immaturity. Society reaches around these children to the pedagogical consensus. Ada and Van, Sieglinde and Siegmund (The Blood of the Walsungs), Jeffrey and Edwin, Wiligis and Sibylla (The Holy Sinner), the young girl with the green parrot, may soon be no more than excuses, like the unfortunate Alice, to better understand childhood, to better analyze, clarifications in the enterprise of knowledge. It is enough to make Wonderland pass from the slippery surface to the abysses of the psychology of fantasy. We will then always be able to mourn the subjugation of these fantasies to the course of becoming adult: the evil is done. It’s therefore not about describing in all this a fantasmatic wealth proper to certain individuals called “children”—which roughly forms the complement of the point of view of a certain sexual democracy of the young, the one which demands its freedom.
We won’t continue to represent the present state of things to ourselves as an oppression against an originally polymorphous and perverse being, a collection of potentials mistreated or eliminated by society. At least not in a simple and paradisiac fashion. The artistic surface in its arbitrariness, its non-subordination to the child, allows an escape from this fearsome killjoy, “liberated youth.”
Clearly. We must not start from children, from the empty place that they occupy, but from the studded network that immobilizes this place. It is no longer a matter of carrying out a critique of the pedagogical reduction so as to recover the true child; yes, the pederastra is first in relation to the pedagogical countereffect—or minor incest comes before the family. The motifs of the childhood novel precede the pedagogical mirror game that purports to subjugate them to the child, to achieve the passage from the childhood novel to the familial novel, from loves with sister, brother, servants, animals, etc., to incest with the mother, from horizontality to the hierarchy of the memory. We therefore try to begin by posing and describing, and not in rummaging in the garbage of the negation of the negation.
Slicing through the net of status reciprocities so as to clear the way to a quantity of precise, specific, colorful and concrete relationships.
Works Cited in the Quote-Break
Carlo Collodi, Pinocchio: The Tale of a Puppet, trans. Geoffrey Brock (New York: New York Review Books, 2009).
Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita (New York: Knopf : Distributed by Random House, 1992).
Michel Tournier, The Erl-King, trans. Barbara Bray (London: Collins, 1972).
Thomas Mann, The Holy Sinner, trans. H. T. Lowe-Porter (New York: A.A. Knopf, 1951).
Princess Marthe Bibesco, Le perroquet vert (Paris: Grasset, 1924).
Madame Guizot, The Young Student, or, Ralph and Victor, trans. Samuel Jackson (New-York; Philadelphia: D. Appleton and Co., 1844).
Italo Calvino, The Nonexistent Knight (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012).
Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, trans. Mark Lester and Charles Stivale (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990).
Vladimir Nabokov, Ada, or, Ardor: A Family Chronicle (New York: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2011).
Steven Millhauser, Edwin Mullhouse: The Life and Death of an American Writer, 1943-1954, by Jeffrey Cartwright (New York: Vintage Books, 2011).
Episode Two: The Forbidden Child
emotional blackmail — privatization — fathermother — a false pretext — generalized childcare — the personalization of children — the antinomies of child-thought — the rights of the child in question
Children are made rare. Not that there are fewer births: there will always be enough of those, but children rarely come round..
If you are not a father or mother in possession of children, if you are not charged with their education, if you are not in the sect of cops, psychologists or psychoanalysts, if you are simply “the man without qualities,” you will pass by without having the opportunity to even come across one of them. A glimpse in passing, a crossing in the street or on the stair. If you happen to be a pedophile, the opportunity, or chance, could be multiplied by daring, but offset by the risks consequent to offending. Because there is no relationship imaginable or permissible with a child, outside the planned and coded cases.
Children are therefore to be looked for firstly and defined in this network of dependencies and prohibitions inside of which different forms of emotional and educational capture develop. It’s not psychological traits, inherent in nature itself, which define children from the outset, but the texture of this network and the play of forces which ensure its stability from within.
Whatever they do, children are indoors. Being a child is unavoidably “being inside” and is defined this way: familial home, school, whatever supervision allows for leisure time. A child outside is hard to imagine, to assume it is to have already taken the step that makes you a dissenter, an eccentric. The beautiful starting point of Christiane Rochefort’s final novel settled immediately into this fiction: “A child outside of school is a pure dream”Christiane Rochefort, Encore heureux qu’on va vers l’été (Paris, Grasset, 1975).
; but a dream so hard to prolong that the novel is soon buried in the artifices of a navel-gazing childhood that goes in circles, without being able to escape what Gombrowicz calls “the cute tacky child,” and still searching, because it has fled the protective institutions, among the vaguely-philanthropic adults (not pederasts, the nuance is essential) for forms of protection. Let’s leave this relationship between adults alone for the moment; we’ll have to come back to it more seriously. But it’s true, first of all, that the child outside, i.e. living outside of some family, school, surveillance network in general, is properly unimaginable, because it is irreparable.
At each stage of their childhoods, at every or nearly every hour of their days, children are only defined in a certain field whose structure is, for them, more or less flexible. But always imperative, spatially and temporally determining. It must be located somewhere. From their point of view as children, that means that what is first instilled in them, the uncontested presupposition of their lives, is that they must always be able to state where they are, to give account of what they are doing or have done. And, certainly, that does not appear uniformly as an exterior constraint, an explicit demand from adults. But this final condition of child life is always present, and all the stronger as it is mixed with a sort of blackmail.
Madame Guizot’s novel, The Young Student, begins with the expectation of Raoul, who should have returned from school a long time ago, but is unduly late. And this circumstance allows the brilliant novelist—because brilliant she is, in this minor genre of educational novels—to define the personality of her hero, the traits of her character, as early as the simple deviation from his route: to set him in position in his relationship to parental paranoia pushed up to its most outrageous limits. Because what constitutes Raoul from the beginning is his crime, the monstrousness which he will never have finished redeeming himself for, by which he escapes childhood as it should be, i.e. the refusal to follow the normal and shortest path from school, which would seal his dependence. “You know how self-willed he is,” the servant who was supposed to bring him back from school says to his father. “It is in vain to reason with him. He would absolutely cross the fields, the hedges, and ditches. He told me he should reach the cross-road before me. I waited a long time, and you see the consequence.”Guizot, The Young Student, or, Ralph and Victor, 16.
Worse, as the rest will reveal, he is in fact himself late to borrow the horse from an attractive stranger, unknown to his father, but known well by the schoolchildren, the same one who will later become Raoul’s protector. This Victor is presented too obviously in the guise of the seducer for us not to see being outlined, under the innocent but terribly perceptive pen of the wife of Louis-Philippe’s school-law-promulgating Minister of Education,The 1833 laws on the obligation of primary instruction in the communes. “Madame Guizot, maiden name Pauline de Meulan, born in Paris in 1773, died in 1827, was daughter of a general finance collector of Paris. Ruined by the revolution, she took refuge in letters and first published novels: Les contradictions, 1799; La chapelle d’Ayton ou Emma Courtenay; starting in 1801 produced excellent literary articles in Le Publiciste that Suard had just established; in 1812 married François Guizot, whom she assisted in some of his works, and afterwards published various works on education: Le journal d’un mère, Les Enfants in 1812, a collection of tales for early age, The Young Student, or, Raoul et Victor, a moral novel which was lauded by academia; Nouveaux contes, 1823, Une famille (an unfinished work which has since been finished by Madame Tastu); Éducation domestique, 1826. These works, which along with a plain moral offer an uncommon elevation of thought, are models of the genre. It’s said that in Madame Guizot is found the perfect harmony of reason and the heart” (M. N. Bouillet, Dictionnaire universel d’histoire et de Géographie. Paris, Hachette, 1860).
the interweaving of the two themes of abduction and deviation, which are fundamental for the comprehension of childhood.
On the father’s side, now, is the self-fulfilling expectation that forms the child as already disobedient and erratic in the void it has created itself. Everything is staged for fantasy and paranoia. From before the hour that he himself has set for his son’s return, and while everything heralds the impending storm, Monsieur de Foligny has settled on the front porch. And this even though (or because, if we’re looking for secret motivations) he’s infirm, though the rain can make him sick, the lighting can kill him. But he will wait until the end, feasting on the fall of the first drops, to be able to grimly anticipate a death from which he would have the satisfaction of blaming the lateness of his son. “Adrienne”—this is the little sister, the good daughter who would like to accommodate everything—“remains distraught; a drop of rain returns her to herself. She tells Laforêt to go quickly to the château to fetch the car for her father whom the drop revived, and Laforêt, afraid of this fresh result of Raoul’s disobedience,Emphasis added.
eager, indeed, to complete an order that to him gives him the means of shutting down his master’s severe questions on the cause of the delay for the moment…”
The extravagant dramatization mustn’t stop us from seeing that what’s being spoken of here is an ever-present condition of childhood. Everything for children revolves around these stories of lateness and coming back. A little boy will write still today, in an essay where he is asked to tell how he imagines freedom: “If I were free, I would play lots of rugby, in the mud if I had to, being sure in my heart of not being challenged on the way back in the evening. I would see myself riding my bike alone in the wilderness, coming home at any time, finally being removed from all these problems.” Ditto for another: “I would also like to be free from my parents. For example, they don’t want me to go to the theater alone, or to ride my bike in the streets. But I’d like to ride my bike in the city and not go there with my mother. I think I’m too old to be escorted on my bike, and if I don’t come back, there’s worrying.”Essays by twelve-year-olds (1973).
A sacrosanct concern, or rather a sham of “fatal” concerns that plunge children, very often, into an emotional blackmail more unbearable, because it is more interiorized, than the commandment pure and simple. And the interest that L’écolier has for us, like some previous specimens, is how it makes this sham leap out to the eyes.
It is true that between the noble and bourgeois child of 1830 and the average little schoolboy of today, there has been a shift within the family of the axis of dependencies. For Madame Guizot, it’s a matter of instilling obedience to the family’s leader, the father, as the primary condition of moral and physical salvation. This is the first step towards the privatization and normalization of the child’s being. Because this obedience, as a private and sui generis relationship of child to father, is not at all obvious to an era when distant contact between parents and children is still commonplace. Among the working classes, due to the necessity and obligation to earn a living, and with nobles, from aristocratic distance where the sense of commitment created by the name of their lineage comes out according to a different logic. This is why the esteemed old bag can give herself the luxury of refining her blueprint, to the point of eliminating any too-gentle relationship between father and child, molding a severe-to-excess father and a son who will only love him from duty. Because this is the thing that has been necessary to prove and root in their souls from the start, so that contemporary children were able to be born, were made “possible” (it’s well said, in contrast, “an impossible child”). Implanting this truth so contrary to nature that each book on civility or education must mention: “The obligation of children is to honor and respect the author of their days.”A Berthon, Les Aventures d’un enfant, journal instructif et moral, 1855.
But, in our times, it’s a matter of something else, the shift has taken place from the father to the mother, investing maternal concern in the depths of children, in an intimacy which no longer retains much exterior obligation, being universal, natural, self-evident love. So says Oedipus, at least. The relationship of dependence is covered by the emotional relationship, the attribute of civilization becomes a psychological constant.
Yet we attach ourselves to the initial case, because there is no psychology of children, there are only fields, familial, pedagogical or otherwise, within which certain types of demands and responses develop. The formation of these fields, the establishment of these networks, tending to wrest them from a public life where they could easily be lost, of which, in the first place, the trap of “observation” (which is the focus of Émile pervertiRené Schérer, Émile perverti, ou, Des rapports entre l’éducation et la sexualité. (Paris: R. Laffont, 1974).
) is the unspoken of the immense psychological/psychoanalytic literature, called “scientific” dedicated to childhood. If a psychologist discusses it, it’s only ever through the gang, and as an utterly incidental phenomenon: we must protect children because they are weak, raise them because they are growing, educate them because they are ignorant, know them by observing them so as to act on them and for them.
Among others, from a second-rate theorist, but one who has the merit of recognizing the fact without drawing any consequence for psychology: “The child lives beyond himself, but it’s in a closed environment guarded well by barriers by which the adult surrounds delicate childhood, therewith to protect it. The child does not know the harshness of pure existence, of material being, nor of social being. He is unfamiliar with the everyday worry of the wage, he is unaware of the price of time. The child lives beyond himself in an artificial world that the adult built for him.”Jean Chateau, “Qu’est-ce qu’un enfant ?,” in Psychologie de l’enfant de la naissance à l’adolescence, Cahiers de Pédagogie moderne (Paris: Bourrelier, 1962), 19.
Artificial, which does not prevent psychology from dedicating its 600,000 volumes to children!
Some, doubtless, have been well aware of how vain the psychological enterprise is as long as the critique has not been carried against the fiction of the child as an entity “in itself.” There are reflections, very relevant pages on this in Mendel or Mannoni, as we’ve highlighted. But this critique is never undertaken radically, it’s always sketchy. Either it’s the ineradicable pedagogic prejudice which, although it’s recognized at the outset that everything “pathological” is implanted, created by the conditions of existence and relative to them, nonetheless renews the idea of treating, curing, and adapting through the institutional palliative. Or else (this is Gérard Mendel), the stranglehold of the Oedipal structure removes the significance of otherwise powerfully accurate remarks (“we never postulate the existence of a state of childhood in itself”; “this identification with the adult throughout childhood is in a certain way a slow putting-to-death of the child in himself”).Mendel, Pour décoloniser l’enfant., 202.
First, because the beaten track of successful or unsuccessful identification is not left, which inevitably normalizes children through adults by returning them to the structures built for them. Second, because adults in their relationship to the children are only ever considered in a role which is well-coded, and repeated so much that it appears natural: that of parent, educator or carer. And that could be pushed to the point of caricature, e.g. in Mendel’s case, when, aiming to change the relations with finally “decolonized” children, he talks about new formations which would be filled by “detached” adults in different educational or socio-cultural functions, put in charge of substituting a “class relation” based on age for the familial compartmentalizations and the great lid of Authority, in order to liberate.
If it were not written and had not gained even a certain notoriety, it wouldn’t be worth talking about; but it is necessary, and it will even be necessary to return to it, since those that are called specialists on childhood, even when they pretend to be doing something new, have a hard time pulling away from the models which have led precisely to childhood being the prey of the specialists. Also, no wonder we go in circles passing the sign-child, responsible for the perpetuation of the identical or bearer of unrealizable dreams, from hand to hand. The child—challenge or future of the man, this refrain is never dropped, and each generation resumes it (in 1901, Ellen Key prophesied “the century of the child”Ellen Key, The Century of the Child, trans. Marie Franzos (New York; London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1909).
), the better to reinforce the protective defenses, simply by making them more flexible.
Children are passed around, but “among ourselves”; this has nothing to do with real exchangeability, but simply strengthens one tendency, till now irreversible, towards privatization.
*Pèrémère is an expression of Isaac Joseph and Fernand Deligny.
For us, there is only one starting point, the rarity of children from the moment that they began to become the property of the couple. This property orders their forms of integration in the social body. To be rare because they don’t circulate, held to their required places by threads that can be extended occasionally, but that unfailingly return them there.
There is only to see how even the most socially dissenting thoughts and behaviors pull back when it comes to childhood. Emmett Grogan’s book Ringolevio is an extraordinary novel of childhood, in its first part.Emmett Grogan, Ringolevio: A Life Played for Keeps (New York: New York Review Books, 2008).
Child of the streets, of gang, junkie, dealer, thief, whatever you like; but how very respectful of the parental sanctuary, of the child’s innocence, of childhood in itself. Respect, from the young rogue, for father and mother, respect, from the theorist Emmett, for the families and their primordial and natural rights over the child, when he defines the program of the Californian communes. Example:
Free City Schools: schools designed and run by different groups according to the consciousness of their Free Families . . . Cooperative Farms and Campsites: . . . some free land that is no good for farming should be used as campsites and/or cabin areas for Free citizens who are in need of country leisure, as well as kids who could use a summer in the woods.
Undoubtedly these texts from nearly two decades ago and the limits of the imagination today differ somewhat. But, for children, they have hardly moved, and the ambitions of our leftists are certainly lacking.
To understand the meaning of our criticism, it is only necessary to contrast with this program any of Fourier’s texts, for whom the preamble of any societary act is the suppression of families and the putting in common, the “publicity” of children, if this word can be opposed to privatization.
It’s easy to recognize, on the contrary, in Grogan, as in the hippies, a certain taboo of childhood which is one with the communal mystique; therefore Emmett’s marginal, violent childhood in Ringolevio, destructive to all taboos culminates in the desire to strengthen the protective barriers of childhood, in a fictional paradise arranged for it by adults. Childhood is protected, because it is the forbidden world to desire, except that of maternity and paternity. The child, if not pure, at least inviolable by the adult, is the alibi of the revolutionary. The same book, Ringolevio, describes how the hero was, one time, required to write some potboilers; these are stories of young girls fornicating with a sadist which come from his pen, but so as to be explicitly rejected with disgust by the narrator. The more he knows he was a perverted child, the more he wants himself to be redemptive. Any contamination of childhood, i.e. any relationship with the adult that would be non-familial and non-educational, repels him. See also Jack London in The People of the Abyss, who puts poverty, hunger, exploitation and “promiscuity” on the same level of condemnation, in agreement with Marx in Capital. Promiscuity, which is precisely what we think in terms of circulation, decompartmentalization, and opening up to multiple libidinal investments.
A False Pretext
It will be said that we make this out to be a deliberate process while the real movement of recent history shows on the contrary the decay of the traditional forms that produced obedient children under their fathers’ and mothers’ gaze. The family, and especially groups where a communal way of life is taking shape, have given up on oversight, control, concern. The institutions and places which have taken over, in particular, schools, are subjected to protest and absenteeism. Today’s children are both more comfortable at home and more frequently in the company of others. The old authoritarian and emotional models, of the law’s personification by the father, or love by the mother, respectively, are no longer valid. Children live, emotionally invest more and more, become more and more independent, strangers to all serious repression.
We find this at first glance seductive thesis expressed in a text by Lyotard, who, owing to theoretical arguments that he invokes to support it, deserves to be quoted at length. It’s an article dedicated to Anti-Oedipus by Deleuze and Guattari, by way of commentary on the formula “the unconscious is an orphan,” proven or embodied by today’s children:
What is the family life of a child today, with a working father and mother? Kindergarten, school, homework, juke-boxes, cinema: everywhere children of their age, and adults who are not their parents, who are in conflict with them and between themselves, who say one thing and do another. The heroes are at the cinema and on television, in comics, not around the family dinner table. A more direct investment than ever in historical figures. Parental figures, teachers, priests, they also undergo the erosion of capitalist flows. . . . A salaried father is an exchangeable father, an orphaned son.Jean-François Lyotard, “Energumen Capitalism,” in #Accelerate#: The Accelerationist Reader, ed. Robin Mackay and Armen Avanessian, trans. Robin Mackay (Falmouth, United Kingdom]; Berlin: Urbanomic Media Ltd. ; in association with Merve, 2017), 195.
We understand that the essential concept which the official science of the unconscious is based on, Oedipus, is not, as seems to be believed, the deed of capitalism, but is a simple continuation , a counter-current. Supporting Deleuze and Guattari, as he writes it, “against themselves,” Lyotard sees already realized “an orphanage,” “commutability” limiting repression, which is now “less in people’s heads,” to being only an utterly external intervention of the State. “There are,” he says, “as many more cops as there are fewer fathers, teachers, chiefs, moral leaders—that is, ones that are recognized, ‘interiorized.’”Ibid, 196.
Yes, in a sense, that’s true, this exteriorization, this impossibility of taking the former phantoms seriously, and also the resistance to guilt-tripping. But we will add, just like the interlocutor caught in a sophistical joust in a Platonic dialogue: that may be so, but we are not convinced.
Because let’s take exactly those places where, per Lyotard, children maintain and undertake their independence with respect to the family: kindergarten, juke-boxes, school, cinema. Could one rightly contend that by entering there, children are ipso facto defamilialized? The public places continue to be semi-forbidden to them, or else set aside for them, always with parental authorization. All the same, it is not the same with the frequent visits to the juke-box and this constant presence of children in the taverns, the brothels, places of bad life, which Ariès speaks of for the old system. Certainly, the cinema provides a variety of heroes outside the family, but throughout their duration or at the decisive moments, for Western, Bruce Lee or Hong Kong karate movies, perfectly complying to the stereotypes of the couple and the familial group, not to mention television, which is even more selective, and whose function of familialization, privatization of children, either in its content or by the simple fact that it fastens children to the hearth, can’t be seriously contested.
Regarding school, or nurseries, it has already been amply shown in Émile perverti what entry into the pedagogic field meant for children, with its “panopticism” that subjects them to constant surveillance. We shall merely refer to the sociohistorical studies which expose in detail how children’s affiliation to couples, which is necessary to have responsibility for them, has been the work of a great primary school enrollment campaign in the last century.Anne Querrien, Généalogie des équipements collectifs: les équipements de normalisation : l’école primaire (Fontenay-sous-Bois: Centre d’Etudes, de Recherches et de Formation Institutionnelles (CERFI), 1975).
School does not merely pass on the family, it produces it. Nurseries, too, at their level, are not content to continue the form of mothering, but produce mother-child relations.Hervé Maury et al., Les Gardes d’enfants de 0 à 3 ans comme surface d’inscription des relations entre la famille et le champ social (Fontenay-sous-Bois: Centre d’Etudes, de Recherches et de Formation Institutionnelles (CERFI), 1975).
Les gardes d'enfants de 0 à 3 ans comme surface d'inscription des relations entre la famille et le champ social, collective work by Hervé Maury, Liane Mozère, Bernadette Plinsal, Imbert et Nicole Preli. éd. du CERFI. 1975
Also, if it is right to say that children meet “children of their own age” everywhere, it’s not sufficient proof to be able to conclude that they meet each other in any other way than as already-privatized (or, as we say, familialized) children. And to contend that they are everywhere in contact with “adults who are not their parents” as an indicator of deprivatization, is a challenge, a paradox, as these adults, who are certainly abundant at this time, so as to be able to access children at all, all fall under the sect of their keepers.
Lyotard combines two things at pleasure, that we think should rather be carefully distinguished: a patriarchal form of the family founded on the father’s authority, and a form where the family is penetrated by the institutions that take charge of children, the diffuse disciplinary form, which utilizes the family, draws on it, but is not reducible to it.
The first form, obviously, tends to disappear, but it’s stating the obvious when it’s said that there’s a crisis of paternal authority, and to think that the System of childhood collapses with the disappearance of this authority is to fall outside the problem altogether. Moreover, in our opinion, the patriarchal family is totally foreign to the establishment of the system of childhood, i.e. the setting up of socio-historical structures which produced childhood as we know it, enclosed it, protected it, surveilled it, in forming it internally with its current psychological characteristics.
Freud’s trick was necessary, working from an already-implemented production of the family child, with the symbolization of familial relations in the Oedipus complex, to confuse the father with the representative of “the Law,” the childhood condition’s universal “signifier.” In this sense, it is very true that the battle against Oedipus is a bad fight, a parlor (or family) game. To apply oneself to defeating Oedipus, the authority of the father, is to be ensnared, to tilt at windmills. The denunciation of this false pretext is indeed the most directly legible thing in the polemical book Anti-Oedipus,In particular, ch. III.2.
this reversal of perspective which grasps the unconscious or the materiality of drives, passions, or desires, backwards, without any Oedipus, in its polymorphous orphan-being.
But that does not mean that the children we rub shoulders with, produced from history, are already released from the System of childhood. Since the family is at the service of the system that it did not form, the bankruptcy of familial authority is only a secondary aspect of children’s condition and hardly matters, neither to their “liberation,” nor their deprivatization. A little freedom in the system, and no freedom from the system. As for privatization, it must be understood that the simultaneous penetration of the family by multiple institutions strengthens a state of things, the withdrawal of the couple into itself, and children’s required assignment to couples, far from destroying them.
How easy it is to recognize the effect of this new “technology of power” whose birth is shown in Foucault’s Discipline and Punish, the System of childhood being an integral part of this technology, which, relative to ostentatious power, is said to be purely exterior, “disciplinary.” The family’s place, its ambiguous and contradictory situation, is that in discipline it has found the means of reorganizing its internal power mechanisms by letting them be penetrated by the institutions which, from the outside in a manner of speaking, but with its forced complicity, “monitor” children as early as, and even before their birth. “[I]ntra-familial relations,” writes Foucault,
essentially in the parents-children cell, have become “disciplined,” absorbing since the classical age external schemata, first educational and military, then medical, psychiatric, psychological, which have made the family the privileged locus of emergence for the disciplinary question of the normal and the abnormal.Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Vintage, 2012); On the repression of vagrancy in the nineteenth century, cf. Philippe Meyer, “Le territoire de l’aveu,” in Nomades et vagabonds, cause commune, ed. Jacques Berque (Paris: Union générale d’éditions, 1975), 69–83.
This can be found easily: a “deviant” child becomes a “social case”; their family is guilted, interiorizes the originally foreign disciplinary forms of intervention, and turns them against them. So nothing about privatization is altered just because it becomes institutional. What is essential for children is not the conflict between family and institution, but the fact that, whatever they do, they are controlled by them both, inextricably interpenetrating.
The child is the being who, whether by the family or by society, must be completely taken charge of. There lies our fixed idea, our delusion. It’s the madness of teaching or medical pedagogy, which enters each home, which makes a new missionary of every social official, dedicated to the recovery of lost souls, never discouraged by the failure that the system itself secretes, as well as the school system, which is made to induce failure. Control tends to transform every child into a social case, which is to say every family, since “a family has the children it deserves,” fails to raise them properly, and is sent back the products of its duly noted failure.
And the kids themselves enjoy playing social cases (see the film Blackboard JungleRichard Brooks, Blackboard Jungle (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), 1955); On the generalization of childcare, see Meyer, “La correction paternelle,” 1266–76.
) offloading themselves, since they can’t do anything else, on childcare. This is a tremendous unloading, not of responsibility, as is too often believed, but of life forces, living social energy. Because the responsibility, which everyone tries to pass along to the next, is just the system’s ideological expression. Because of its anonymity, it assigns to everyone, to every child as to every family, a responsible person. To be clear, not only external monitors, but everyone is supposedly a self-responsible being, in charge of themselves. Which means that the system, turning back on the “persons” thus formed, requires them to shoulder it in its entirety, making them responsible for its own functioning.
The Personalization of Children
Indeed, “repression” is never purely external. It is not enough to lift it to discover the “true personality” or liberated expression. There is misunderstanding and abstraction when only “authority” is considered in relations between children and adults. When it’s imagined that surveillance is always constraining, that dependency is not intimately sought, that the illusion of personalization created by the childcare system could be dispelled easily. In Foucault still, we find these lines dedicated to the effect of panopticism, that faceless gaze which does not merely spy so as to punish, but manufactures the everyone’s personality and the consciousness that they can have of demands of their freedom:
Our society is one not of spectacle, but of surveillance; under the surface of images, one invests bodies in depth; behind the great abstraction of exchange, there continues the meticulous, concrete training of useful forces; the circuits of communication are the supports of an accumulation and a centralization of knowledge; the play of signs defines the anchorages of power; it is not that the beautiful totality of the individual is amputated, repressed, altered by our social order, it is rather that the individual is carefully fabricated in it, according to a whole technique of forces and bodies.Foucault, op. cit.
Applied to children, the privileged objects of this manufacturing, that will mean that the disciplinary formation invests them all around in the places that it haunts, models them, often without a noticeable repression that could be attributed to a particular authority. It models them, because it is “for them” and to protect their persons, to help them be people who will accept the institutions as good, even inserting themselves in them “in a responsible manner,” and, if need be, assimilating them. That hardly presents a danger for the system, it’s rather what it tends toward.
We admit that they manage to make the institutions that were previously exercising their “repressive” authority on them their own. There will thus be a family for the children, gravitating around them, where they will have the most complete liberty, a culture for the children, “a high school for high schoolers,”Mosse Jørgensen, Un lycée aux lycéens: le Lycée expérimental d’Oslo (Paris: Les Ed. du Cerf, 1975).
an “ideological” age group bringing together children and “the young” opposite adults.Gérard Mendel, Le Manifeste Éducatif: Contestation et Socialisme (Paris: Payot, 1973).
But such an autonomy remains a fiction, as long as the system, or, if you like, the adult discourse in which childhood has been formed, has not been deconstructed, as long as the institutions for responsibly taking charge have not been destroyed, and forefront among them the institution of the child as a person.
Certainly, it will seem strange that we refuse to grant children “personality,” since that’s the essential guarantee that can be claimed and that they can claim for themselves. But it’s not about that. By “person” we mean this abstract and artificial determination of the individual which is much more the mark of their servitude than of their liberation, in the sense where all the forms of progressive personal responsibility lead to the request to take charge of forms, either of subjugation or derivation. A high school for the high schoolers is still not, as everyone explains, an ideal appropriate to the liberation of childhood.
And in the philosophical sense, which must also be attained, person implies not “the full positive enjoyment of the individual as such,”Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, trans. Paul Patton (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994).
i.e. their “multiple, mobile, communicating” character, but a jealous withdrawal to themselves, a distinction of principle between the corporal and the spiritual, an atomization of private non-communicating spheres.
Yet there is a way of demanding or promoting children’s autonomy that only replicates the collection of illusions that adults, in what concerns them, are beginning to recognize as such, and which they are having so much trouble getting rid of: humanist illusions of personal autonomy (while more and more decision-making power escapes them), of personal ownership of the body (while we suffer the vise, as Reich used to say, of bodily armoring), of defense against strangers (while it’s communication faults that define us).
Personalization is the corollary of privatization, both being a dispossession of childhood. In concurrent, albeit seemingly opposed, directions, people personalize left and right, whether they want to increase children’s access to responsibility, or keep them in a peaceful irresponsibility, whether they speak the political language of a revolution of mature youths, or that of a pedagogy attentive to the smallest “cravings.” By affirming children’s rights to autonomy without critiquing the personalist illusion, they only indulge in the illusion of finally, with children and thanks to them, obtaining the liberal and reciprocal society that is the great utopia of modern states and serves to cover their real despotism. A liberal utopia, because it pretends to be underpinned by free persons who would only have to express themselves in order to understand each other, and despotic, because the “truth” of this world of persons is only the repercussion of the discipline that formed them. The progressive, permissive family and societies of children which would be sustainable in their inner autonomy fall under the same premise: that of the child-person capable of spontaneously desiring or of inventing the models of organization that the adults have never been able to make work for themselves.
Standing right in the margins of these problems of autonomous organization of childhood, Deligny is undoubtedly the only one among those who socialize with children not to be fooled by these ideas of autonomy, when they are translated, as is the case today, into so-called democratic forms of assemblies in the most advanced institutions: “This is the paradox,” he writes, “if you look at Summerhill (which for many still remains the model of the type), you will find Makarenko (the Stalinist educator in all his splendor), the general assembly, the right to speech; the kids, the people, caught up in the responsibilities of the GA. There are plenty of directors, it’s the word that leads. You have to see it up close. Distribution of functions up to mandatory speech. As an alternative to the right to speech, I subscribe to the right to keep your mouth shut.”“Interview,” Libération, May 10, 1974.
Speech as power, as prohibition of the body leading to mandatory personalization. And certainly, what Deligny targets, throughout these lines, are children that can’t assert their autonomy in this way, voice it, who can’t speak easily or at all (the nonverbal). An exceptional case, doubtless, but maybe it’s from them that we must complete the pathway toward childhood, such as it has not been, from the outset, forbidden, blocked both for ourselves and for itself. To find its own paths, its own closeness to things and beings, away from the I-Me-Person, in another register. There is no reason to confuse liberty with autonomy as we think of it, nor with “desire,” the “wish” in its temporary and discontinuous appearance, a discontinuity which only refers back to the adult, as a response and counterpart to its illogical impulses, its inconsistencies, and only manifests the invincible alienation of the child from the signs of power.
In matters regarding children, everything is just fabrication, as long you have not been looking for them in the constellation, as Rilke used to say,Rainer Maria Rilke, “Fourth Duino Elegy,” in Ahead of All Parting: The Selected Poetry and Prose of Rainer Maria Rilke, trans. Stephen Mitchell (New York: Modern Library, 2015). “Who sets him in his constellation . . .”
where they stand. And you will always overlook what they are, as long as you remain in search of stages of their controlled development towards adult identification and responsibility. It’s not only identification with adults that must be denounced as a ploy, but also the identification of children with themselves which is often opposed to it, even though it takes place on the same model, and is its legacy.
The Antinomies of Child-Thought
But at the moment when we discuss this problem of childhood liberty and autonomy, we are struck by profound contradictions. Further, we say that all thought of childhood, insofar as it wants to retain the two terms “liberty” and “childhood,” is fundamentally “antinomic.”
The word antinomy comes from Kant; it means a conflict of reason with itself. In his On Education, with his customary conceptual sharpness, Kant sets forth the contradictions of pedagogical thought (which we easily generalize to thought on childhood)Immanuel Kant, Kant on Education, trans. Annette Churton (Boston: Heath, 1900).
: man, alone of all animals, is susceptible to being educated, because he is free; but due to his “animal” tendencies, he still does not possess freedom and must be constrained by a discipline. The child only becomes man through education, meaning: they become the human person that they still are not, despite being it virtually.
But what is this virtual freedom, when it’s precisely according to their freedom, which distinguishes them from the animals determined by instinct, that children are capable of being educated?
To use a Kantian term (not used by him in this context, let’s note), it is a question of an antinomy of reason. It could be set forth under the antithetical form: thesis: the child, being a man, is free; antithesis: the child who is not yet a man, is not free. And the two can be upheld with equal plausibility.
A conflict of reason, intractable in actuality, and which is the crossroads of pedagogical thought: prescriptive or non-prescriptive education, heteronomy or autonomy of childhood in the form of a personalist emancipation. In practice, in Kant’s book, schooling resolves the conflict. Children are only defined as such, as “possible” once they enter the pedagogical field and are disciplined. That is an a priori condition of possibility of what we call a “child” and of their socialization as a rational person. We need not strain ourselves to see that all modern thought, from the laws on protection of childhood to the high school revolts, implicitly rest on this premise.
Only childhood disappeared in this process, and here we are looking for it again. We aren’t engaged in a presentation of Kantian philosophy, but we borrow a convenient language from it. In another of Kant’s texts, we find a guiding idea which is going to allow us to see it more clearly, it’s a matter of antinomy and of the solution to this antinomy. In the Critique of Judgement, which deals with aesthetics, Kant presents an antinomy regarding the Beautiful, which is simultaneously “based on concepts” because we demand of others that they recognize with us that a thing is beautiful, and “not based on concepts,” because our judgement of beauty is indemonstrable.Immanuel Kant, The Critique of Judgement, trans. James Creed Meredith (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2008), sec. 55 and on.
The solution of the antinomy is found in the fact that both are true at once. There is a concept of the beautiful, but it is not “exposable” or demonstrable. It’s an “aesthetic idea” which can not become knowledge; and Kant designates it “inexplicable representation of the imagination” in its free play.
Yet, there is something in the thought of childhood which overflows the concept (the “animality” of its tendencies, the “virtuality” of its liberty). To connote this mixture in children of inhumanity and humanity, responsibility and irresponsibility, we propose the expression of the inexplicable idea of the imagination and suggest that this idea is of the nature of an aesthetic idea.
Schiller seized on some such Kantian pointers to write in On Simple and Sentimental PoetryFriedrich Schiller, “On Simple and Sentimental Poetry,” in Aesthetical Essays of Friedrich Schiller (Project Gutenberg, 2004), http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/6798.
an admirable page on the limitlessness of children in relation to the adult state of restriction, but by rather hastily reducing the aesthetic idea to a moral idea. However, this aesthetic idea is not a moral idea. And we see, in this way we have of appealing to it regarding children, rather a means of restoring them to themselves and others as bodies, whereas this body is precisely that “animality” Kant speaks of, for whom it is, first and foremost, forbidden.
Let’s think carefully, without prejudice: a child’s body, not their person, but, as would be said in classical language, their “sensible being,” is what we have access to them through, what they live and endure in. Far from considering this sensible being a state of weakness or animality to overcome, it’s appropriate to handle it in its immediate presence, unacquainted with personalist limitations. A body which is not yet “their property,” their closed organic unity, their private sphere or that carcass, doubled by an interiority, which defines adults. A child lives and expresses themselves through their body. The body, the surface of embraces and conjunctions, whose presence among men is, like the presence of the aesthetic object, a reorganization of the perceptual field. It’s disruptive, too, because it is a call for the removal of the space between bodies. Children do not observe themselves, do not talk to themselves, or mostly don’t; they are grabbed, they touch, they climb, they roam.
The Rights of the Child in Question
This is why the little societies of children under the assembly form, based on interpersonal discussions, in the image of adults, will only ever be a caricature or a fiction.
If children were collectively capable of seeing through a revolt or capable of power, it would not be cast in a society of assembly, a charade of democracy. Their stated rights would only take the form of a total exaltation of the body and passions.
The children’s revolt, in Shūji Terayama’s film Emperor Tomato Ketchup,Shūji Terayama, Emperor Tomato Ketchup (Art Theatre Guild (ATG), Tenjo Sajiki, 1971).
is cruel, libidinal, intense, but above all it is joyful, orgiastic, affirmative. Because cruelty in the child never has this thoughtful and irrevocable element that gives institutions clear conscience and the “imperialist” memoryPierre Bertrand, L’oubli: révolution ou mort de l’histoire (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1975).
of the person; it is not instituted and repressive, but passing, forgotten.
So for children it’s rarely a matter of taking power, unless on a whim. Childish liberty is badly accommodated with political language; instead it falls under (in Fourier’s language) the “domestic,” understood as the space where passional attractions develop. Using this sense, we posit that the domain of childhood’s affirmation is the domestic, not the political.Not to confuse the domestic and the familial. The domestic reform that Fourier anticipates begins through the suppression of the familial economy and families’ exclusive hold on children.
Children have much better things to do than taking over the existing institutional system to appropriate it. There is no “world of childhood” to close off further and set against the world of adults, including in the form of an “ideological class,” but childhood can carry its passional force everywhere to jam the cogs, the mechanisms, to invent new forms of insertion for it, to put the passions in motion directly, freely flowing.
Paradoxically for the formalists of autonomy, we could even speak of childhood “service” as a moving force, establishing communication with its motion, never leaving the great social body idle, offering its body of desire and enjoyment everywhere. A perverse function in relation to the system that isolates it, a function of liberation, not of childhood as a distinct category, but of blocked energies.
Fourier gives an example of this function with the children’s groups of “little hordes” and “little bands,” the ones giving free course to the passion for muck, taking care of disgusting jobs, killing pests which would turn adults away, adopting slang and “vulgar speech,” and at the same time securing social bonds by exercising a “philanthropy” which only calls in a defect that education suppresses; the others being the finery of the Phalanx, by the development of a sensitivity, an excessive femininity, also condemned in civilization as an affectation or mannerism.
In all this, childhood does not occupy a merely incidental place, but a central, “pivotal” one. Far from being opposed to the adults they become invaluable to, outside the alternative of being under adult power or imposing theirs on adults, the children of the hordes and bands are made public; the publicity of their action covers them in honors and destines them for parades, also in accordance with the passions of childhood. It’s the solution to a problem which, in civilization, is only solved by the forced mastery of the passions, in both child and man.
Besides, it’s not necessary to read Fourier to understand it. There are bands or hordes of children, with transient and permutable roles, forms of spontaneous organization which we by no means make use of; but there can be no “society of children” strictly speaking. Because either such a society is made in the image of those dreamed up by adults in their “republics of children,” whose function is solely pedagogical, or else it would be fixation on a childhood in itself, but in a perpetual state of self-destruction, if the limits it sets itself are those of contemporary childhood. We mean not only the temporal limits, but those imposed by the schooled and debated childhood. William Golding’s novel Lord of the Flies and the film by Peter Brook highlight the incompatibility between childhood and the construction of an autonomous society well; because it fails to understand the libidinal, savage band, the democratic assembly formation quickly proves powerless to tame it, and the band’s congested passions turn into destruction. In fact, the band is undoubtedly less destructive than the artificial civilized veneer that these children, lost on a desert island, wanted to impose on themselves.William Golding, Lord of the Flies (New York: Coward-McCann, 1955).
William Golding, Lord of the Flies, 1954.
But, if we say that there can’t be a society composed solely of children, we also assume that there can be no society without children, or it would also be transient and unsustainable. Which would seem a truism, if we did not affirm that our society is, eventually, that society: the one which sets about the exclusion of children, their confinement, or fictionalizes them as a rival society. A society that feeds on the death of the child in us and the death of childhood. Childhood, no more “in itself” than “in us” as a nostalgia or a secret, is the thing missing from the personalist atomism we have under the despotic machine of power. Childhood, which we see as what circulates and makes passional energy circulate, is the “among,” the “middle,” the “between,” which should not be thought of as a simple connection between people fixed in their position, but as the explosion of personalist authorities themselves.
The child’s function is creating interconnection, beauty, finery, breaking down egoisms, bringing enthusiasm where people settle for discussing exchanges. This isn’t a myth of childhood, but rather its concrete reality. Since touch is children’s own, more than speech, and walks and journeys more than discourse, they are there to remind us of whatever everyone has buried and forgotten, lost in their own aloofness. Starting with aloofness toward a childhood which embarrasses us, and whose intrusion we would like to avoid by making it untouchable.
Break: The Pederastra
the collector pederastra — synchronization and miniaturization — the dead-ends of growth — the ogre — the journey of Humbert Humbert
This function of childhood, being the pivot of passions, explodes the “relation to childhood,” the repressive figure of complementary positions. Thus, Humbert Humbert is magnetized by Lolita.
He’s still brooding over the question of hijacking—trying to play his part in what he sees as the head-on confrontation of childish innocence and bawdy adulthood. The non-reciprocity begins with Humbert’s secret ejaculations, pinching Lolita without expecting a response. So, in this game of leapfrog, Lolita wakes up in the morning not to become an equal or partner, but to suddenly sever the heavy chains of responsibilities in her turn. Then will begin the new childhood, Humbert’s “second childhood,” not leading the minor astray but taking the nymphet shortcut:
. . . gradually the odd sense of living in a brand new, mad new dream world, where everything was permissible, came over me as I realized what she was suggesting . . . “You mean you have never—?”—her features twisted into a stare of disgusted incredulity. “You have never—” she started again. . . .
“You mean,” she persisted, now kneeling above me, “you never did it when you were a kid?”
“Never,” I answered quite truthfully.
What takes place here is not classified between innocence and perversity, between the adult and the child. A new childhood becomes not only possible, but real, not defined by regret for a past or by the anxieties of becoming-sexual. It’s an inalterable and ageless sex which appears.
When the patterns of pederastra and nymphet bond, the sarabande of positions begins, and the waltz of ages that precedes the linear temporal succession.
at least a dozen of them came out onto the beach to hunt for crabs and to swim they surrounded the dinghy Who are you huh mister huh I don’t know . . .
they gave me their memories one by one . . . I listened learned repeated . . .
it’s up to all of you to decide how old I am that’s the worst part of all so call out some numbers they call out Twenty Sixty One-hundred No no hundred One No Seventeen Eleven Forty none of them could agree on a number and then one of them piped up Easy enough to find out how old he is take a look at his cock (Tony Duvert, Strange Landscape—a title that can easily be reattached to the house of Ardis or to Wonderland).
In this mixture of ages, the determinations of numbers only function to make lewd exploration possible. The individuated libido—the adult’s or children’s—is no longer the center or archetype. The game of ages is not a pretext or an excuse: the “adult/child sexual relationship” is only a transitional characterization of it, if its effect can still be isolated at all.
There is not merely reversal of roles, with the child perverter coming to occupy the place reserved for that old pig of a pederast. It’s an interweaving of lines, several real childhoods to experience, this voyage through the ages which is as easy as Alice’s growing or shrinking munching her mushroom, as many upheavals that leave none of the great architectures of “corruption of minors” [détournement de mineure] intact.
Though paved with good intentions, the slogan “the minors want to be corrupted” [les mineurs veulent être détournés], shouted by the most advanced of the homosexual high schoolers, remains second-rate, since it does not start from this original destructuring. The “desiring relation” creeps its way into the pedagogical network, making itself worthy of the name it bears. What happens to it? From the tragic returning of the pederastra to his impossible childhood (that of the court psychiatrists) to the corny childish lecher, everyone is returned to their cell. Then it’s time for pederastic pedagogism, inscribing the gnawing rodent of regret at the heart of the relationship, weeping for the loss of the child in the future adult all while legitimizing it. As long as the separative structure functions, the compatibility between pederasty and pedagogy benefits only the pedagogical poison. The unhappy temptation patiently awaits the pederastra just as the familial temptation awaits the orphan.
This is not the case with Humbert Humbert, who in fact is not a “case” at all. The primary motives of the pederastra and the nymphet kaleidoscopize the pedagogue and the child. Happily, as Humbert proves to us, the elements of the grand drama are poorly bound by the familial cement. Just as there were siblings before there were any parents and children, there were pederasques before there was a pedagogic problem—and there will be after.
The Collector Pederastra
The pederastra is a furious collector, endlessly adding child on child in his repetitive pettiness. Though the word “child” is overly generalized, as the collection contains more specific objects. Humbert Humbert, the meticulous, bears manic repetition in his name. He has a predilection for it: he explains himself, at the end of Lolita, that he wavered between “Otto-Otto,” “Messmer-Messmer,” and “Lambert-Lambert.” The pederastra’s “children” never wanted to grow, they only try to remain. They are monster-children in suspended time, numerous but without evolution. The pederastras’ museum is not imaginary or fantasmatic, and their collection is not of photo-regrets, but of petrified embraces. These are Lewis Carroll’s sensitive plates. The pederastra prefers the juxtaposition of present bodies over the dull univocal succession from infants and teenagers to children (all negative terms, bandied to designate something other than themselves), the success of the familial compilation. Age groups cease to be the stages of a dialectical ascent. They are captured side by side and materialized by a wonderful petrifying fountain, which has this invaluable advantage over the fountain of youth: its effects are immediate, not simply setting the counter back to zero. We see this with the Florentine Boy with Thorn, the flexible Hermes of Sicily, Charles Dodgson’s beloved albums of shots, the photographs in antique bedsheets from the collections of Gide, from Taormina and elsewhere, the pouring satyrs and children playing with geese—in short, all the child-statues which will not grow by alteration, but by the sole effect of photographic enlargement, remaining as they are in themselves, generating an excitement unknown to the family album.
“My dear Lily, You have unfortunately omitted to tell me what photographs the youngest four chose. Also, before I can send any, I must know, in each case, whether ‘cabinet’ or ‘carte’ is wished for, and whether ‘plain’ or ‘vignette.’” The Letters of Lewis Carroll to His Child-Friends abound in presents, with the volumes of the childhood novel and the games and cryptograms. The photographs form a continuous network of seduction. This artistic and mannered photography of the pederastic collection is opposed to the prosaicness of the snapshot-sign, signpost of a biography—Edwin’s, for example, taken from behind by his father, in anorak and silhouetted, in Steven Millhauser’s novel.
Collections, museums, endless scintillation of a gallery where change does not enter, where each station is in itself an end and not the outline of its aging.
Those are the enthusiasts, friends of children’s bodies for their actual form, not for the ghost of children yet to come. There, none of those internal modifications are wanted, which the Greek Sophists had already identified against the awakener of nothingness as the child’s desire for death. Living statues for the photographic eye to stroke have a smoothness which pedagogic sensitivities have no hold on, an incorruptible body sheltered from diachronic mold.
Synchronization and Miniaturization
The Edwin Mullhouse’s biography is a constant wrench against the flow’s relativity. There is no evolution or progression with Edwin, and his biography explains that it’s at no point a question of following the misleading tracks of vague childhood memories, but instead one of meticulously collecting the hero’s smallest deeds and gestures, like the plastic gifts from cereal boxes or the images wrapped around chewing gum. Edwin already exists in his entirety from the first day, a wholly conscious poet, a verbal player even in childish sputter. There is the uncanny precision of the pages dedicated to the “first childhood” (the one which Freud says is never remembered), highlighting a simultaneity of all moments. This is the refusal of evolution, which Edwin sometimes reflects on, and the absolute presence of the screen, the glossy film where the least object is inscribed, the cartoon screen, and screen-memory in the strict sense, beyond interpretation. “[M]emory is merely one form of imagination,” explains Edwin, just as the world is only a comic strip.
On the screen, little characters appear.
“The child,” writes Ariès regarding the representation in the Middle Ages of children in the form of human miniatures, “is a dwarf, but a dwarf who was sure not to remain so, unless in the case of enchantment.” We prefer to invoke the case of enchantment, rather than the psychiatric one. A bridge is constructed toward the possibility of remaining a miniature, being a miniature and not just a rough draft. A detail or miniature: the most interesting and amusing motifs are the smallest. Being afraid of not growing up and nevertheless being subjected to the general regret of growing up, the choice is quite limited. In growing-up, the motifs are made archetypes and the juxtaposed multiplicity is made a unity of becoming. There is only one of them who grows up, one who becomes: me.
The circus dwarves manifest the power of enchantment at work in medieval art. They offer the spectacle of the little ones when they are not caught in the monitoring of their growth. And it’s worth distinguishing the spectacle at the circus, the gaze of enjoyment, from the scopism of surveillance analyzed by Foucault.
The only thing seen in the little one by familial reproduction, i.e. the little one’s fathering by the larger so that he in turn becomes large, is an imperfection. But the intention with the pederastra’s miniaturized collection is to substitute instead a nesting within the little ones, like a Russian doll. Humbert Humbert does not consider any posterity besides this, a parody of the succession of fathering:
to the thought that with patience and luck I might have her produce eventually a nymphet with my blood in her exquisite veins, a Lolita the Second . . . indeed, the telescopy of my mind, or un-mind, was strong enough to distinguish in the remoteness of time a vieillard encore vert . . . Dr. Humbert, practicing on supremely lovely Lolita the Third the art of being a granddad.
A nesting that synchronizes what death should accentuate, a short circuit in the reproductive hierarchy, the strict beginning of enjoyment at each moment. The Holy Sinner by Thomas Mann flattens said hierarchy in the same way, by assembling all the incests in a great synchronic brotherhood. Producing nymphets, not reproducing offspring. Nymphets and little ones, little girls, the names resonate under the touch of word and gesture. Lolita, the name that rolls off the tongue, is a call to pleasure and not a call to order. They are imps [lutins] that tease [lutinent].
Humbert, however, seemingly also takes himself for the father-teacher, and he fails no more or less than the others. Test-failures are the masochistic law of pedagogy. Simply, he sees the failure in question after the shore of the satisfaction and not in the tragic sentiment of powerlessness:
I could persuade her to do so many things—their list might stupefy a professional educator; but no matter how I pleaded or stormed, I could never make her read any . . . literature . . . In the days of that wild journey of ours, I doubted not that as father to Lolita the First I was a ridiculous failure.
The efforts of convenience that Humbert multiplies to recuperate a socially decent façade continually slide over Lolita’s indifference. But at least he upholds the correct aim, knowing that the only failure is failure to blend in. “[W]hen we . . . played a childish game of cards, or . . . silently stared, with other motorists and their children, at some smashed, blood-bespattered car with a young woman’s shoe in the ditch . . .; on all those random occasions, I seemed to myself as implausible a father as she seemed to be a daughter.” The details of the tragic are comical; that’s undoubtedly why children love accidents. In the film The Left Handed Gun, a little girl bursts into laughter in front of a cadaver missing a shoe. In places like this, Humbert and Lolita are in collusion.
“Was, perhaps, guilty locomotion instrumental in vitiating our powers of impersonation?” Certainly, during this wild journey that drags along pederastras and little ones, the camouflage is going to be tattered. But that’s all the better to unveil the bodies that were hiding underneath.
What does the failure of the father and pedagogue matter, such that the pederastra must pretend to be him? What does the failure of the failure, or the failure of an illusion matter when one holds the warm reality? In truth, only teachers intimately base their fate on pedagogic failure.
The Dead-Ends of Growth
My dear Birdie,
As are the feelings of the old lady who, after feeding her canary and going out for a walk, finds the cage entirely filled, on her return, with a live turkey—or of the old gentleman who, after chaining up a small terrier overnight, finds a hippopotamus raging around the kennel in the morning—such are my feelings when, trying to recall the memory of a small child who used to wade in the sea at Sandown, I meet with the astonishing photograph of the same microcosm suddenly expanded into a tall young person, whom I should be too shy to look at, even with a telescope which would no doubt be necessary to get any distinct idea of her smile, or at any rate, to satisfy oneself whether she has eyebrows or not! (Letter from Lewis Carroll)
A strange effect is encountered upon return which, by enlarging, masks the photograph-like magnification of Alice’s mushroom, or the animal transmutation. The detailed view obtained is not, alas, of the same body in the same proportions, but another body, a view of large young girls and not of large little girls. The immediate contact of the pederastra and the little girl is broken by the telescopic distance—like the telephonic distance between Michel Tournier’s two twins, destroying the twin cell—from which are observed these large young English girls, who call to mind more the hippopotamus than the nymphet. This is the growth which forms a new and autonomous being, and not the erotic nearness of a detail. In restoring the continuity from the little girl to the young girl, a trap is set for the pederastra. The aim is to make him forget the figurines of his collection to make him into the problematic spectator of an agonizing development.
Wedekind has written a whole play, Spring Awakening, highly appreciated by Freud, to take advantage of this vein: the blossoming of the adult in the child and of sex in innocence. The beginning of the piece raises the “sexual problem” of the subtle game between adult paranoia and childish worry:
“The dress is too long, Mother. Why did you make it so long?”
“You are fourteen years old today.”
“I don’t want to be fourteen if it means wearing a dress as long as this.”
“It isn’t too long, Wendla . . . You’re a big girl now, you can’t always run about in your little princess frock.”
“. . . Please, Mother, let me wear it a little longer. Just this summer . . .”
“I don’t know what to say. I would love to keep you just the way you are. Other girls are so gangly and awkward at your age. You’re the opposite.–I wonder what you’ll be like when the others have developed.”
“Who knows – perhaps I won’t be here at all.”
“Wendla, what puts such thoughts in your head!”
Finally, the mother allows her to put back on her little princess frock, and will “sew a flounce around the bottom when [she has] time.” Is everything thus as before? No, because from now on the long dress has, as it were, penetrated the little dress; the law stating that the more surface there is to show, the more of it must be covered allows the blossoming of the mystery of sex, retrospective and prospective continuity is established between the child and the adult. Mothers contend with the hard law of growing up through extensions.
There are, however, a thousand ways of escaping the blocked double choice exposed by Wedekind. In place of the optical illusion of continuity, Lewis Carroll speaks of a brutal transformation that leaves each of the natures considered totally intact. An older girl is precisely, to put it mildly, no more the development of a little girl than a turkey is a canary. A nymphet is not an ordinary adolescent. The way Humbert refuses the maturing succession is completely different: Lolita will remain a nymphet until the end, the green fruits will never become mushy. To be a nymphet or a little girl in Carroll’s sense is to be always the same or totally different, and in nature, not in phase. The “blossoming” which mothers and educators are so touched by merely hides a transmutation, and those who believe that it’s a single person growing when the fox-terrier and the hippopotamus succeed each other need only buy themselves glasses. Where magnification would express its synchrony, growing-up digs a dialectic.
Thus the puppet Pinocchio, whose nature is just as little reducible to the universal child as the nymphet’s, is not subject to the law of necessary growth. Collodi’s pedagogical ingenuity, like with the fire, is to present this non-subjection to growing up as a curse for a child, whose metaphor would be the puppet: “But you can’t grow up,” the fairy explains to Pinochio, “because puppets never grow up. They are born puppets, live as puppets and die puppets.” Lolita too is born and dies a nymphet.
These narrowly specific natures rarely mix. Neither Humbert Humbert nor Dodgson likes children universally. They are not carried towards the tender age by a flashback, a sweet nostalgia or a passion for beings in bloom. These are specific delicacies, as arbitrary as the taste in candy. “‘What are little girls made of?’ ‘Sugar and spice,’ I began to say . . .” (Letter from Lewis Carroll). Indeed, girl “rhymes to ‘pearl’ and ‘curl’” (another letter). Would you ask the raspberry lover to enjoy gooseberries? But gastronomy, at least, escapes the remorse of the constrained choices, perhaps because it only deals with perfectly and arbitrarily delimited categories. Why would you ask the pederastra for intellectual reasoning (what childhood should be, what it can provide him) for his really individual tastes? When a little girl who was hoping to take a plum from a dish realizes that said plum is green or spoiled, what does she do? Does she feel sorrow or disappointment? No! She takes another of them, and smiles from ear to ear while carrying it to her mouth. The pederastra also applies the axiom of the plum: when the little girl has spoiled, he takes another of them and munches her. Just like culinary choice, pederastic choice spares itself regrets (it takes bad to make good and the big to make the little). It wonders neither where the plum comes from, nor what it will become, nor if the green and spoiled transform into each other. It’s true we won’t make them take an apple instead of a plum just because mom put it there. Lewis Carroll speaks of a father who was seeking to show him his little boy: "He thought I doted on all children. But I'm not omnivorous!—like a pig" (another letter). Only, sometimes the little girl accidentally discovers herself the taste for green plums, similar in that to the Cardinal that Sade speaks of, to whom the madam had given a little boy in place of a little girl: “Always catch me the same,” she also said.
The refusal of evolution which is the basis of nymphet nature is also found at work in the pederastra when he escapes his human camouflage. “You're an ogre, Rachel used to say to me sometimes. An Ogre? A fabulous monster emerging from the mists of time? Well, yes, I do think there's something magical about me . . . And I do believe I issued from the mists of time . . . I was already there a thousand, a hundred thousand years ago.” Thus begins the narration of Tiffaugues, Tournier’s Ogre.
What do the pederastras want? To be unhappy consciousnesses in front of the child’s forbidden body, one more social problem, wolves disguised as plaintive sheep? (Look at the pedophiles with Hollandaise sauce.) Or, instead, to flawlessly reintegrate their original monstrosity, the one that their beautiful name—pederastras, ancient and fabulous Zarathustra—declares to the informed ear?
“When the earth was still only a ball of fire spinning round in a helium sky the soul that lit it and made it spin was mine” (Beginning of The Erl-King). Tiffauges and Humbert are not trembling little old men eager to be recognized as human beings carrying a particular painful cross. They know that their powerful charm comes to them from the depths of time, well before the birth of consciousness and Greek tragedy, and that they resonate with the call of the childhood dream: steal me away into the great blue night of myths.
As for being a monster . . . To begin with, what is a monster ? . . . “[M]onster” comes from “monstrare,” “to show.” A monster is something which is shown, pointed at, exhibited at fairs, and so on . . . If you don't want to be a monster, you’ve got to be like your fellow creatures, in conformity with the species, the image of your relations . . . And here I link up with my eternity again, for with me eternity takes the place of both relatives and progeny. Old as the world, and as immortal, I can have none but putative parents and adopted children. (The Erl-King)
This is the immobilization of reproductive time, the green eternity of the old man Humbert Humbert fathering his own pleasure to infinity in absolute simultaneity. The old man’s greenness corresponds to the green paradise of the nymphets and little boys, without growth or degeneration.
Tiffauges talks about adopted children. Orphans are only adopted out of the desire which only has putative parents: Gepetto, putative father of Pinocchio, Humbert “inheriting” Lolita through the happy coincidence of the death of her mother, whom he had married. It’s a sheer accident, besides, a simple and quick event, as he notices himself, and one which owes nothing to an anti-familial conspiracy. Fortune knows how to welcome the pederastras. Morgan, the little boy from The Pupil, considers himself a meteorite gentleman, fallen by chance into a family. The father and mother are inducers or stimuli of whatever value versus arbitrary adoptive parents.
What the monster needs, if things are taken the other way around, so that it can sink into the paternal relation, is for adoption to become again a humane choice, which is demanded and will no doubt be attempted by the pederastic reformers who want to give pedophiles the benefit of the family’s charms. They will need to work hard, because pederastic raptisme disregards the use of surveillance of the scopic gaze. Tiffagues and the two meteor twins have the same phrases on their adherence to their monstrosity, they know that the circus and fairground gaze reattaches what scopism has separated. The circus which revolves, which flaunts, which goes fast, where everything is light and display. No more behind-the-scenes spying; compare the circus to the Panopticon, every gaze is a spotlight there, none is surveillance. “We are neither in the amphitheatre, nor on the stage, but in the panoptic machine . . .” (Foucault). The pederastra and the child reoccupy the stage and the hall, in the monster and the circus, they like the exhilarating exhibition refused to the shameful watchers observing the hidden.
There are multiple transmutations in Pinocchio, and Collodi has tried to give them a moral and pedagogical value. Thus, the puppet’s transformation into a donkey has generally remained an image of punishment in childhood memory. And yet, if this transformation is extracted from the mutual surveillance of children, if the universal mediator, the schoolchild, is done away with, this transmutation clearly leads to the extravagance of the little donkey in the arena:
[T]he applause redoubled and became a sort of hurricane as Donkey Pinocchio approached the center of the ring. He was all decked out for the occasion: a new bridle of patent leather with brass buckles and studs, a white camellia blossom behind each ear, his mane divvied up into lots of locks tied with charming red silk bows, a wide gold-and-silver sash around his belly, and ribbons of blue-and-purple velvet braided into his tail.
It’s a strange and pleasant punishment. The famous ears, like the lengthening nose, are the humanizing and denunciatory organs which attempts are made to conceal. But, right now, in the spectacle, everything is hung on his body to parade it. The circus director, too, this child-abducting Ogre, knows children’s taste for the parade as well as Fourier. Lewis Carroll also often talks in his letters of lovely costumed celebrations. This is a rehabilitation, against the panoptic shame of the society of the spectacle.
The Journey of Humbert Humbert
a little downy girl still wearing poppies
still eating popcorn in the colored gloam
This is a poem written by Humbert, towards the end of Lolita, before the nymphet’s disappearance.
“My dear Mary, I fear a little that you have taken advantage of my absence to become a big girl . . . I hope that you will be a little girl again next time I see you” (Letter from Lewis Carroll).
In the battle between the little girl and the familial envelope, which Lewis Carroll returns to obsessively, the victory of growing-up is recognized in the abrupt change of tone in the correspondence: so Dodgson addresses himself to a Miss whose surname prepares the respects to be paid to the parents. It’s always in the pederastra’s absence, while he has his back turned, that a turkey is put in the canary’s place.
It’s obvious that what the pederastra lives through in an instant, the family spreads over a long time: it takes time and standstill to sediment in psychological evolution, and Humbert gives the demonstration of it a contrario when he tries to settle in a small town and school Lolita. The overlaps with the impossibilities of familial and scholarly life are equally comical moments. And the journey will resume, which prevents the formation of the pedagogic shell.
Lolita will not grow up, at least not under the weepy and paternal eye of a senile Humbert. The battle we speak of will continue until the ending of the novel, the nymphet will be defended until the end. It’s also in Humbert’s absence that Lolita will become the wife of a brave boy. The family takes advantage of the pederastra’s absence, unable to make him an accomplice. But when Humbert finds Lolita, he will also find the nymphet nature intact. She stubbornly continues to coexist with the other thing, the shapeless adultified social being.
At Humbert’s last visit, Lolita is pregnant, “hopelessly worn at seventeen.” But Humbert does not try to search for a blurry memory of regrets, he does not manifest any resignation to an “inevitable evolution”: "I insist the world know how much I loved my Lolita, this Lolita, pale and polluted, and big with another’s child, but still gray-eyed, still sooty-lashed, still auburn and almond, still Carmencita . . ." One is born a nymphet and dies a nymphet like one is born and dies a puppet.
Humbert will not experience a Lolita aging alongside him in a progressive boredom. There was never any psychologically determinable relationship between them, any reciprocity, any way to classify what happened as human. Indeed, this is what a humorless reader will rightly understand as Humbert’s “drama.”
Born from a legal abduction, Lolita disappears through an abduction—or more precisely, Humbert instantly identifies Lolita’s disappearance as an abduction, he knows well that such an erotic power does not wander without being instantly captured. But for the same humorless reader, Humbert and Lolita’s journey has turned to paranoia, as if Humbert had prepared his own loss; a psychological reconstruction which Nabokov seems to participate in, transforming the collector into a Freudian obsessive and the positive maniac into a negative monomaniac.
It would nevertheless be necessary to agree on the unification of details leading to a great signifying figure, the figure of the unknown abductor. Everything would be simple if Humbert could identify his mysterious pursuer—or if the reader could be sure that that’s what it’s all about. But the activity that Humbert displays regarding automobiles in his American circumnavigation only refers to persecution mania in a forewarned reading. It’s not a car, the car, which follows the strange couple, but cars that Humbert’s less and less explicit mania examines ad infinitum. This mannerism of models and marks dissolves the figure of the pursuer in an infinity of observations which connect more to the collection of scale models than to persecutory compulsion. The “reasons” for such a mania are so self-evident that Humbert never signifies them clearly, and are reminiscent in fact of the American car catalogues accumulated by kids in the fifties. Our bewildered reader in search of understanding breathes a sigh when they think they’ve finally recognized what it’s about: the resurgence of deep guilt in the form of persecutory paranoia, and here’s a type of humanity regained, and Nabokov as the author of a great psychological document.
If, on the contrary, we follow Humbert in his preciousness of detail, we recognize that same taste that impelled the young Edwin to collect comic strips, also that of Humbert as long contemplator of the details of Lolita’s body, capable even of making the verbal pleasures of the syllables of her name vary to infinity. The pursuing car radiates itself in a range of models:
He seemed to patronize at first the Chevrolet genus, beginning with a Campus Cream convertible, then going on to a small Horizon Blue sedan, and thenceforth fading into Surf Gray and Driftwood Gray. Then he turned to other makes and passed through a pale dull rainbow of paint shades, and one day I found myself attempting to cope with the subtle distinction between our own Dream Blue Melmoth and the Crest Blue Oldsmobile he had rented . . .
The “Proteus” of the highway rents cars like pederastras adopt children, a connection not legitimate, but artistically arbitrary. Besides, it’s probable that it’s as a matter of fact during the great American automobile years that the art of collecting bodyworks, colors, and models reached one of its peaks.
Before Lolita’s disappearance, Humbert will deploy a quite comparable precision in deciphering hotel registers, finding infinite types of ingenious code there. Linking more or less imaginary bibliographies and geographies, plays on words which multiply references to the point of dissolving the referent itself in the rounds of places and books.
Is it necessary to reduce the Proteus of the highway, then the distinguished hotel register cryptographer, to the substandard libertine that Humbert will end up murdering, blaming him for Lolita’s abduction? Yes, for the imaginary judges reconstructing a Humbert who stands, as the pederast consumed by his disastrous passion, at the point of forgetting the object itself by immersing himself in his monomania. Yes also for those readers that the false preface written by Nabokov and signed by an alleged doctor of psychology is addressed to, which explains: “[T]hese are not only vivid characters in a unique story: they warn us of dangerous trends; they point out potent evils. ‘Lolita’ should make all of us—parents, social workers, educators—apply ourselves with still greater vigilance and vision to the task of bringing up a better generation in a safer world.”
The unity of blame and persecution is assured, if not in reality (it is undecidable whether the Proteus of the highway, the maker of anagrams and the murder victim are one and the same person), at least in a wretch’s sick brain. The preface that Nabokov would write with the same irony today could just as well say that it’s a matter of progressively making the schizo-journey dependent by an interpretive persecutory madness. Read the novel’s intentions, not the novel.
But then, you neglect the array of cars and the hotel registers in favor of the persecutory figure. Don’t listen to what the pederast relates, he only wants to tell you that he’s guilty and that everyone blames him, or maybe that this isn’t his fault, but that of society . . . What remains of Lolita? Nothing but the persecutory delusion of an old European bachelor seduced by an ice-cream-eating prepubescent slut.
Nabokov protested against the journalistic phrase which sees in Lolita “young America debauching old Europe.” It’s a way of reducing this novel to a “corruption of the old” [détournement de majeur]. The dual luck of Lolita is to have been received as a porno bestseller, not as a great work of literature, and to have been written by an exile in English: “a second-rate brand of English, devoid of any of those apparatuses—the baffling mirror, the black velvet backdrop, the implied associations and traditions” (postface to Lolita). The cosmopolitan polyglotism that is found in these Russian or Romanian families of which Princess Bibesco speaks participate in a “minor” usage of literature (in the sense of Deleuze and Guattari’s book on Kafka).
Lolita belongs to the category of the childhood novel precisely because it is not a grand “message.” The questions that the childhood novel never poses are precisely those the interpreter would like to reconstruct through Nabokov’s text: Is Lolita stupid? Can pederasty and education be reconciled? Does the pederast’s misfortune come from him or the children? What should the relationship between children and adults be?
In the maniac’s taste, in a preciousness which belongs to the same eternity as Tiffauges, and in attachment to detail, are found the interlaced patterns between little boys, little girls and pederastras. Lewis Carroll also has the taste for anagrams, and it’s not so as to hide his sex. Humbert gets lost in the details, it’s not a case for courts.
The proper activity of the childhood novel, Millhauser’s text demonstrates, is the continual fabrication of a cipher which is not a secret to force open, to understand by destroying it. Only the full being teems with details in its texture; the other, the pedagogic child, a vague sketch, conceals its secret.
Works Cited in the Break
Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita (New York: Knopf : Distributed by Random House, 1992).
Tony Duvert, Strange Landscape, trans. Sam Flores (New York: Grove Press : Random House, 1975).
Lewis Carroll, A Selection from the Letters of Lewis Carroll to His Child-Friends: Together with Eight or Nine Wise Words About Letter-Writing, ed. Evelyn M Hatch (London: Macmillan, 1933).
Frank Wedekind, Spring Awakening, trans. Julian Forsythe and Margarete Forsythe (London: Nick Hern Books, 2014).
Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Vintage, 2012).
Gilles Deleuze et al., Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature (Minneapolis; London: University of Minnesota Press, 2016).
Arthur Penn, The Left Handed Gun (Haroll Productions, Warner Bros., 1958).
Episode Three: From the Animal to the Superhuman
animal-children — wolf-child and autism — the transformations of the body — the green parrot — a hodgepodge body — the attraction of the body — rebuttal of Pausanias — a libidinal anthroposcopy
The wolf-child of Hesse, the wolf-child of Wetteravie, the bear-child of Lithuania, the sheep-child of Ireland, the calf-child of Bamberg, the bear-girl of Karpfen, the sow-girl of Salzburg, the baboon-child of South Africa, the Indian panther-child, the gazelle-child of Mauritania.
While it’s difficult to take seriously all the cases of zoanthropy collated between 1344 and 1961, which Lucien Malson reports in Wolf Children and the Problem of Human Nature,Lucien Malson and Jean Marc Gaspard Itard, Wolf Children and the Problem of Human Nature (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1972).
at least that of two young girls, Amala and Kamala of Midnapore, in India, was accurately studied at the recent date of 1920, which gave rise to abundant literature and some controversies. Found living with wolves, they adopted their behaviour, and their bodies were consequently modified: “With both of them,” wrote Reverend Singh, who did not doubt that they had been raised by wolves,
the skin on their hands, knees and elbows was heavily calloused. Their tongues hung out through thick red lips, they panted and frequently bared their teeth. They suffered from photophobia and day-blindness, and spent their days crouched in the shade or standing motionless with their faces to the wall. They . . . slept only about four hours in twenty-four. They had two means of getting about: on their knees and elbows for short distances and on their hands and feet for longer distances or for running. They lapped up liquids and took their food in a crouching position. Their exclusive taste for meat led them to indulge in the only activity of which they were capable: chasing chickens or rooting around for carcasses and entrails. Though they took a slight interest in dogs and cats, they were completely unsociable and used to snarl at humans, showing particular hostility to Singh's wife. When anyone approached, they used to arch their backs menacingly and shake their heads rapidly back and forwards to show their wariness.Malson and Itard, 68–69.
The fact that it is not a matter of constitutional weakness or congenital disability is shown by the spectacular transformations of the older, Kamala, in the course of her short life: she learned to stand, walk, speak, she humanized herself. She died at seventeen. We could go on and on about whether the extraordinary exertions imposed on her by her physical, emotional, and intellectual training were not the reason for it, more than her “sad condition” of origin. Because it’s a fact that, brought to the great day of civilization, all the animal or savage children are dead youths, before age twenty. Humanization is, for them, an illness or an opening on unknown illnesses. Kamala died of a generalized edema; Itard discovered in Victor, the savage of Aveyron, the first signs of humanity when he caught a cold, in seeing him sneeze: “At length diseases, even the diseases which are the inevitable and troublesome results arising from a state of civilization, added their testimony to the development of the principle of life. Very early in the spring our young savage was affected with a violent cold, and some weeks after, with two attacks of a similar nature, one almost immediately succeeding the other.”Malson and Itard, 110.
Wolf-Children and Autism
But here, a parenthesis, and a prejudicial objection which risks reducing speculations on this subject to nothing. Do the feral or wolf-children exist? In The Empty Fortress, Bettelheim denies it: he sees there a simple myth, a myth which has the dual function of absolving the people who abandon their children (there will be some animal to raise them) and warding off the threat that madness poses against the idea we have of humanity. Because those children are autistics who have been abandoned or lost, precisely because of their disability.Bruno Bettelheim, The Empty Fortress: Infantile Autism and the Birth of the Self (New York: Free Press, 1967).
What proves it is the amazing similarity between the character traits and behavior of feral children and those of autistics: non-verbalism, rocking, demeanor seeming like that of an animal, etc. But it’s neither plausible nor true that some children had been raised by animals, even if they were found momentarily in their company. Besides, Ogburn and Bose showed by site survey, in 1959, that the story of Kamala’s discovery was a fiction. The calluses of her limbs were recent; she was temporarily among wolves, she was never raised by them, etc.
We’re happy to admit that Bettelheim’s argumentation is irrefutable on these points. But what interests us above all is not so much the fact that he shows that wolf-children are autistics, but the fact of the existence, in autism, of traits which invincibly bring the animal to mind, a specific mode of sensitivity and attitudes. They lap like animals, show their teeth have a remarkable insensitivity to the cold and warmth, and can move themselves with extraordinary speed. He quotes the case of a young girl who was raised during the first years of her life with dogs and adopted certain of their traits: “She crawled under furniture like the dog and chewed up both furniture and rugs. Along with the dog she chewed on bones and lapped the dog’s water . . . When efforts were made to interfere she ‘fought like a little tiger.’ She . . . kicked, bit, and scratched at anyone within reach.”Bettelheim, 349. Cf. Ibid. p.360: “One boy who (like Anna) could neither walk nor run like a human child, but could only leap wildly, or hop or jump, was often referred to as a gazelle. Another child reminded us all of a bear because of his lumbering gait, his growl . . .”
Bettelheim remarks that rarely is a different metaphor found to depict autistics than that of the animal: foal, solitary wolf. About another little girl, Anna, he quotes:
Suddenly she reached over, put her arms around her neck, put her face close to the girl’s face, and tried to open the girl’s mouth, first with her fingers and then with her teeth, to take with her teeth the gum from out of the other girl’s mouth," and adds in commentary: "It wouldn’t take much imagination to believe that here re-enacted was the feeding of a child from the muzzle of a mother animal. It would indeed make a good story.Bettelheim, 360.
And why not? Why oppose a “reality,” to know that the autistic is not indeed an animal, to the story that seizes on inarguably animal gestures on their body? We oppose Bettelheim in that we think that it’s not simply a “metaphor” of the animal, but something in common or indiscernible which makes it impossible to say where the boundary between animal and human is with regard to this type of children. We reckon that only Bettelheim’s ethical, moralizing attitude, indignant at the thought that the human child could be confused with an animal, forbids him from bringing out the sense of facts that he nevertheless describes in a striking fashion.
Let’s see in more detail: for example, regarding the little girl-dog, he takes care to clarify: “In short, she used her constitutional apparatuses as much like a dog as her human endowment permitted, but only that much and no more. She never did anything canine that another human being could not do who put his mind to it.”Bettelheim, 349.
But who ever doubted it? That Kamala was not a she-wolf, but a wolf-child, i.e. not transformed into an animal but not being merely in a metaphorical relationship with it, because finding it in her gestures, putting its body in unison with hers. Even and above all if the animal did not raise her, this encounter is all the more significant. To explain the apparent wilding or animalization of autistics, Bettelheim writes, in another passage, that “It seems in large part their reaction to some persons’ (usually the parents’) inability to parent one of their children, and not of some animals’ humanity to the child.”Bettelheim, 381.
But there, for us, is precisely the misinterpretation or divergence of plans. Because there’s no need to demand that animal show itself “human,” and the child among animals is probably not in this relationship that we designate “emotional,” and which is probably indispensable to their humanization, any more than (as Bettelheim shows—a point on which we are in agreement) there is probably no more direct relation than imitation or apprenticeship. The profound understanding between the little girl and the dog, the unconscious understanding which is performed at the level of the body, at the limits of its constitutional possibilities, indicates another position of children’s existence outside men, and undermines the postulate of the clarity of human relations for them.
All is not said until this is set forth: what seems animal in child is only that they are not yet in connection with the human environment which forms them. Outside this connection, there is a margin of indeterminacy and uncertainty, an intimate membership which is not of the order of metaphor, and which either has not known humans or was rejected by them, underpinning the coherence of the possibly paramount animal/child couple.
Not just wolf-children or autistics: we say any children whatsoever. Musil writes, in The Man Without Qualities:
For at that time the town was placarded with circus posters showing not only horses but lions and tigers, too, and huge, splendid dogs that lived on good terms with the wild beasts. He had stared at these posters for a long time before he managed to get one of the richly colored pieces of paper for himself, cut the animals out, and stiffen them with little wooden supports so that they could stand up. What happened next can only be compared to drinking that never quenches one’s thirst no matter how long one drinks, for there was no end to it, nor, stretching on for weeks, did it get anywhere; he was constantly being drawn to and into these adored creatures with the unutterable joy of the lonely child, who had the feeling every time he looked at them that he owned them, with the same intensity that he felt something ultimate was missing, some unattainable fulfillment the very lack of which gave his yearning the boundless radiance that seemed to flood his whole being.Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities, trans. Sophie Wilkins, 2017, chap. 126.
Let’s leave aside the lack, the construction of desire from lack, which seems to us less essential than the positive shift it indicates, at the level of the same body, and which it produces.
The Transformations of the Body
It’s true that in the history of wolf-children or feral children, the negative aspects have been especially emphasized. The anthropologists and sociologists have indeed noticed: humanization depends on the environment, on different templates and relationships that pervade children into what seems most humanly innate in their bodies. There is, admittedly, a dispute regarding innateness. Bettelheim, for example, conflicts with psychologies of pure and simple external conditioning by affirming the innateness of personal bodily dispositions, such as standing upright. But at this time there is scarcely any or no theory at all that acknowledges a purely external conditioning. The notion of “environment,” both internal and external, describes interaction between the influences which act on a child and the way he or she uses them. In any case, it will be admitted that there is no determining heredity which would smoothly reproduce the human type, from preformed “human nature.” This is Malson’s thesis, in Wolf-Children: “The inheritance of the species is once again [like individual heredity] shown to be nebulous indeed without a proper social apprenticeship.”Malson and Itard, Wolf Children and the Problem of Human Nature, 50.
It’s also that of the psychologist René Zazzo, who, in his study on twins, sought to penetrate the secret of somatic and psychic individuation; his comments on Kamala’s case, whatever you make of her story, may be valuable universally, like they would be valuable moreover for psychotics: “What strikes us, in Kamala’s story, this child of man raised by wolves, is the absence of all humanity in her behavior. Aged about eight when she was discovered in the jungle of Midnapore, she walked, howled, and ate like the wolves. The usual formative power of the human environment, understood in the widest sense, is rudely revealed to us here by its total absence.”Zazzo, Les jumeaux, le couple et la personne, 45.
But Zazzo, like Malson, and in part like Bettelheim, mainly reach to show “that at the limit the effects of heredity on the genesis of human behavior could be practically nothing.” What is seen in Kamala is the absence of the formative human environment. There remains the “wolf environment”; and Zazzo no more than Bettelheim explains how it is that the little girl is “alright” with the dogs, or that autistics and children in general seek out animals rather than men; he does not apply especial attention to the fact that Kamala “sat down beside two kid goats, hugged them, and spoke to them in some incomprehensible language of her own.”Malson and Itard, Wolf Children and the Problem of Human Nature, 70.
Yet this collusion with the animal has the same nature as the one that Itard detects in Victor, with things. Attentive to the awakening of his nervous sensibility, in what concerns humanly significant activities, Itard describes in some beautiful passages, without however lingering there, another type of sensibility that humanization should rather destroy:
When, in a moon-light night, the rays of that luminary penetrated into his room, he seldom failed to awake out of his sleep, and to place himself before the window. There he remained, during a part of the night, standing motionless, his neck extended, his eyes fixed towards the country illuminated by the moon, and, carried away in a sort of contemplative extasy, the silence of which was interrupted only by deep-drawn inspirations, after considerable intervals, and which were always accompanied with a feeble and plaintive sound.Malson and Itard, 104.
Therefore it isn’t so important to recognize that heredity or nature is not enough to shape man if the environment does not contribute to it, if what children are, and this always-possible slide towards and into something else, is only ever looked for in relation to what man is—what children are, and not their beings-in-development, or their growth. Because, to linger in search of development, the problems of the body are immediately confined in the simple context of size, weight, and “growing”; the body is inserted in self-image or self-representation, which should gradually enable the child to capture their autonomy and personal identity relative to “grown-ups.” Child psychology is generally oriented toward this kind of search.For example, René Zazzo and Marie-Claude Hurtige, Des garçons de 6 à 12 ans (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1969).
It’s true that, in a certain way, a child is above all a growing body, a transitory being whose size and shape can only be fixed through steps, whose present is always engaged in a visible change. Children’s major issues are somatic: weight, size, advancement or delay in puberty.
But, even in this area of an observation that seems completely objective, it’s possible and even necessary to take things differently. For growth is exactly what makes the child’s body strange to them, being at once themself and something outside them, which they experience and watch modify itself, by playing, by distorting it at will. The growth question is a matter of dick size, breast growth, and hair, a bodily fate both theirs—which is themself—and uncontrollable, while remaining contortable. The child plays around with it, hiding their penis between their thighs, making faces in front of the mirror, transforming their body into a universal container, enjoying themself by perverting its functions and resemblance.See also Georg Groddeck, The Book of the It, trans. Lawrence Durrell (London: Vision Press, 1949).
It’s a surface of games and transformations rather than growth. The captured body, shaped by growth according to the evolving becoming towards adulthood, is simultaneously the place of another, non-temporal “becoming,” outside its properly human destiny. An opening or slide toward other contemporaneous possibilities, first and foremost the animal. This isn’t a matter of a simple fiction, an image, or nostalgia for a lost world whose traces could be found in children raised by beasts, but really of an inhumanity lived immediately in the body as such.
According to this orientation, and with the reservations of credibility that we indicated, the interesting thing is not confirming that Kamala or Victor could only become human in an environment of men, but the incongruous question that their experience, exceptional all the same, poses: what was it like, among wolves, or in the mountains in moonlight? A question obviously without answer, because expecting one would suppose an original memory of a human type. Cured autistics, notes Bettelheim, do not remember, or only do so vaguely. A question which is without answer, but not absurd, if it’s true that children’s experience of the body is originally outside language, outside self-identification, which allows them to confer with beasts or the moon, and if it can be said, to be them. In its indifference to organic destiny, Kamala’s non-wolf but also non-human body bears a possibility for children which is generally ignored or not included. Let’s repeat that it isn’t metaphorical, but inscribed on the body, which is also shown at the outset by the modification it makes to the functioning of the internal organs themselves, particularly those of nutrition. Kamala chases chickens and eats raw meat, the bear-child of Lithuania was a fan of grass and flesh, the sheep-child of Ireland ate grass and hay, the calf-child of Bamberg would fight the largest dogs by fighting, and the pig-child of Overdyke manifested “a particular passion for green plants and had to be restrained whenever he got near a cabbage patch”Malson and Itard, Wolf Children and the Problem of Human Nature, 44. For autistic children, we refer again here to some beautiful texts by Fernand Deligny: Nous et l’innocent; Cahiers de l’Immuable.; Ce Gamin, Là, Documentary (Les Films du Carrosse, Les Productions de la Guéville, Reggane Films, 1976).
It’s pointless continuing the list, because these examples, which as Bettelheim shows can also characterize autistics, indicate that we cannot reject these transformations as simple imaginary, but that they rather provide the key to bird- (or mouse- or cat- or dog- or leopard-)being, which populate the innocent games of childhood. An “innocence” which has its own paths, outside the programmed body.
The Green Parrot
An example of a different but analogous order of this seizure of the child by the animal: animal passion.
Princess Bibesco tells the story of a little girl who falls madly in love with a green parrot, a passion she will never part with.. Princess Marthe Bibesco, Le perroquet vert (Paris: Grasset, 1924); Just for the record, we mention zoophilia or zoosexuality as such here: it is commonly practised by children and young people in the country. In a Moroccan study by Paul Pascon and Mekki Bentahar, 14% of young people surveyed recognized it as a normal behaviour of childhood and adolescence, on the same level as masturbation (Ce que disent 296 jeunes ruraux: enquête sociologique [Rabat: Société d’études économiques, sociales et statistiques du Maroc, 1970]).
In the story of this life so close to her own, the narrator insists on what she considers an “emotional suppression” which she would be devoted to; i.e. the humanized loves do not exist for her, her husband, who only appears in three lines, having had (like Humbert Humbert’s spouse) the good taste to die quickly in an accident. Her anhedonia (“I occupy myself exclusively with numbness . . . I was forever cured of the madness of desiring something . . .”) is only, like Nabokov’s hero’s, a disgust at the personalist forms of desire which leaves the field free for non-anthropomorphic love.
“Your mad love for the green parrot was the natural consequence of the boredom and sentimental deprivation in which your parents let you live,” explains an old family doctor whom she maintained, many years later, about the “unforgettable event.” Let’s reverse the proposition: the suppression of parental, filial, and if need be conjugal sentiments clears a wide abstract range of the human. The unforgettable event is the childhood encounter with a bird:
From the open window of a hideous brand-new house, at the precise moment we passed, there escaped a green parrot. It appeared to me in full flight, wings deployed, dazzling and quick, like an angel furnished with a beak, like a green eagle, which swooped on me, just like I’d imagine a divine messenger, so that I forgot to breath. It wheeled for a moment overhead, and came to alight familiarly on the little otter-fur muff I wore. I was chosen! Thus something happened to me that never did again: happiness. And, from the moment following this wonder, I accepted it as something self-explanatory. Someone cured by miracle is amazed at nothing.
The text’s strangeness arises from the total seriousness with which the author considers this passion for an animal, who however declares no other.
Love at first sight, the bolt of lightning . . . what had been said more wisely, more madly, on this consuming subject, in no way surprised me. I knew all about passion, I who married without love, and who seems to not love anyone. It would be enough for me to think of the green parrot to understand Juliet’s words to Romeo: Yes, my dear lord, I am already more yours than mine.
The oddity and abruptness of the event stress the bird’s passional function: “Yes, that happened to me . . . a wonder had taken place, something had precipitated; I had seen this marvelous rip occur, through which the unforeseeable future broke into the present and filled it up entirely.” The event and the rip take shape through the intervention of the bird’s silhouette, neither familiar nor familial, of its beak and claws. What we will call the Ganymede configuration involves the bird falling from the sky for the passional abduction: unforeseeability, but also non-regressive permanence of the emotion. “Later . . . I rediscovered the violence of visual emotion provoked by the bird’s appearance. Exotic arts seduced me . . . The bird had a beak, wings, and curiously cut claws, and the angel of strangeness had touched me with its wing.” Regarding a painting in the museum of Florence: “The flashing and swirling angel who came to alight at the virgin’s feet . . . this angel with wings sharp as knives with his wicked look and eyes slanted under the crest of his diadem, looked like the brother to my beautiful bird.”
The child does not “represent herself” through the strange, splendid, colorful parrot’s forcible entry into her universe: the bird “carries her off” passionally, wrests her from her dull tranquillity without her approval or agreement. Then a frightening conspiracy is set up against this sudden happiness, to shatter the bird-child axis, to implant a desire for normalized ownership in the little girl that can be denied at leisure.
Her parents promise her the bird, which she “had never thought could have been hers.” Then, on the day when it is finally going to be given to her, after slowly making her longing to have it ripen, the fowler having brought it, the father stands up and exclaims: “I beg you, don’t give this parrot to the child, her whim is absurd . . . these beasts can spread diphtheria.” Suffocation, despair, disease. The interparental dissensions are there only to better integrate the miraculous bird into the familial blackmail.
A Hodgepodge Body
Of course, it’s appropriate to distinguish this passion, as well as the variations on the body discussed above, from the humanization of animals so frequent in literature for children. Kamala’s world of wolves has nothing to do with Kipling’s animals with human language and sentiments, nor with the wolf grappling with men in London’s The Call of the Wild, although with the help of language the latter book reaches to “recreate” and “make understood” what the wolf-being could want to say. But, precisely, it “wants to say,” and lack of language remains the weakness of the tamed animal that socializes with men. For the child, this failure would instead indicate its strength: strength without power, but which makes it abruptly slide along a cutting line where it is beyond reach. It can laugh at the adult, whose identifiable body remains forever fixed, and who can acknowledge nothing but what he knows belongs to them inside, or their limit which separates them from outside.
But to talk about projection or introjection in psychological language would be inappropriate, because it would be assuming the child is in possession of this organic body which only a knowledge slowly instilled or implanted could make him consider their own, remote, and hopelessly different from animals and things. It’s no longer a question of this “sphere of belonging” of the particular body, spoken of by a phenomenology of the body which always returns to the primary distinction of me and not-me, which accompanies the body’s overall awareness of its “image,” and makes full bodily control rest on the progressive integration of originally-scattered partial awarenesses. Thus, they say, the child only has this image imperfectly, is scattered in different badly-integrated parts of themself.
No, it’s not that. What “becoming-animal,” teaches us, as well as the childish game or shaping of the body, is that these are not dispersals of parts which would be integrated later. Everything operates at the same time, even when the organs taken for themselves are treated by the child as toys, as strange things. At first, it is indeed a body, but susceptible to modifications, whose forms, parts, alternatives, so to speak, are variable: “I am a chicken and I have wings, a dog and I have fangs, an elephant and I have a trunk”; or else: “I cut off my dick, I stop up my asshole, I’ve got pipes in my belly.” Daniel Thibon’s curious book, Le crispougne, written from the perspective of a seven-year-old boy, is teeming with ideas of this sort: “You make dogs, birds, piss descend from the head, from the crying-bag; the peepee, it’s good for nothing, it’s just made to be a thing that hangs and someday you cut it off”; or, “there’s snails in your guts.”Daniel Thibon, Le crispougne (Paris: Ed. Stock, 1975).
It’s in this context that we must give meaning to the rich abundance of descriptions of children in Melanie Klein, which are not illuminated by an allusion to the mother’s body, whereas they’re immediately legible as the connection between the child and their hodgepodge body: the little Fritz pictured his own body
as a town, often as a country, and later on as the world, intersected by railway lines. He imagined this town to be provided with everything necessary for the people and animals who lived there and to be furnished with every kind of modern contrivance.
There were telegraphs and telephones, different sorts of railways, lifts and merry-go-rounds, advertisements, etc.
or again, “He once told me that, when he was urinating, he had to put on the brakes (which he managed by pressing his penis), for otherwise the whole house might fall in.”Melanie Klein, Love, Guilt and Reparation and Other Works 1921-1945 (New York, N.Y.: Free Press of Glencoe, 1984), 96.
That body, which is the child, is a body of desire, if it upsets the organism’s arrangement and our conceptions of it, it’s not by ignorance, but because it exists in another register. That of this “body without organs” which Deleuze and Guattari speak of, and that they characterize as being “the plane of immanence of desire” or the surface of displacement of “intensities.”
An intensity as such has no form. It is placed on the body without organs, outside all formal extensive representation which makes the body an organism. The body without organs is not “before” the organism; it is adjacent to it and is continually in the process of constructing itself. If it is tied to childhood, it is not in the sense that the adult regresses to the child and the child to the Mother, but in the sense that the child, like the Dogon twin who takes a piece of the placenta with him, tears from the organic form of the Mother an intense and destratified matter that on the contrary constitutes his or her perpetual break with the past, his or her present experience, experimentation. The body without organs is a childhood block, a becoming, the opposite of a childhood memory. It is not the child “before” the adult, or the mother “before” the child: it is the strict contemporaneousness of the adult, of the adult and the child, their map of comparative densities and intensities, and all of the variations on that map.Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, “Comment se faire un corps sans organes ?,” Minuit., no. 10 (September 1974); Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, “November 28, 1947: How Do You Make Yourself a Body without Organs?,” in A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis, MN; London: University of Minnesota Press, 1987).
The child does not rest until they model their own body from this body of desire or without organs, tattooing it, incising it, painting it, making it grimace, contorting it, dressing it up, animalizing it, turning it into a thing. Nothing psychologically definable in that. And what proves it is that it concerns a phenomenon that sweepingly overruns the child’s individuality, but concerns childhood and can become the object of a ritual. Lévi-Strauss, in The Savage Mind, draws the haircut of Osage and Omaha children according to the clan which imposes on the child the mark of the totemic animal: hair cut into the “head and tail of elk; head, tail and horns of buffalo; horns of buffalo; head of bear, etc.”Claude Lévi-Strauss, The Savage Mind (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966), 171.
But we don’t think that for our children it’s to do with a survival (and by what means?) but really of a universal apprehension of a possibility given at the level of the body, as an ability to break the frontiers which separate the human from the non-human. Children go by themselves to enlist, not mysteriously, but because our personalist attribution of the body is an exception. They thus “naturally” discover a civilization of tattooing and masks, in the sense which Georges Buraud defines it in his book on Les masques: “A different figure is invented to tempt and tame the demonic forces, to want to become other by searching in the mask for the illusion of the freer and superior life of the animal or god.”Georges Buraud, Les Masques (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1948), 93–100.
The Attraction of the Body
This is why the child’s body, much more than announcing a coming man, is always on the side of the inhuman or superhuman. Many speak of the child’s “superhuman beauty” (Michel Tournier, Christiane RochefortRochefort, Encore heureux qu’on va vers l’été; Tournier, The Erl-King.
), but this appreciation would risk sliding towards sublimation and subjectivity, towards the “enchanted world” of a sappy childhood, if we didn’t take into account, next to it like its ever-present counterpart, the inhuman thing that the child can want themself to be or toward which they are lead in a perverse delight. Next to the charming Alice, the pot-man, Humpty-Dumpty, her companion. Going further, the man-pot is always the child themself, at issue or in potential, threatening the paternal adult with the possibility of his children escaping him. “In China,” writes Hugo in The Man Who Laughs,
from time immemorial, they have possessed a certain refinement of industry and art. It is the art of moulding a living man. They take a child, two or three years old, put him in a porcelain vase, more or less grotesque, which is made without top or bottom, to allow egress for the head and feet. During the day the vase is set upright, and at night is laid down to allow the child to sleep. Thus the child thickens without growing taller, filling up with his compressed flesh and distorted bones the reliefs in the vase. This development in a bottle continues many years. After a certain time it becomes irreparable. When they consider that this is accomplished, and the monster made, they break the vase. The child comes out—and, behold, there is a man in the shape of a mug!
This is convenient: by ordering your dwarf betimes you are able to have it of any shape you wish.Victor Hugo, The Man Who Laughs (Project Gutenberg, 2004).
A horrible evocation if it must represent a historical fact, but which, taken literally, only implies what we call a body of desire.
The pot-man, what a beautiful variation for the child, on others’ body and on their own! It isn’t beauty, indeed, that interests them, but rather this monstrous modification of a body, tearing it from its contingency, able to operate infinite modifications on it. The child is certainly nearer to a dwarf, hunchback, or deformed being, than to that which a perfect beauty is attributed to; because they are not attracted to what is fixed in its permanence, but the non-conforming and indecisive.
Starting with gender-indecisiveness, or what we call such, on which is based the transition, always activated in childhood, to the differently-gendered being. Musil writes of his “man without qualities” Ulrich:
[T]he sight of her . . . suddenly filled him, in the same indescribable way as he had longed for the animals on the circus posters, with the longing to be a girl. . . . [T]his infant male did not want to draw that infant female into himself but wanted to take her place entirely, and this happened with that dazzling tenderness present only in the first intimations of sexuality.Musil, The Man Without Qualities, chap. 126.
Outside the novel, and in observation, we read in Bettelheim:
A third schizophrenic seven year old boy ritualized dramatically his desire for both male and female sex apparatus. He was able to switch almost instantly from one role to another. As a male, he sat on the toilet facing forward, freely exposing his penis; as a female, he sat hiding it, with his face to the wall. For a long time he did not urinate standing up; this would have been too profound a commitment to the male role. As a male, he freely and openly masturbated only his penis; as a female, he just as freely practiced only anal masturbation. As a boy he used his own name, as a girl he used a make-believe name; sometimes it signified himself as a girl and at other times as a clown who was simultaneously male and female.Bruno Bettelheim, Symbolic Wounds: Puberty Rites and the Envious Male (New York: Collier Books, 1962), 31; Cf. Madeleine Laïk: “playing with the sexes, inverting them verbally—I noticed that this was the source of a very keen pleasure with children, as if it were the root of all play activity, the initial motor of”acting as if." Fille ou garçon (Paris: Denoël/Gonthier, 1976), 13.
And, later, the same author speaks of boys who could not admit to not having a vagina, breasts, etc.
Passing over the discomfort provoked by such observations—the observed child who, under the pretext that he is schizophrenic, cannot be peaceful even on the toilet—so as to only remember the undeniable refusal by the child of what destines him to be a boy or girl, and especially the operations he carries out on his own body. Groddeck and, commenting on him, LewinterRoger Lewinter, Groddeck et “Le Royaume millénaire” de Jérôme Bosch: essai sur le paradis en psychanalyse (Paris: Éditions Champ libre, 1974).
very rightly contrast Freudian castration and this positive castration, which consists of the routing his dick between his thighs, transforming himself into a girl, transplanting his organs so to speak. The body’s attraction for the child is not separable from this perpetual oscillation which therefore allows him to assert, relative to the adult, his resistance to humanization, and, from this point of view, his irreducible and monstrous difference.
But we do not doubt that the superhuman in him is just as monstrous, this “superhuman beauty” that will only be recognized by the adult for whom he is made the object of desire. Here the borders are imprecise. Is it a matter of the child’s body, or the body entering adolescence? The distinction doesn’t seem to us to make much difference, because it’s enough that this body is not yet definitively marked by the stamp of sex, that these displacements which make it irretrievable are possible on it. Midway between girl and woman, boy and girl, the childish desirable body is above all the one which also makes the “monstrous” desire of the adult slip into the region of the indescribable. It can only be furtively evoked, as the loves of childhood are furtive, surrounded by approaches where moreover the idea of beauty dissolves, powerless, in that it fixes him, to place the child in “the constellation where he stands.” The outline of Tadzio’s moving silhouette, in Death in Venice by Thomas Mann, coating phrases around the twelve-year-old girl in Musil:
“A little girl of that age often has more beautiful legs than after,” said Ulrich. "Undoubtedly it is due to what they carry immediately above them that they subsequently thicken; when the growth is not finished, they are long, free, they can run, and if the skirts, in a too-lively gesture, reveal the thighs whose curvature already contains a suave growth (Oh! I think of the growth of the moon at the end of its tender lunar adolescence!), it’s superb! Later, I interrogated myself seriously about the reasons for this beauty. At that age, the hair has its softest shine. The face presents its most beautiful design. The eyes are like smooth silk, not yet creased. The mind, destined to become petty and greedy, is still a pure flame in the midst of its obscure desires, without too much clarity. And what is certainly not beautiful yet at this age, for example the childish belly or the blind expression of the chest, is saved, thanks to the clothes inasmuch as they skillfully feign adulthood, and thanks to the dreamy vagueness of love, whatever can give a charming theatrical mask. It is therefore quite honest and normal to admire such a creature, and how could one do so without a hint of love?Robert Musil, L’homme sans qualités, trans. Philippe Jaccottet (Paris: Ed. du Seuil, 1957), 543.
A lovely evocation. But Musil remains trapped in image and rhetoric; in any case he does not clearly define the specificity of the childish body, imaginarily reconstructing belly and breast, while the adult desire for the little girl is indissociable from their lack.
Musil ignores a trait which another writer, more perceptive on this point, does not. In Lolita, Nabokov does not hide that there is homosexuality in the man’s desire for the little girl, that what’s attractive about her body is not the announcement of a woman, but her resemblance to a boy: “[S]he looked perfectly charming. Her hips were no bigger than those of a squatting lad.”Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita (New York: Knopf : Distributed by Random House, 1992); Equally, see Gabriel Matzneff, Les moins de seize ans (Paris: Julliard, 1974).
A remark which would be banal, taken a certain way, because it’s this resemblance which periodically feeds the infatuation of “normal” sexuality with boyish girls, according to fashion. But in Lolita, it’s not about that. Taking the step that Ulrich dare not, Nabokov’s Humbert Humbert is instead fully installed in the desire of “perverse” passion, which gives him access to the specificity of the attraction of the childish body. Lolita is no longer a draft of a woman, but a being sufficient in herself, not an image of a past to contemplate from afar, but a “demoniac” call. “Between the age limits of nine and fourteen there occur maidens who, to certain bewitched travelers, twice or many times older than they, reveal their true nature which is not human, but nymphic (that is, demoniac); and these chosen creatures I propose to designate as ‘nymphets.’” Beauty is not essential to the nymphet, but “the number of true nymphets is strikingly inferior to that of provisionally plain, or just nice, or ‘cute,’ or even ‘sweet’ and ‘attractive,’ ordinary, plumpish, formless, cold-skinned, essentially human little girls.” She does not correspond to identifiable representations, to an image, but has “certain mysterious characteristics . . . fey grace, the elusive, shifty, soul-shattering, insidious charm.” The narrator will only ever give her traits: “feline outline of a cheekbone, the slenderness of a downy limb, and other indices which despair and shame and tears of tenderness forbid me to tabulate.”
Unassignable, indescribable, but whose presence does not deceive; a body fully desirable, present, not in its incompletion, i.e. in relation to a promised growth, but in its eternal adolescence. It’s this alone which makes it desirable and which adult desire recognizes.
Body and affirmed desire are inseparable. Between them there is exchange, but not reciprocity. The love between child and adult does without dialogue and responsible and consenting persons. In the story Nabokov tells, the way in which Lolita comes to make love with Humbert Humbert undoubtedly has no coercion, but neither does she offer that type of consent. The illusion of a society of adults where bodies, at irremediable distance from each other, firstly think of their personal integrity, dialoguing about desire, reject the untouchable child in an ostensible innocence. And Humbert Humbert believes it at first. He would like to take his pleasure without Lolita realizing; he spends an anxious night with her in the course of which he does not dare touch her, until the morning, when, from her own initiative, it’s her that starts: “She saw the stark act merely as part of a youngster’s furtive world, unknown to adults.”
Undoubtedly it’s true that juvenile relationships had already instructed her, but, in Nabokov’s apologue, that matters less than the fact that the uncrossable distance between the adult and the child is none other than the one the adult puts there themself, with their conception of negotiated love, their prejudices. With this exception: that it is possible for them to enter the inhumanity of this desire, in that it is both expansive and furtive, total and inconstant.
Childhood is indifferent to the “partner.” Therefore the desire that it awakens might take aberrant or incomplete forms, from the point of view of orgasm theory and erotic technique. Childhood can discover it, but it doesn’t care, and it can even play at letting itself be surprised asleep. One of the most beautiful passages in Lolita is exactly the latter where Nabokov describes how his hero approaches Lolita in her sleep; it could be read as an attempt that fails until the moment when Lolita, upon awakening, takes control. But it could also be thought that she was not fooled, and that the sleep was a way of attracting and helping the approach of the desire. Letting yourself be loved, in your sleep—is that not doubling the pleasure?—both of which, as Freud established, are based on the same principle. Only Freud, attentive to interpreting the internal events of the dream, did not think about what opportunities for coming sleep could provide. As for children, they accept and understand it, because they themselves spy, slip under robes, between legs, covertly. This is one of the forms of concealment by which they can guarantee themselves against the adult prohibition. It’s also a positive behavior, marked by the double seal of childhood, the pleasant and the serious. Eros asleep.
Rebuttal of Pausanias
All the same, a clarification is needed. Aren’t sexual relations between an adult and a child impossible, or in any case traumatizing? The argument is both legal and medical; psychoanalysis too offers it all its support. Let’s leave the legal argument aside, since it seeks just as well, these days, to legitimize itself through “scientific” theories. But let’s admit that, from childhood, sexuality can be exercised, not only within an age group, but between children and adults. Then, the whole psychoanalytic construction collapses, since it relies on the postulate that the desires expressed by the child, and which clearly go towards adults, cannot receive satisfaction, hence repression, complexes, etc. This theory is corroborated moreover by that of the sexologists according to whom the sexual act between a child and an adult is physically impossible (narrowness of orifices, smallness of organs).
Yet, in the first case, there is petition on principle, since children are only prevented from satisfying their desire with adults because the adults refuses them; in the two misunderstandings of sexuality in general, that the entire thing is normed by genitality. An attention to the polymorphism of child sexuality which Freud recognized, but without making use of this discovery, would have made it possible to instead effect from it this “Copernican revolution” which Lewinter speaks about regarding Groddeck: the original and complete sexuality is that of the child; purely genital sexuality, especially in the phallic and virile form, is only its ideological perversion. Sexually, it’s the child who is the complete being, the fully erogenous “body of love.” But a “lost body of love” in the future allowed to him by adult society.Lewinter, Groddeck et “Le Royaume millénaire” de Jérôme Bosch, 339.
With respect to trauma, if we don’t dwell on the ideology’s repercussions, and thus the original and irreparable trauma inflicted on the child by education, and even before that the couple, by forbidding him enjoyment (“One puts the child off of everything he loves,” notes Groddeck), it is only to have seen, for example, how in the film Emperor Tomato Ketchup by Shuji Terayama a little boy makes love for several minutes with young girls, not in trauma, but in the most extreme and visible jubilation. The fact that it’s a film does not transform this scene into a fiction, since in this case the represented and the event can only be confused. And, in an area where the prohibition cuts off any possibility of information at the source, where science claims to be supported by an impossibility in principle, the uniqueness of a case transforms it into exemplary proof.
Besides, we don’t claim to demonstrate here what everyone knows by hiding it, and what a great number practice.
The only serious-looking argument that has been put forward against love between adults and young boys is put in the mouth of the general Pausanias by Plato in the Symposium.
Pausanias recommends love between men and young people, but condemns it with children, by basing his demonstration on the distinction between two kinds of love, one noble and the other common (women and children, desirable only for their bodies). In addition, children can change; in loving them there is the risk that “all this time and effort” be “wasted on such an uncertain pursuit—and what is more uncertain than whether a particular boy will eventually make something of himself, physically or mentally?”Plato, “Symposium,” in Complete Works, ed. John M Cooper, trans. A. Nehamas and P. Woodruff (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2009), l. 181e.
This argument calls for two remarks that will show its specious character:
Pausanias positions himself solely from the point of view of the > adult man; what children, like women, want to experience doesn’t > matter;
it deals with the child solely from the point of view of his > alteration, not in his specificity of polymorphous being which > makes him, much more than the adult man, fit for the life of the > body and for love.
To avoid misunderstanding about Pausanias’ propositions, we must stress that the only thing that matters for him is the possibility of a lasting attachment between persons, the formation of a stable couple which the child evidently loathes. But he glimpses the possibility of this commitment from an age that our civilization dismisses in childhood and forbids. The men that celestial Eros inspires like “older ones whose cheeks are showing the first traces of a beard—a sign that they have begun to form minds of their own.”
Therefore for him the difference is not between a body unsuitable to love and a sexually mature organism, but between the love which wanders between objects and that which rests on a stable bond, passing from the body to the soul. Such a distinction has nothing in common with the triviality of contemporary theories on child sexuality; it belongs to a theory of another order: that which concerns the relationship between, as Fourier says, material and celadonic love,Tr. Fourier’s name for platonic devotion, a reference to the character Céladon in the seventeenth-century novel L’Astrée.
inconstancy and fidelity.
Dealing with that is not our aim here.
A Libidinal Anthroposcopy
We only want to show that access to the childhood body is possible only through desire, and that this desire is not of the nature of appropriation, self-projection, or reproduction of one’s self in the similar, all characteristics of genitality.
If the proposition were not ambiguous, we could say regarding it that it’s the desire for a desire. But we know how such an expression can serve as the basis for reciprocal recognition in a dialectic of persons,Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, “Self-Consciousness,” in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A. V Miller (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994).
which is precisely what we have excluded from childhood and its constellation. The introduction of the word desire will serve only to emphasize that their body is never accessible to an objective observation.
For non-desiring observation, let’s remember, children are only beings-in-progress, and it is them that the different techniques of description, comparison and measurement try to capture.See the usage of Sheldon’s anthropometric method in Zazzo and Hurtige, Des garçons de 6 à 12 ans.
But we would like to come up with a way to hijack these measures, their precise utilization in the desiring adult gaze. A “libidinal anthroposcopy” making use of the fascinating precision of the figures to ensure the immobilization of the ephemeral, its withdrawal from perishable humanity. An eternalization of childhood that refuses to grow, as is so often wished by the children, resenting what the adults make them say.On this vow “not to grow up,” cf. among others Thomas Mann, The Holy Sinner, trans. H. T. Lowe-Porter (New York: A.A. Knopf, 1951); Steven Millhauser, Edwin Mullhouse: The Life and Death of an American Writer, 1943-1954, by Jeffrey Cartwright (New York: Vintage Books, 2011).
An erotic magic of anatomical spottings and figures in Nabokov: “The bud-stage of breast development appears early (10.7 years) in the sequence of somatic changes accompanying pubescence. And the next maturational item available is the first appearance of pigmented pubic hair (11.2 years).” Lolita’s measurements: “hip girth, twenty-nine inches; thigh girth (just below the gluteal sulcus), seventeen; calf girth and neck circumference, eleven; chest circumference, twenty-seven; upper arm girth, eight; waist, twenty-three; stature, fifty-seven inches; weight, seventy-eight pounds.” Figures by the school, and which, hijacked from their normative function, feed Humbert Humbert’s desire in making him see Lolita with a hallucinatory vividness.
But it’s Tournier, rather, who fully develops the erotic power of measurement and anthroposcopy, in the final part of The Erl-King. Instead of marking the child out on the route that leads to the man, numbers, the objectivizing language of the anthropologist, give the child the consistency of the finished, of that which is superior in its proportions to anything statuary has been able to invent for the adult body: “Lothar Wüstenroth. . . . Height: 4 feet 9 inches. Weight: 77 lbs. Chest: 30½ inches. Horizontal cephalic index: 72.”Tournier, The Erl-King, 264.
Here, the bodily description which follows is going to very neatly separate the region of animality from that of superhumanity by making the man tilt into the first, to reserve the child exclusively to the second. Although we don’t agree literally with Tournier on this point, thinking instead that the two revolve on the child in an essential way, leaving the human aside, and although his hero, Tiffauges, clearly adopts an evolutionary conception foreign to the understanding of the child’s body of desire, this description fits into the perverse and revealing (revealing because perverse) misdirection of observation:
the golden rule of human beauty. It consists in the relationship between the size of the skull and the face. All the aesthetic superiority of the child over the adult resides in that. A child’s skull is already as large as it will ever get. But the surface area of the face will at least double, and thus beauty will evaporate. As the face becomes larger in proportion to the skull, the head gets nearer to the animal type. The proportion of skull to face is the opposite in an animal of what it is in a human being. A dog’s or a horse’s head is all face—forehead, eyes, nose, mouth—and the skull is reduced to almost nothing. I note that the men and women usually admired for their beauty all retain something of this childish proportion, or disproportion, between the skull and the face. On the line connecting animal and man the child lies beyond the adult and must be considered supra- or superhuman.Tournier, 265.
Besides, it isn’t certain that Tiffauges is not mistaken in the appreciation of the relationships, caught that he is in his eugenic perspective and in the racial prejudice of Nazism that give the predominant share in the determination of type to the cranial cephalic index. In fact, from the point of view of observing anthropometry, what constitutes the primordial difference between child and adult is that the relationship between face’s width and stature will decrease; between six and eleven, the child has acquired its definitive facial width. We could add: his definitive head size, which is significantly different from a supposed development of the face at the expense of the skullCf. the measurements of René Zazzo, in Des garçons de 6 à 12 ans, 145.
and which, somatically, brings the child closer to certain animals like cats and bears. But let’s not have our turn at fantastical anthroposcopy, let’s leave aside any temptation to conceptually or theoretically justify what can only be glimpsed as a “strange landscape.” So it’s in this way that we must still read the paroxysm of perverse libidinal anthroposcopy in Tiffauges’ last “discovery,” that of the arrangement of hair on the child’s body:
I therefore chose the three who seemed most downy, most spangled with gold and silver in a slanting ray of sunlight. I summoned them in turn to the laboratory and examined them inch by inch through a magnifying glass, placing them between myself and the window. . . .
The hair on the body as a whole grows in whorls which belong to one of two categories: divergent vortices at the inner corner of the eye, under the armpit, in the fold of the groin, on the inner side of the buttocks, on the back of the hand and instep, and of course at the back of the head; and convergent vortices under the angle of the jaw, on the olecranon, in the navel, and at the base of the sex organs. There is a parting down the sides joining the vortex of the armpit to that of the groin; from this parting the hairs diverge. But down the front and the back of the trunk, along the spine and the sternum, the hairs converge and collide to form a sort of elongated “tuft.”Tournier, The Erl-King, 274.
Hair, painted swirls which guide the eye and emblazon the savage body like that of the Melanesian. Not to conceal it, but to open it to passions. A body which is not a shell ready to be deformed under the action of a force of internal growth, but which is a vibrant, luminous surface, roamed by currents, able to fulgurate like a god, or, ironically, to propel out of it an animal, a clown, a little puppet or a mandrake.
Translude: Childhood Screens
In making the animal-child into a man-in-progress like Kipling, or becoming-puppet into a becoming-student like Collodi does, the terrain is prepared for Disneyish anthropomorphization, and Scouting: cleaning up the savage transmutations, by confining them to the symbolic mode.
Freud’s role as discoverer/confiner of the childhood unconscious is often spoken of, but it’s forgotten that it’s in the nineteenth century, with the great Anglo-Saxons (Dickens, Kipling, Mark Twain, etc., and even Lewis Carroll) that the childhood novel underwent the most considerable effort of codification and cultural enslavement. To the libido’s familialization by psychoanalysis must be added the creation at that time of “childhood worlds” regulated culturally and literarily. Maybe the latter even comes before the former.
Alice, archetype of the perverse little girl, Mowgli, the little cop of the jungle, and the other archetypes hijacked the creative energy of the childhood novel. Without this preliminary work, the theoretical discovery of the childish unconscious would have been singularly lacking in fantasmatic materials.
The transformation of “children’s literature,” relatively protected till then by its minor or oral character, into a full-blown genre of literature, is supplemented, in adult literature, by the development of “childhood memories” as a recipe for novels.
The childhood novel we speak of therefore cannot be a literary whole, of which such-and-such a chapter or a scene would have been written by those great creators of the last century, the authors for children. It would ultimately come to a study of the culture of children or novels for children. We assert instead that what we call a childhood novel is found in a dispersed state as much in adult literature as in that meant for childhood, the two segregative and complementary surfaces that have been imposed on it having tended to de-realize it, to cut it in its living tissue, to make it pass from the timeless present to the familial past and childish silliness. The blatancy of the transmutations is split between their educational significations and regret for their impossibility.
It’s useless, besides, to make a tour of our book-pile to distinguish the good from the bad or the submissive from the independent. The places where this struggle for subjugation is betrayed are fragmentary by nature, from one end of the “literary genres” to another, from one “style” to another. It’s that this atomization makes it possible to escape from the pedagogical octopus. Two examples: Collodi’s text was thankfully originally written in serial form for a children’s magazine, a sequence of episodes whose links diminish in the course of the telling. The fairy with turquoise hair (reminiscent of Joseph Losey’s The Boy With Green Hair) is sometimes the magical and loving sister, sometimes the mothering conscience. The same contradiction from one issue to another regarding the transformation into an ass. Such an animal, the horrible serpent for example, goes through the narrative in a brief moment without having the time to recover a symbolic value. It’s as if the only beings that Collodi can subject to his institutional intentions are those for which he succeeds in conserving a unique signification for several episodes despite the serial format (Le Grillon).
Poor Alice too, dissected by psychoanalysts, has barely kept any of her original fantasy. The young Edwin indicates an interesting way for the childhood novel to reappropriate the Carolinian narrative: he writes two novels, of which unfortunately only the summary survives. In one, Alice tells her sister the whole story of the White Rabbit, and the sister tries to follow the first wild rabbit to come along into its burrow, and gets stuck, dirt-stained, at the hole’s entrance. In the other, Alice’s whole story is shown to in fact be only the dream of a drowsy dormouse. This is a misuse of literature which, in the second case reinstates the original strangeness of the fantastic animal, and in the first makes the pedagogical flattening of Alice’s story ridiculous.
All the same, even if it doesn’t concern literature, it’s all in books. Is the childhood novel in the books? We prefer the written novel, let’s say again, to the child’s narrations of subjective experience. “[T]o go from the physical surface on which symptoms are played out . . . to the . . . surface on which the pure event stands and is played out, to go from the cause of the symptoms to the quasi-cause of the oeuvre—this is the object of the novel as a work of art, and what distinguishes it from the familial novel,” writes Deleuze regarding Lewis Carroll.
It’s better to be captured by the passion of the childhood novel than by neurosis, to produce a novel than to be produced by a novel. The short life of Edwin, whose literary “maturity” is entirely located between six and nine years, is dedicated to the childhood novel:
I thought of little Edwin gazing in the ground glass of his father’s Graflex, and removing photographs from the long blotter roll, and staring at his three-dimensional Viewmaster reels, and brooding over his colorful comic books; and it now struck me that this early habit of viewing the unshaped world in a shaping frame had produced in him a desire to view his entire life in the same way. His novel . . . was one such frame . . .
and this biography too, which will require for its completion that its hero dies in a fake suicide.
The extracts from Edwin’s novel, Cartoons, draw their force from only being the literal and detailed description, without the shadow of a psychology, of an imaginary cartoon, a surface of surface. “[A] precise and impossible world,” writes Cartwright and whose author, however, denies that it is seen as an unreal world. Edwin introducing himself as a character asserts his right to existence as fiction.
“A white crescent moon, wearing a red nightcap that comes down to a long-lashed eye, snores in a blueblack-ink-colored sky above a twinkling town where the purple houses breathe in and out, in and out. One by one the yellow lights go out, each to a musical note. Down in the drowsy town the blear-eyed streetlamps yawn and nod, a corner mailbox snores through its mailslot, and shoulder to shoulder on the swaying telephone wires, the purple sparrows huddle in feathery sleep. Two black hiccupping cats come staggering along the road with their arms around one another’s shoulders, singing”Down by the Old Mill Stream," while up above, the grumpy moon stirs in his sleep, and in the lamplit roadside grass a cricket wearing a tuxedo falls asleep under the eaves of a dark blue mushroom. Two glowing fireflies trace the words GOOD NIGHT against the dark. Now one by one the stars go out, each to a musical note. The world sleeps."
Thus begins Edwin’s work. Morgan also dreams of being inserted into a novel whose author he would be. Pemberton notes that “there is something phantasmagoria, like a prismatic reflexion or a serial novel, in [his] memory of the queerness of the Moreens,” and “[Morgan] talked of their escape—recurring to it often afterwards—as if they were making up a ‘boy’s book’ together.”
The novel’s pages belong more to “desiring liberation” than the analysis of a psychological reality predetermined in its anti-familial revolt.
To finish with the justification of books, let’s add that the array of pick-up techniques for little girls always includes not only photographic plates but loans, gifts, and the circulation of books. When he offers his books to little girls, Carroll never commits the gross error of establishing a causal relationship between his books and himself or his models; the books are not guides for action, they are not an in-depth extension of relations with the little girls. Their cover and color make up a non-negligible part of their seduction, and no concern for content is ever expressed.
And as you have no doubt seen the book by this time, I may as well give you the opportunity of choosing the colour of the cover. I have had them bound in various coloured cloths, with the ship and bell-buoy in gold: e.g. light blue, dark blue, light green, dark gleen, scarlet (to match “Alice”), and (what is perhaps prettiest of all) white, i.e. a sort of imitation vellum, which looks beautiful with the gold. (Letter to Maud Standen)
This permanent ascent to sensitive film would certainly delight the little Edwin.
In the childhood novel, it’s only the foreground that counts. But this plane does not repress anything, especially not the questions of origin and birth.
Works Cited in the Translude
Carlo Collodi, Pinocchio: The Tale of a Puppet, trans. Geoffrey Brock (New York: New York Review Books, 2009).
Steven Millhauser, Edwin Mullhouse: The Life and Death of an American Writer, 1943-1954, by Jeffrey Cartwright (New York: Vintage Books, 2011).
Joseph Losey, The Boy with Green Hair (RKO Radio Pictures, 1948).
Episode Four: The Mandrake
unknown father and mother — restoration of the stork — the twin body — the marionette — disguises: the motley cobbled-together child — the mandrake — the Hordes and the Bands
DIDEROT. Before pushing ahead along that line, I would like to tell you the life story of one of the greatest mathematicians of Europe. Do you know what that marvelous being was in the beginning? Nothing.
D’ALEMBERT. How do you mean, nothing? You can’t make something out of nothing.
DIDEROT. You are using the word too literally. I mean only that before his mother, the beautiful and naughty canoness Tencin, had reached the age of puberty, and before the soldier La Touche had reached adolescence, the molecules that were to make up the first rudimentary beginnings of my mathematician were dispersed throughout the delicate young bodies of his future parents, were being filtered with the lymph through their organs, were circulating in their blood streams, until the moment when the molecules were finally collected in certain reservoirs in preparation for their final meeting—I mean the sex glands of his mother and father. Now we can observe the germination of this rare seed. See how it is carried, as most authorities believe, through the Fallopian tubes into the womb; see how it attaches itself by a long stem to the womb; see how it grows and develops by stages into a foetus. At last the moment arrives when it is to leave its dark prison. Behold the newborn child, abandoned on the steps of the church of St.-Jean-le-Rond from which he will take his baptismal name; now he is placed in the orphanage and afterwards taken out of it again; now he is put to nurse at the breast of the good glazier’s wife, Madame Rousseau. On her milk he grows strong both in body and in mind and becomes a man of letters, a physicist and a mathematician. And how did this all come about? As the result of eating and of other purely mechanical operations.Denis Diderot, “D’Alembert’s Dream,” in Rameau’s Nephew and Other Works, trans. Ralph Henry Bowen (Indianapolis; Cambridge: Hackett, 2001), 95–96.
Unknown Father and Mother
The birth is a representation, a drama. Everything is organized to give the impression, and to make you expect the appearance of the little being as if there had been a director, the father, and a star, the mother. There only remains to lift the curtain. The stubbornness with which our contemporaries continue to link conception and birth, the baby to its chance parents, shows that a certain type of Aristotelian representation has stayed so strong until our day that it passes for obvious truth. No one doubts this causality, this consubstantiality that the Greek philosopher established from parents to children. The living ensues from the action of an active form (Man) on a material (woman). That only this historical representation has subsisted and occupied the entire stage, monopolizing all that can be said about birth, is all the more amazing since various thinkers, and not just a few, have repeatedly proposed other ways to think about the appearance of the living human.
Even before Diderot, Descartes already no longer believed that sons proceed from the father as in the Christian mystery of consubstantiality: “Finally, as far as my parents are concerned, even if everything is true of them that I have ever thought to be so, certainly they do not conserve me in being, nor did they in any way produce me insofar as I am a thinking thing.”René Descartes, “Third Meditation,” in Meditations on First Philosophy with Selections from the Objections and Replies, trans. Michael Moriarty (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 36.
The important thing is not that it is a question here of the soul and not of molecules, but the new system of representation that the text testifies to: parents do not create children, any more than they are necessary for their continued existence.
But in this way, we are more Aristotelian and less Cartesian than we think. And for our purposes the problem is not so much wanting to demonstrate that children are the result of a series of coincidences as it is of denouncing the force of the representation prevalent today, the “continuous” representation, which extends to duplicating recordings on films—soon images of children’s own births will be projected to them as proof that they do belong to their mothers.In particular, the deliveries in front of children and cameras performed by Dr. Max Ploquin and his team.
However, there is no lack of means for imagining things differently: contemporary biology rejoins Diderot by defining birth as a series of ungovernable chances, partial events without any purpose. A child is formed in the course of the succession of contingencies, the quantity of possible children eliminated in the course of each reproductive cycle could only be written in the form of an astronomically-powerful number. That fathers and mothers, and even the doctors, are sincerely persuaded that they could find a continuity of their offspring across this immense number of accidents falls under the most pure creed.
An example: more than one couple is persuaded that it’s possible to determine the exact date of the little being’s conception, the night when the thing began. Yet, besides the fact that that night if it could be known, saw some billions of possible little Jesuses disappear, it goes without saying that there is currently no way to determine such a date (at best it could be counted to within a few days).
First conclusion: we go back to (so-called) by an act of faith that bodes well for the final outcome of things. We continuously go from microscopic Brownian motion to determination at the human scale.
Regarding the child, either they have always existed, a germen traversing the contingency of the maternal body, if the Weissmannian theory is adopted, or else they are the chance fruit of a multitude of eliminations. The germen, genetics, there are so many ways of breaking the prevailing system of representation, inducing the idea of the uncreated child, contemporary of its parents (germinally): but the new representation does not manage to pierce the wall of Aristotelian ideology. Nothing is more seductive however than imagining the genes as the infinite immensity of a memory containing all the timeless information of humanity in its collection; the child, from this point of view, being no more linked to its parents than a dictionary is to a particular text.
We will be told that even if conception and heredity do not link the child more to the parents than to anyone else, there remains the obvious fact of the embryo’s upkeep and development in the mother’s body. But our representation again falls into dust. What has often been presented has just been confirmed by the recent discoveries in the USA and France, by the Cancer Institute [Institut du Cancer] and INSERM, and we do not doubt that this discovery too will be suppressed: far from the mother’s body being happy to welcome the embryo, far from it being made for that, it repels it as long as it can, pregnancy is only a failed natural abortion.
Two American scholars, Alan E. Beer and R.E. Billingham, certainly concerned with a different purpose than ours, maybe even “good fathers,” research the reason for which the fetus is not rejected by the mother’s body as soon as it tries to install itself. It’s a good question. “A first assay at answering this question,” they write,
might be to postulate that the fetus is protected because half of its chromosomes . . . are inherited from the mother. This notion must be discarded. If it were correct, mothers would be expected to tolerate the tissues of their offspring; actually, in experimental animals skin grafts surgically removed from the fetus, or from the progeny at any stage after birth, are routinely rejected by the mother . . . The fetus is protected even [if] the “mother” in whose uterus it grows has made no genetic contribution to it . . .
The child is therefore, we are taught as if it were obvious, an allogeneic graft, an utterly foreign flesh, a “transplant” which is capable of blocking the mother’s immunological system by itself. Not only is the mother not the cause, but the uterus can’t even be ascribed the special quality of being accepting of the fetus. Like all the zones of the body, the uterus possesses an immunological reflex and rejects grafts. The invulnerability pertains to the fetus itself, it holds in itself the power to impose itself despite the organism’s defense mechanisms.
Hence the now-classic analogy between a cancerous tumor and the fetal tissue: “The differentiation of a tumor presents certain points in common with embryonic development,” writes Étienne Wolff,
in particular in the pre-cancerous state which corresponds to the phenomenon of embryonic determination, and in the appearance of specific antigens which are sometimes the same in malignant tumors and embryonic organs. To speak of the proliferation of a malignant tumor is to state an obvious truth, the proliferation of an embryo or of a young organism is no less important. One thus finds between a tumor and an embryonic organ a common character in this property of explosive multiplication.
It’s at the level of the “trophoblast” of the placenta, the zone of connection between the maternal organism and the fetus, that the joint phenomena of anti-immunological action permitting the absence of rejection, and embryonic (or, if applicable, cancerous) cellular proliferation, occur.
The installation processes of the embryo and the cancer are similar to a paralysis of the enemy’s defenses before an explosive attack. The embryo does not grow in the way cancer does: it differentiates from it by building itself organically, in structuring itself at the level of the organs. On the contrary cancer expands in the disorder and insubordination continues at the level of tissues. Either way, both cases are revolutionary overthrows, the one followed by a permanent anarchy, and the other by the birth of a new state. Wolff characterizes cancer as “the indefinite repetition of the same structures” at the tissue level, opposed to the growth in differentiation which constitutes the great organic structure. The childhood novel keeps something of this cancerous proliferation, indefinite repetition of the same maniacal microstructure.Articles cited: A. E. Beer and R. E. Billingham, “The Embryo as a Transplant,” Scientific American 230, no. 4 (April 1974): 36–46, https://doi.org/10/bd3sf6; Étienne Wolff, “Embryologie et cancer,” La Recherche, no. 4 (1970): 311–17 (These documents were kindly conveyed to us by Mme. M. Pietranik of INSERM.).
The child, or the cancer, can only be installed in the mother’s body by slipping in, by benefitting from a temporary anarchy, a suspension of the laws that allow the upkeep of the living organism as a whole. The child is a parasite, not a fruit. It diverts the nourishment that the mother furthermore stole from animals or plants. All the same, one cannot think that what it, the embryo, steals in its turn from the mom’s body belonged more to her than to the rabbit that she ate at noon!
A coalition of molecules, forcibly installed by an anarchist coup in someone who cannot stand it, the child, if it comes out like a devil from its box, at the moment of delivery, shows that it only got in by housebreak, and by compressing all the mother’s organic reflexes that tend to expel it.
Only randomness is first in the individual. The child is not the son or daughter of its mother, and no one has conceived it, it grows like a thief or a canker, and leaves as a foundling. Like D’Alembert, whose orphanhood is not an anecdote but a paradigm, it is nobody’s child, or else everybody’s child.
But these facts are ignored, to maintain the myth of the family whose members are all moulded from the same flesh and the same blood, united in fate and dependence. A symbiosis with the mother, the impossible breakage of the umbilical cord, that gives the linked-being, not the expelled being. The child must not be detached from the maternal flesh from which it is made, nor from what is symbolically called the parental cell. That it remains a prisoner of ties that, if they are not directly material, are all the stronger for being psychical, intangible. It’s necessary that they only slowly, arduously conquer the right to their own existence, by internalizing the characters that performed the comedy of their engendering.
But that D’Alembert deep down had nothing to do with the cannonness Tencin or the soldier La Touche—what a farce, what an affront!
Restoration of the Stork
Besides, deep down in themselves, children are sure that nothing ever happens as they are told, nor even, if necessary, as they are shown. They have their theories, closer than you’d think to the truth, pertaining to birth, and to the role that nourishment, more than anything else, plays in it. And the best thing is that most of the time these theories withstand the “rational” knowledge that they try to teach them.
J.B. Pontalis cites a text by Freud, dating from 1937, concerning the contradictions inherent to modernist education and putting in doubt the virtue of the information on matters of procreation: “After such enlightenment, children know something they did not know before, but they make no use of the new knowledge that has been presented to them . . . [T]hey behave like primitive races who have had Christianity thrust upon them and who continue to worship their old idols in secret.”Jean-Bertrand Pontalis, “L’enfant-question,” Critique : revue générale des publications françaises et étrangères., no. 249 (February 1948): 220–40; Sigmund Freud, “Analysis Terminable and Interminable,” in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, trans. James Strachey (London: Hogarth Press, 1975), 5029.
Never mind the icing of the comparison with Christianity, which as we’ve come to see is more accurate than Freud thinks. But this observation is only used by Freud and the Freudians to detect where “resistances” are lodged and overcome them. The child, gone past the “stork stage” of the newborn’s magical contribution, understanding that something comes from the inside, likens the new product to excrement, and sets up a fantastic reconstruction of the mechanism of the body, including their own, ignoring the paternal role. The Oedipus complex was soon rediscovered in this action, eliminating the father, throwing oneself into an impossible identification with the mother. Melanie Klein has abandoned herself to this work of reduction and reasoned pedagogy, taking into account resistances to overcome, since her first research.Melanie Klein, “The Development of a Child,” in Love, Guilt and Reparation and Other Works 1921-1945 (New York, N.Y.: Free Press of Glencoe, 1984), 25.
But doing this means missing the lofty significance of these sexual theories, being content to point out certain of their particularly explicit aspects, without understanding them. Let’s look closer.
We shall accept as a starting point one of Klein’s own affirmations, which she takes from Ferenczi: a childhood sexual theory (the authors say infantile, but we prefer the former, non-pejorative epithet) “is to a certain extent an abstraction derived from pleasurably toned functions, wherefore as the function continues to be pleasurably toned a certain persistence of the theory results.”Klein, Love, Guilt and Reparation and Other Works 1921-1945, 34.
This proposition has its application in the fact that the child Klein studies (little Fritz, but there are many of these “cases”) finds his pleasure in his stomach and the excretory functions, and that he reconstructs generation from there. When spoken to about papa’s “seed,” he thinks of the plant fed from the soil and theorizes consequently.
Nevertheless, such an interpretation remains partial, because reasoning along these lines is still imagining that the child always has the idea of an organic body in front of them, and that these questions refer to the search for the origin of themself as a child. Yet none of that is true, and if Fritz’s example is viewed without prejudice, it’s discovered that this body is very directly invested as a place for dwelling or walking, that what interests children is their own movement, and the way they themselves can produce or associate with new companions. They are forcibly led towards the supposedly intelligible slow generation by the father, while the child invests a body of desire, which is non-organic, completely oriented towards an existing production. There is a permanent misunderstanding: the deeply narcissistic psychoanalytic-parental thinking wants to make children enter a system where their ingenuity and pleasure are confiscated. They slip away by misdirecting the educational project to their advantage, and by grafting diversions onto the adult proposition that orients them towards the mother, that can perfectly well take the mother as a pretext, but which she is not the object of.
Where do children come from? If this question must be understood in the adult sense, children couldn’t care less. Freud interpreted the question by implying, about the birth of a little brother or sister: “Where did this particular, intruding baby come from?”Sigmund Freud, “On the Sexual Theories of Children,” in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, trans. James Strachey (London: Hogarth Press, 1975), 1969.
which always brought things back to the origin and Oedipus, according to the premise of the mother’s obvious fact. But that means, on the contrary: Let me produce and jack off in peace. Displacement of the verticality of dependency backwards toward transversality, horizontality.
In Fritz’s thinking, says Melanie Klein, “the womb figured as a completely furnished house, the stomach particularly was very fully equipped and was even possessed of a bath-tub and a soap-dish.” And Fritz added: “I know that it isn't really like that, but I see it that way”Klein, Love, Guilt and Reparation and Other Works 1921-1945, 35.
He populates this house with figurines, or else he turns it into a vast area of circulation. The psychoanalyst’s intervention is necessary to transmute the cars, tramways, animals, people, carts, soldiers, later on wolves or devils, into daddy-mommy. The horizontal displacement which Fritz surrenders to makes him associate instead with productions whose fabrication, contemporary with himself, reveals their non-generative character and interest. Treating the only materials that he finds at his disposal, the famous “feces”—the cream pie, so to speak, of psychoanalysis—as a “paste,” he pretends to mould a guy: “I have made such a big person. If someone gave me dough I would make a person out of it. I only need something pointed for the eyes and buttons.”Klein, 39.
“Undoubtedly,” the psychoanalysts will say, “the sublimated diversion of compulsion at the anal stage!” without paying attention to the essential, a misdirection on an existing production, children’s only interest, the only “problem” of their desire. An explanation for the “General Pipi,” marching at the head of his soldiers, who often recurs in Fritz’s talk and dreams,Klein, 67.
is not to be sought in the direction of the father or the child’s pretended rivalry with him, but in the operation on the body, which goes as far as detaching organs from it to produce them as his associates freed from organic destiny, in a strange emergence.
It must be repeated: the childhood sexual theory is not the child in search of their own origin or failing through their ignorance, or through their desire for the mother, it’s the sovereign affirmation, on the base of their productive activity, of their radical autochthony.
In Structural Anthropology, Lévi-Strauss has reason to reverse the meaning of Oedipus: what is first is to be derived from the nourishing earth; the enigma is to be born of man and woman, that the one come out of two;Claude Lévi-Strauss, Structural Anthropology (New York: Basic Books, 1963), 215.
it could be added that the main thing in the story of Oedipus is that he is originally an orphan, a foundling. The essential resides in this break, the rest only being the result of Oedipus’ paranoia, his ubris as the Greek text says, developed from a search for power which has nothing to do with childhood.
For the child, this will concretely mean that, far from having the parental universe for a unique preoccupation and reference, as is commonly thought, they at once carries with them this certainty that is not a dream, but the response to the enigma, to be not a bound thing made from the mother’s flesh, but an existence whose independence is confirmed by their capacity to produce, to be auto-produced: “At Gmuden,” says Freud’s Little Hans, “I lay down in the grass—no, I knelt down—and the children didn’t look on at me, and all at once in the morning I said: ‘Look for it, children; I laid an egg yesterday.’ And all at once they looked, and all at once they saw an egg, and out of it there came a little Hans.”Freud, “Analysis of a Phobia in a Five-Year-Old Boy,” 2071.
Therefore, the old stories of the stork are closer to children than the theories that have been taught to them to make their sexuality “educable,” i.e. to “undermine the organization of their desires.”Pontalis, “L’enfant-question,” 229.
The stork! Horror, obscurantism! The stork is the ideal pretext for righteous sexo-psychoanalytic indignation. The basics of sexual education are to demystify the stork. Wedekind, in Spring Awakening, has fun playing the precocious information of adolescent humor against the mother’s naïveté.Frank Wedekind, Spring Awakening, trans. Julian Forsythe and Margarete Forsythe (London: Nick Hern Books, 2014), sec. II.2.
No one believes it, and the children no more than they do in Santa Claus.
It’s not about believing in it as a theory of birth, but, it being given that the infantile theory is the object of a general misinterpretation, of indicating connections (more agreeable than endlessly rehashing procreation) with children’s pleasure and what can carry their dreams. In any case, the stork leads to some nice variations, specifically with Little Hans—not fooled, by the way, and long before Wedekind’s Wendla, not at fourteen but at five years old:
“. . . But the stork carried her in his beak. Of course she couldn’t walk.” (He went on without a pause.) “The stork came up the stairs up to the landing, and then he knocked and everybody was asleep, and he had the right key and unlocked the door and put Hanna in your [the father’s] bed, and Mummy was asleep—no, the stork put her in her bed. It was the middle of the night, and then the stork put her in the bed very quietly, he didn’t trample about at all, and then he took his hat and went away again. No, he hadn’t got a hat.”Freud, “Analysis of a Phobia in a Five-Year-Old Boy,” 2058.
This same stork will also be able to “make chickens grow.” It is Hans’ fantasy operator, which allows him to push the adults up against the wall.
It’s still better than the gloom of the sexual lessons administered by shameful and slouching parents to children who are prostrated and indeed dismissive of what is told to them, as is seen in Godard’s Number Two! Sexuality that’s a pain in the ass. Gentlemen teaching them of the good sex, good evening! Yes, the stork, but not the stork of maternal prudishness, but the bird with the large beak and large wings of the childhood bestiary, which also includes the wild geese that sweep away Nils Holgersson in the tale by Selma Lagerlof, like the black-winged swans that come seeking their sister to take her away beyond the seas, children turned into birds by a stepmother.
The Twin Body
We just spoke of the horizontal displacement that must be read in childhood theories, of the space that it opens and the figurines that populate it. What the child engages in is the constitution of a new body which, because it happens at the same time as the libidinal investments it leads to, must be called a twin body.All this analysis is freely developed from a text by Deleuze and Guattari, “November 28, 1947: How Do You Make Yourself a Body without Organs?”
A body that is simultaneously the child themself and their other, or rather the other thanks to which they displace the great vertical dependency on the mother.
Regarding Australian initiation myths, Géza Róheim speaks of the universal signification that it’s appropriate to grant to the “dual hero” from the point of view of this displacement: “Separation from the mother transforms the original dual unity of mother and child into the dual unity of the two heros.”Róheim, Héros phalliques et symboles maternels dans la mythologie australienne, 99.
But while Róheim is committed to reconstituting the original unity by seeing a “substitute” in the second for the mother relationship, the displacement’s specificity can instead be sharpened from a reflection on the twin-being, a special case of the dual unity, but exemplary and paradigmatic.
In his study on twins, René Zazzo in one chapter brings together the “collective representations” which twinness gave rise to. In this review, it stands out that it’s necessary to distinguish two things: on one hand, a myth of twinness based on mirror reflections on which the idea of a closed cell formed from two inseparable and complementary beings is built, and on the other hand the detachment from maternal belonging which the twin-being produces. We will return to the myth and the poetic and novelistic variations it provides excuses for. The second aspect seems to us more important, as it is attached less to resemblance than to the possibility that it gives the child of affirming themself from another, contemporary and associated. Only making them exist within a dual or binary unity with no duty to the one which prescribes them generation. “The simple unity is negative, the couple first,” Jehan Vellard writes regarding the Guayaki Indians of Paraguay, and Maurice Leenhardt regarding the indigenous people of New Caledonia. “An object in itself does not exist, everyone only exists as a function of another,” citing this reply of a Kanak to a missionary: “Before you, we didn’t know that we had a body,”Zazzo, Les jumeaux, le couple et la personne, 518–19.
i.e. a personalized body, appropriated by the ego as its object and its shell.
The twin-being belongs to the constellation of childhood, as it implies, beyond the self, the non-appropriated body, the body of desire, what can also easily be concluded through actual intercourse between true twins, fraternal or sororal incest, first and only specific manifestation of the child’s sexuality, that by the production of a twin-body to which formal resemblance is unnecessary, but which functions as the other and the self, as the egg or the inorganic on which desire is invested, the doll, the marionette or the puppet.
The entire problem of the pedagogue Collodi will be to return the puppet to the child, the dry and noisy wooden log to damp tenderness: you will be a man, my son. He has to manage to make the puppet a child—or make him feel that the spell of remaining a puppet is a curse—so that the child becomes an adult. The interpretation that sees in the puppet a simple metaphor for the child is quite bad, even if it grants him the most revolutionary intentions, like Luigi Comencini in the film that he has drawn from Pinocchio. It’s conceding too much already. The puppet is not the edifying metaphor of the child, any more than the pederast is the perversion of the pedagogue or “minor” horizontal incest is the consequence of a desire for maternal incest, in depth. “‘Pinocchio, come up here where I am!’ shouts Harlequin. ‘Come throw yourself into the arms of your wooden brothers!’” Pinocchio is certainly this marionette without “interiority”; he’s not a little boy concerned with doing right or wrong. The puppet, body without organs, does not sink to the bottom of oceanic or psychological abysses, he obstinately floats on the surface. When its feet burn, only the child scared of fire feels sorry; for its part, it’s always possible to stick other feet back on.
To be honest, Pinocchio is really equipped with only one ambiguous organ, this nose that reports and monitors and grows with each lie, for the opposite reason of its owner’s wish to “grow up.” Only one organ, which adequately sums up the organ functions when they are pedagogically called upon to structure the future personality. Pinocchio’s nose, like that of Itard’s Victor, which by its sneezes gives an introduction to humanity, is the poisoned gift of pedagogical civilization, and they could well do without it.Carlo Collodi, Pinocchio: The Tale of a Puppet, trans. Geoffrey Brock (New York: New York Review Books, 2009); Le Avventure Di Pinocchio (RAI Radiotelevisione Italiana, Office de Radiodiffusion Télévision Française (ORTF), Bavaria Film, 1972).
Pinocchio has nothing to gain from becoming a child, only because rightly, he is one.
In Mannoni and Lacan, who take up the formula again, there are some apologetic reflections on the child’s transformation into “living puppet.”Mannoni, The Child, His “Illness,” and the Others, 60.
If the word applies, essentially being a condemnation of the puppet whose parents and educators pull the strings, one forgets too quickly that for children the marionette and puppet are first of all captivating figures, companions, infinite possibilities of independent existence among the adult traps. Thanks to the puppet the child is detached from their biological destiny of little boy or girl, future men and women, it can even exercise its power on adults. Pinocchio takes flight with a nose as a foot once freed from his woody gang.
We mustn’t say that children project on the marionette their fantasies that will become identifiable for the observing adult, in pedagogical usage or in psychodrama. The marionette is the child themself, who does not care about obeying their parents and owing them something; it’s not a way of settling their accounts with them. The marionette mocks that at once, like it mocks all vertical filiation; therefore it can allow itself everything forbidden. Through it, the child identifies themself, but not in the sense of the identification towards the self in becoming-adult. But as the already-detached, running through the world, inventing situations, even playing at making a child in front of adults, to mystify them. This is the child in rupture, the visible concretization of something that is not an expression, but an affirmation.
The marionette abolishes the distinction from inside and outside: it is always outside, and for that it is loved by the child as itself—meaning—well outside any personalizing narcissism: “I think that as a child I loved my dolls more fiercely than I have ever loved a man,” says Agathe in Musil. And her twin brother Ulrich: “When I remember as far back as I can, I’d say that there was hardly any separation between inside and outside. When I crawled toward something, it came on wings to meet me; when something important happened, the excitement was not just in us, but the things themselves came to a boil.”Musil, The Man Without Qualities, chap. 148.
Disguises: The Motley Cobbled-Together Child
The deep kinship between marionettes and children, far from having to be linked to parental dependence, falls under its own constellation, and that is obvious, even to the adult’s eyes, provided they know not to give in to psychoanalytic intimidation. By that we mean that there is a way for the adult to treat the child as a doll or marionette, more valid than the pontificating personalization that is only an alibi for a more subtle domination.
Philippe Ariès reports that the first emergence of the sense of childhood in the sixteenth century can be spotted thanks to the difference of its dress in iconography. The dress by which the child would later be distinguished from adults and constituted in its own category at this time begins to be characterized as a kind of disguise: uniforms borrowed from different periods and various professional strata, soldiers, sailors, pages or princes, but also tradesmen. These costumes often accentuate the little boy’s effeminacy, just as much as they foreshadow a future masculinity. Above all, what counts is their unusual and generally archaic character. In effect, the child’s dress is borrowed from the preceding generation or fixed once and for all in an archetype. The child becomes the “repository of customs abandoned by the adults.”Ariès, Centuries of Childhood: A Social History of Family Life, 71.
At the same time, there emerges an interest in miniaturized objects, puppets, marionettes, useful for amusing the little ones, certainly, but also helping to delineate an image of childhood for adults.
Undoubtedly it could be said that, if children appear in the form of miniaturized adults, their difference is misunderstood, and that, by marking them by clothing and isolating them, the adult estranges them. This would only be seeing the superficial aspect of things. Miniaturization is also the recognition of the aesthetic draw of childhood, i.e., as we noted before, the appearance of the guiding idea able to reserve for it its proper, essential place in the establishment of social ties.
In his analysis of the work of art, Lévi-Strauss describes miniaturization as the integration of the event into a structure.Lévi-Strauss, The Savage Mind, 27.
The child is the unforeseeable event, the happenstance given with birth, structure—in this case the archaic and coded dress, that of the soldier or tradesman—the operation of reduction which makes the object more familiar, permeates its appearance with an emotion, through the production of a “homologue” in it where we recognize the synthesis between the organizing schema and the social event.
Is this not still, it will yet be retorted, transforming the child into a toy, a living marionnette in the pejorative sense, what an appreciation worthy of its name instead claims to eliminate? And in support, there could be mentioned Rousseau’s liberator-outrage when faced with the ornaments and rattles surrounding childhood, the demand for a return to nature. Things are not so simple. We must first note that the nude also forms part of the historical representation of children as an aesthetic object, and they appear in the form of putti as much as costumed characters. But above all, miniaturization and costumery, at the moment when children get hold of them, are a way for them to ensure their independence in the face of adults by making theirs what adults have perhaps only firstly conceived for their personal satisfaction. A reversal of the situation: disguising children, by making them the little puppets one plays with, can certainly be a way of misunderstanding them. No matter, if children themselves recognize themselves immediately in these accessories and use them on their own behalf. Let’s not be too moralizing: the spontaneous social movement has had a more correct view than the rationalizing pedagogues by nourishing in childhood that passion which Fourier calls “luxury” and which allows them to clearly define their place among the adults.
Besides, we should not confuse what is undoubtedly the only apt social intuition about childhood, since the beginning of the modern period, which made children into an aesthetic pleasure and an adornment, and provided them the “gimblettes” which ensure their grip on the world, with the “myth” of childhood developed later, the one that invented their innocence, their untouchability, creating structures on them, this time so prosaic, those of conjugal family and school. If the word structure has been used above, in reference to Lévi-Strauss, to talk about dress, it’s not at all a matter of structures of the same type, but of an organizational scheme of elements responding to a certain code; and this code in turn is only the scrambling of the dominant social code, since whatever their gender and class, the child can be dressed as a page or a hussar, a sailor or a cowboy, thus ensuring their detachment from what is constraining and irreversible in the disciplinary structure.
In the text to which we return, Lévi-Strauss moreover distinguishes art from myth as putting both event and structure in relation, but in a reversed relationship: “The creative act which gives rise to myths,” he writes, “is in fact exactly the reverse of that which gives rise to works of art. In the case of works of art, the starting point is a set of one or more objects and one or more events”—here he means paintings—“which aesthetic creation unifies by revealing a common structure. Myths travel the same road but start from the other end. They use a structure”—an abstract system of relations. Lévi-Strauss calls the classificatory system at work in myth “savage thought”—“to produce what is itself an object consisting of a set of events (for all myths tell a story).”Lévi-Strauss, 25–26.
If we apply these suggestions freely, the myth of childhood is that of the supposed history of the human person’s development in the structural framework that governs children’s prohibition and death. As for the aestheticization of the child, as we have seen, it is their production as such from the contingent event of their birth.
But there is still another point where childhood’s myth and aestheticization encounter each other while diverging. That is that both cobble things together, or in other words, to produce their object, they use fragments, pieces, and residues, “fossilized evidence of the history of an individual or a society.” This is obvious for the archaism of the children’s dress, but also for the myth of childhood, which would like to rebuild childhood on the basis of dreams extracted from adult thought concerning a supposed natural evolution of a man or a totally personalist and reciprocal society to come. It’s even more obvious for the psychoanalytic myth, which reconstitutes the child taken from the myths themselves, castration and Oedipus.
In any case, in the endeavor the adult makes to pin him down, children will always be cobbled-together [bricolé]. Only, to the repressive bricolage which makes up the myth children suffocate under, we must oppose the liberating virtue of a bricolage that children are able to understand and themselves bring to the point of perfection, enchanting themselves from their own productions. Thus little Edwin, in Steven Millhauser’s novel, composes a masterpiece by tinkering [bricolant] with cartoons.
So let’s free the marionette, let’s cut the puppet’s strings, it’s the child that emerges, not an isolated person, but accompanied by their witness, their mischievous “homologue,” we would say of their double, if that expression did not have a deadening resonance after Rank.Otto Rank, The Double: A Psychoanalytic Study, trans. Harry Tucker (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1971).
An incestuous twin body, but also a little companion ever-present though elusive, “the crooked little man” for example whose naïve poetry Achim von Arnim published in his children’s collection:
Veux-je aller en mon jardinet
Veux-je mes oignons arroser
Y a un p'tit homme biscornu
Qui commence à éternuer
Veux-je aller en ma cuisinette
Et faire bouillir ma soupelette
Y a un p'tit homme biscornu
Qui a brisé mon potelet . . .
[I want to go in my little garden
I want to water my onions
There’s a stooped little man
Who’s starting to sneeze
I want to go in my little kitchen
And cook my little soup
There’s a stooped little man
Who’s broken my little pot . . .]Achim von Arnim and Clemens Brentano, “Das buckliche Männlein,” in Des Knaben Wunderhorn (Berlin, 1806).
The autochthonous little imp belongs to the constellation of childhood. It haunts adults’ dreams like childrens’. When given support and aid, it is a mandrake, which combines in it that essentially childish double property of autochthony and the invaluable intervention in a world which always tries to keep it out. Once again, it’s from Achim von Arnim that we borrow the story of the mandrake such as he told it in Isabella of EgyptLudwig Achim Arnim, “Isabella of Egypt, Emperor Charles V’s First Love: A Narrative,” in Ludwig Achim Von Arnim’s Novellas of 1812, trans. Bruce Duncan (Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 1997).
Let’s recall that, according to tradition, the mandrake is a root with human form, dug up by a virgin girl under a gallows. According to Grimmelshausen, the hanged, a young man, must first have scattered his urine on the ground; some say his semen. The mandrake’s function is to make money for the one who dug it up. Generally, the mandrake is kept in a box. It would be easy to reduce this legend to a collection of symbols. The symbol of impregnation and fertility, in relation with money, is generally the only one recognized. The Mandrake of Machiavelli, transformed into a potion, fertilizes a woman, Tournier makes mandrakes grow under Friday’s semen.Niccolò Machiavelli, “The Mandrake,” in The Comedies of Machiavelli, trans. David Sices (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Pub., 2007); Michel Tournier, Friday, or, the Other Island, trans. Norman Denny, 1997. We will need to make a spot for Hanns Heinz Ewer’s mandrake-girl (Alraune, trans. Joe E. Bandel [Newcastle Upon Tyne: Side Real Press, 2010]). A beautiful childhood novel, inhuman and perverse. But this novel about love and death effaces the intermediary and messenger characteristics through which Arnim’s mandrake intervenes in this chapter as a component of childhood’s constellation.
The originality of Arnim’s novel is to make the mandrake a man and first of all a child, a child-man born of the soil and living among men. The girl in love but a virgin, having unearthed it, produces it a bit like the little Fritz makes a person from his “paste”:
She went carefully to her book of magic to remind herself what one could do with this mobile, articulated root to develop its powers, its inner structure. And soon she found her answer. First of all she should wash the mandrake—that she did—and then she was supposed to sow millet on its coarse head, and then, as that grew to hair, all its other parts would develop of their own accord, except that she was supposed to press a juniper berry onto the spot where an eye should appear and, where the mouth should be, a rose-hip.Arnim, “Isabella of Egypt, Emperor Charles V’s First Love: A Narrative,” 19–20.
This she does, and the mandrake becomes a root-child, awakening maternal feelings in the girl, called Bella, indulging in teasing, jokes, a bit like a Pinocchio that would not be drawn from a log, but intermediate between man and plant. As for Bella’s false maternity, she establishes feelings of companionship and fraternity between her and the mandrake (which takes the burlesque name of Cornelius Nepos), rather than feelings of parentage; the drama is that Cornelius falls in one-sided love with Bella. And the whole story is about this orphan twin-body, always offering his service, but always rejected.
Our aim is not to summarize Arnim’s picaresque novel. Only let it be known that Bella is in love with Prince Charles, who will later become Charles V, and that she dug up the mandrake, on the advice of the witch Braka, to be rich and join her lover. Eventually, the mandrake will be made fun of by making for him a double of Bella, a purely physical Bella-golem, that Cornelius will love until the moment when he realizes the trickery. Going back to the original situation, it is he who, in his turn, will start moulding a Bella, in memory of an impossible love.
More than the plot knotted between Bella and Charles V, we will pay attention to the mandragoric function, illuminated by Cornelius’ secret passion. The mandrake bustles, constantly mediating with prince Charles to arrange meetings with Bella for him, furthermore finding adequate satisfaction in the honor which falls to him of attending court, the promises of being made a general with a costume shining in amaranth and gold, bedecked in plumes. The mandrake, originally Bella’s “double,” therefore appears like a child in function himself, an intermediary, pleased with honorific distinctions and a panache, but animated on the inside by a deep passion whose destiny is to be misunderstood as soon as it’s submitted to the adult who has better to do elsewhere.
We will here be irresistibly reminded of the novel by L.P. Hartley and film by J. Losey, The Go-Between, where the intermediary little boy, bustling between a young girl and her lover, gradually discovers his own love for her, and runs off, broken, at the moment when he spies the act of flesh between the two young people, who exclude him.Joseph Losey, The Go-Between (EMI Films, 1971). Based on the novel by L. P. Hartley.
Isabella of Egypt is not from the same time and does not have the same plot. But it’s undoubtedly Losey who gives the key to it, not Arnim’s explicit and romantic lesson, the impossible pure love. Let’s imagine the young girl in turn in love with her messenger. It’s not the child who is a rebel against love, it’s the adult, who, in the conception they make themself of love, repels them and makes their claims pathetic. This interpretation, incidentally, is perhaps not alien to Arnim’s thinking. The hunchbacked little man that haunts the child is always their secret mandrake, they are the child themself.
The child is a mandrake. Its role is to be a go-between, its lot to always be disappointed. A tacit and naïve love only encountering incomprehension and indifference. The mandrake in turn illuminates the constellation that shines on childhood. And this light, if one knew how to guide oneself by it, would indicate in which sense, other than an “autonomy” imitating grown-ups, childhood could socially discover its role and path, in the full flow of its passions.
The Hordes and the Bands
Our previous references to Fourier must then be complemented in the illumination of this face of the constellation. Children are ornaments, and Fourier adorns them by reserving multicolored uniforms for them, the costumes borrowed from the centuries knew the most lustrous outfits, knighthood, the barbaresque or “Hungarian” outfits, ranging from that of the druidess to those of the hussars of the Napoleonic army, in a shimmering of colors, blue, crimson, rosy, emerald, violet and canary yellow, mustard and rose madder.Charles Fourier, “l’éducation ultérieure,” in Œuvres complètes, vol. 5, 12 vols. (Paris: Anthropos, 1966).
The kaleidoscope of the phalanx, forming cavalcades mounted on horses or zebras, children have no need to devote themselves to useless games in compensation for their permanent frustration in civilization. Their activities are fully productive and ensure them the enjoyment of that nerve of all independence and all pleasure: money—which can, on another note, we have seen, also come from their guardians.
But these enjoyments are not selfish, as would immediately ensue from possession of money in civilization. Childhood exercises a particular rôle among the adults as a Pivot of harmony, as a constant intervention where the adults are found lacking. That is, when they lacking the attraction for tasks that only the children can accomplish with pleasure: servants and pages, stable grooms, muck-divers and dumpster-divers, everywhere they operate by in this way “philanthropically” ensuring the social bond, filling in fractures.
Most of the time, Fourier was misconstrued by putting too much emphasis on the “liberation of childhood” aspect in his work, the exaltation of aimless enjoyment, or on the formation of little autonomous groups, because this is to have not gotten away from the egoistic civilized idea that makes the body into individual property and separates the individual from the socius on principle. Fourier does not at all mean to train children to autonomy, to make them independent from adults in the sense that our civilization gives the word, but instead, to better commingle with them—except for their sexuality, which he is unaware of.
Let’s review the passages concerning the civic functions of the “Little Hordes”; they are the same example of the paradoxical union between the full exercise of passions and “social dedication,” between crudeness and slang, cheekiness, bluster, the vanity of beautiful costumes, and communal cohesion. Because the Little Hordes, owing to the predominant passion of childhood, where friendship prevails over self-withdrawal, vanity over misplaced pride, and due to the treasures that they accumulate in their disgusting or trivial jobs, assure the bond where with adults there would be a risk of greed, egoism and discord prevailing: “Keepers of social honor,” writes Fourier,
they must crush the serpent’s head in body and soul, and while purging the countrysides of the reptiles, they purge society of a worse venom than the viper’s: through their treasures [indeed, a part of the sums children earn is employed in the “support of the unity” by repairing possible injustices in the distribution of income] they smother any germ of greed which could trouble the concord, and by their filthy work, the pride that, by discrediting a industrious class, would tend to bring back the spirit of caste and destroy the general friendship. They know how to employ to society’s happiness the self-abnegation prescribed by Christianity and the contempt for wealth prescribed by philosophy. Finally, they are the home of all the social virtues, in the religious and civic sense.Charles Fourier, Œuvres complètes, vol. 5 (Paris: Anthropos, 1966), 153.
If it’s remembered that, in complement, the “Little Bands” are in refinement what the Little Hordes are in “vulgarity,” and dedicate themselves to spreading Beauty in the phalanx, are its adornment, it’s seen how childhood not only has to claim its place in society, but can be its cement or vital cog.
These concepts, so contrary to our progressive ideas on childhood, are made directly accessible by the figure of the mandrake. In an associative society finally in line with the harmonic order, and not folded into the egotism of families, children, who have become producers through and for the exercise of their passions, able to provide money instead of receiving it, are richness, and not social cost. Compensated enough by the honors which glorify them, they astonish through miracles of “philanthropy.” This, Fourier demonstrates, not by “changing man” or by changing children’s passions, but instead by recognizing their passions, outside any pedagogy and, of course, outside psychoanalysis, by pushing them up to their peak by the gears of their energies.
Not prospective men thinking of preparing their future, nor just hidden and wandering dreamers with their companion and compensatory marionettes, but the hordes of mandrakes thrown into the social field.
Postlude: Twins and Letters
sibling incest — we got ’em good — the included middle or comical incest — twin contacts — twin telepathy — the twin drama — repetition and boredom — cryptophasia. childhood secret — on the surface of the letters — childhood mannerisms — fallen back into childhood
Among the companions of children, operators of the childhood novel, the closest are those that are uprooted from the familial soil where they were transplanted: siblings and servants, “minor” relations before the great incest which makes one adult.
Only the minor relations actually relate to an accurate and real “sexual experience” (ancillary and sibling loves). The major relation, incest with the mother or father, has the unique feature of being practically unrecorded in facts
The horizontal relationships or incests invest a social field (the servants, the wage-earners’ intrusion within the familial cocoon) which favorably supports comparison with the familial sexualization in a closed world initiated by sexual education. The valet Quint in The Turn of the Screw and Kafka’s maids are intrusions of the exterior world, breaches of the present familial closure in the domestic breast.
They are a little fresh air in suffocating confinement. No wonder, then, if they appear from the point of view of the novel’s children in an erotic and privileged place. Further, like the maid Zénobie in The Pupil, at the moment when they stop being paid and enter "in a rage against them [the parents]," they reveal something important: they are the seducers, the corrupters, and their love for the children is simply used and recuperated by the family. It’s the parents that pay, but it’s the children who love and whom they love. Employed by the family, they are not attached to loving the entire thing, in contrast with the children, and the parents, and can indulge in elective choices.
Psychoanalysis, by making the maid a derivative of the mother is put into the service of the head of the family.
Like sibling incest, but for other reasons, copulation with servants is an intensive “incest,” in the sense where there is a difference of intensity between the primal scene and the present reality of a love-alliance.
For other reasons: sibling incest is rather the choice within the obligation, the familial “bad choice” against the good choice of the parent-child axis.
It’s horizontal incest, which ignores that only the diffence of generation legitimizes the guilty love. Le perroquert vert by Princess Bibesco connects it at length to her love for the bird. In love with her sister, the narrative’s little girl will successively discover an unknown brother disguised as a woman whom she will sleep with, and, in the family’s vault, that there was already in the nineteenth century a couple parallel to hers in this strange line doomed to short-circuit: “But why assign a date to the brother’s passion for the sister, or the sister’s for the brother? Is this love, kindled in the same blood which seeks its satiation in itself, prefers it there and finds it only there, from one time rather than another?” she writes before her discovery. Adding the same to the same, she continuously encounters incitements and illustrations to her repetitive taste. Her nanny does not speak to her of papa-mummy, but from the tenderest childhood she croons a Russian tale to her: “The sun and the moon loved each other with a guilty love and would burn with desire for one another. So much so, that in the father’s house, the brother climbed into the sister’s brother, and was united with her . . . At the height of their pleasure, the mother surprised them. With curses and threats, she separated them.” A nuisance of a mother, who only intervenes in the novel to break the child’s relations with the animal, the parrot, or between the siblings. A strange family tree, hers, made of parallel strata where the same rejoins the same: a noble family, it’s true, and in La nymphe Europe, the princess will explain herself about the immense vast superiority of noble successions over the bourgeois-Oedipal engendering. At each of the story’s moments, by the privilege of taking up one of the family’s names, it’s the same which was revived, being constantly reborn from its ashes without any care to its temporary accomplice.
Like sibling incest, the princess herself is not of one time over another, she is contemporaneous, not only with her relatives, but as far back as she wants to go, with all those that have preceded her in the line.
The repetition of the name is then considered from the angle of the same and not under that of the unified difference proper to the name of the bourgeois family. All the Mavrocordatos princesses (Princess Bibesco’s birth name) are the same and not different princesses, different people carrying the same “family name.” What the phoenix symbolizes, the unengendered reborn from its ashes, the arms of the Mavrocordatos family, the bird whose multicolored bizarreness is obviously linked to the parrot she was in love with. Thus can she write, in speaking of a medieval ancestor whose existence she recounts: “My first life as a man.” “This Pythagorean faculty of coming and going, overturning the hourglass, repelling the watch hands, dwelling in other bodies, and keeping the memory well, I practised from my smallest childhood.” Further, “the fall of Constantinople is a familial misfortune which happened to us last week.” All history passes through this “family”; the princess writes coldly that she is herself solely responsible for the war of 1914. She lastly speaks of “this power of metamorphosis which allowed me to exist in several places, in several times at once, girl and boy, man and woman, child and elder. I am Roxandra, princess of Moldavia . . . I am Alexander, the prince of the Good-Teaching . . . I am Nicholas the Disobedient, through whom the misfortune happened . . . I am the Mad Prince and the fugitive Prince; I am the poor princess who sold her dresses, and finally I am Cassandre, my grandfather’s mother.”
This is recidivist time which flattens the diachrony of reproduction, frees displacement in the “course of the generations,” or what is called such. Moreover, as this family has never stopped taking up at each stage the incestuous unions which establish its power, the relations of filiation become secondary relative to the brother-sister eternity.
Let’s add an equally fanciful geography, attested by La nymphe Europe as well as the American Russia or Russian America of Ada. The Princess’s cosmopolitanism (she is as much “at home” in Romania as in Austria or France) shows the same contempt for the great conflicting territorializations as Nabokov. Like Charlus, the Princess (intimate, incidentally, with Proust) ignores the separation between Germany and France. The noble family divides itself without national connotations, or rather, the nationality of such and such a cousin is only a secondary determination, a picturesque prop. No more of one country than another.
In Ada, too, (see the family tree at the front of the novel) familial succession is worn out through transversality. It must be said that these polyglot “Russian” families (in the sense that one speaks of Slavic cosmopolitanism), those of Le perroquert vert, that of Ada and Van—“their French, their Italian and, cropping up in the foreign fluencies, their cold tough slices of American” (The Pupil)—displaced over and over, more or less exiled from who-knows-where, surrounded by an entourage of sometimes-unpaid servants, are particularly favorable to the neutralization of the univocal descendance/ascendance relations, very conducive to the transformation of the “real” parents into neutral inductors. Morgan, the “polyglot little beast,” knows something about it.
We Got ’Em Good!
Minor incest, by perverting and reserving “blood,” by preserving it from the Oedipal corruption, wears out the familial hierarchy. “We got ’em good!” Thus, in a comic disruption, ends a short story by Thomas Mann, The Blood of the Walsungs, whose text till then lingered in a romantic preciosity of good taste. Sigmund has just committed with his sister Sieglinde an incest whose spirit and salt can only escape the family and the husband promised to Sieglinde. The rules of kinship have been scrambled.
Sibling incest, brotherly and sisterly, between brothers and sisters, brothers and brothers, sisters and sisters. “Les,” “them,” “those people”: les parents, les betrotheds. The only obvious and easy incest which you are never encouraged toward, which is spoken of little, which does not employ imaginary or symbolic compensations.
The twins from Gemini, lying head-to-toe in seminal communion, know very well that they must get rid of their mother, as both real and symbolic. After the disappearance of their mother:
. . . Maria-Barbara’s going had bestowed an immediacy on our fundamental relationship. We knew that from then on neither of us should look for our common denominator anywhere but in his twin. Now the geminate cell was rolling through space, free at last of the maternal plinth on which it had rested so far.
The trick played on familial succession by sibling incest works in two senses: hopeless from the point of view of dialectical engendering, it also retrospectively acts by sterilizing the maternal virus: Maria-Barbara is sterile after the double birth, “Her maternal vocation seems to have worn itself out with that double birth,” the twins’ mother in The Holy Sinner dies in childbirth. Good riddance.
The exhaustion of the reproductive venom leaves the field free to egalitarian loves. The “dry come,” an erotic feat that the twins practise, coitus reserved like blood, which consists in experiencing the orgasm without its ordinary consequence: non-repetition. “[S]ince the reserves of sperm remain intact, repetition is easier and more effective,” explain the twins in Gemini.
Repetitive inclusion instead of linear reproduction, preservation of flow outside familial stasis.
Another advantage: loving twinness introduces confusion in the organization of familial differenciations. It is an impediment to individuation. “Edouard never could tell us apart, nor would he ever try to. One day he decided, half seriously, half as a joke: ‘One twin each. Maria-Barbara, you have Jean, since he is your favorite. For myself, I’ll choose Paul.’” Jean and Paul will take pleasure in reversing the rôles, passing themselves off as each other. The mystification defuses the system of preferences and jealousies where familial libido takes root.
Doublet-birth and double or multiple childhood are adjoined to Humbert’s “new childhood” in resistance to the unitary and backward-looking formative reduction of the familial novel.
Griaule among the Dogons, Géza Róheim among the Australians, and Jaulin among the African Mara note the existence of twin myths as initiatory and foundational. Whether the twins are same-sex (Australian) or opposite (Dogons), it’s always a question of through them ensuring a break with the original mother/child duality, by subsituting for it the other, self-sufficient unity with the brother or sister.
The Included Middle, or Comical Incest
In Thomas Mann’s oeuvre, there are a number of prolonged human, all too human dramas, which make it into a reservoir of deadened old homosexuals and tragic tuberculotics. But the two texts devoted to stories of twins, The Blood of the Walsungs and The Holy Sinner, display instead an inarguable comic force. It’s as if twincest in itself were a comic effect. The short story and pseudo-medieval novel are not, from the author’s own perspective, major works. To establish great literature, you need the dough of familial novels.
The comedy or oddness of the twin incest situtation makes it look like a word game, it was already known that repetition was a comic effect, that only lack makes a deep and tragic sound. Let’s summarize The Holy Sinner: two twins are born to a medieval prince. Their mother dies in childbirth. Those children start off well: they don’t want to grow up.
Of the coiffed women who still for company and serving slept by them on pallets, they often inquired: “We are little yet, aren’t we?”
“Two little turtle-doves, high-born and fine.”
"And shall be small a long time, shan’t we, n’est-ce voir?" . . . “But we want to be little always on earth,” they said. “We have made it up like that, when we cosy together.”
They’re touchy-feely with each other, to be sure, from their earliest age, well-versed from the start in the joyful feeling of their “exceptionality,” their “monstrosity.” It’s a vain attempt by the nurse, at returning them to the common law of humanity. "[W]e are wholly exceptional children . . . each of us with our graven sign on our brow, they come of course only from chicken pox . . . but the origin of the sign does not signify, tout de même it is the pale little hollow that is important."
The same night as the father’s death, they make love together instead of following his recommendations and thinking about taking spouses in the world. Sibylla is pregnant, they confide to an old servant:
He did not raise his voice to cry shame, he uttered no curse nor fell back in his seat, but only said:
“How bad, how bad is this!” so he spoke. “Oh, dear noble children, how bad! Here you have quite actually slept with each other so that the brother’s fruit waxes in the sister’s little belly and you have made your blessed father on both sides a father-in-law as well as a grandfather, all in a very irregular way. For what you, damsel, there nourish is the Lord Grimald's grandchild in all too direct line; and however he set store by unbroken descent, this is so much too direct that inheritance can no longer be talked of. I see you weep, because you fear shame which threatens you. But whether you really understand what you have set going in the world, that would I well like to know. The greatest disorder have you set up and a bafflement of nature, that she knows neither out nor in, no more than you yourselves. It is God's will that life shall breed life; but you have made it so that it has overlapped and have made with each other a third brother-sister . . .”
This third brother is the chosen one [Der Erwählte], the being of exception who will strive to make himself worthy of his exceptionality and becoming in his turn the lover of his mother-sister, then pope under the name Gregorius, not however without having passed through a strange metamorphosis: retired in the hermitage of a rock, he becomes a sort of unclassifiable animal, “a hedgehog,” “a marmot” which laps a nourishing milk produced directly by the earth. Transmutation, direct suckling by the earth, belonging to the same constellation as the mandrake and becoming-animal.
Having abruptly become a man again, after his election as pope, he once more encounters his mother-sister come to him to plead for the forgiveness of her own sins. A scene of recognition: “A new task, dearest, have I to set your soul, but a merciful one : it is to grasp the three-in-oneness of child, spouse, and Pope.” (Reminiscent of the application of the mystery of the Trinity in Sade’s L’instituteur philosophe.) But they are still married Christianly. The mother-sister spouse says:
“My head reels . . .”
“It would be little fitting for me to pronounce the divorce and put our relation back on the footing of mother and son. For, everything considered, I would better not be your son either.”
“But what, then, child, can we be to one another?”
“Brother and sister,” he answered . . .
At the presentation to the pope of his daughters, he says,
[Y]ou see . . . that Satan is not all-powerful and that he was unable to wreak his uttermost will till I had to do with these as well and even had children by them, whereby the relationship would have become a perfect sink of iniquity. Everything has its limits—the world is finite.
A happy end, since it must indeed end the novel, otherwise it would effectively become unlimited by the multiplication of siblings in love, on three, four telescoped “generations.” Crushing transcendence, comic incest is always brought back to horizontality: becoming pope, the third sibling, child of two others, can lift any curse, bring the superego back to the level of the libidinal sibling collectivity. Gregorius-the-Great’s pontification makes possible a transmutation of values, by including the body of the Law in the incestuous Eros.
Inclusive sibling incest can multiply itself like the pederastic collection; far from being “sterile” it can adjoin itself to the infinity of new elements which are wholly naturally included in the collection, in a profound equality. Everything can then be presented under the auspices of siblinghood. The twin resemblance is no longer required to be acceptable, it now only exercises an illustrative and paradigmatic function. Van and Ada join up with Lucette, Ada’s little sister, a new sibling is added to the sister in Le perroquet vert. The third, far from being excluded, adds an invaluable spice by their presence.
The disabling of the universal human mediator naturally characterizes twin contact: “when one has experienced the intimacy of twinship, no other intimacy can be felt as anything but a disgusting promiscuity” (Gemini). The failure of Tournier’s twins is clearly that there are only two of them, that they have not brought the twin inclusion into play. The fact remains that they find the right words to designate personal relations, human relations in their plaintive intimacy. Speaking of her sister Marie, the character from Le perroquet vert writes:
In seeing Marie appear among the other women, I understood that beauty is not “a promise of happiness.” It’s an instant of realized happiness, something which looks like the happy ending of a little mathematical drama. On each figure that passed, I tried to perform a quick operation; I wanted to know if adding up the traits spread across the face’s surface was going to give me the right amount of pleasure, and each time the calculation came out wrong. Suddenly Marie appeared, and instantly I had the satisfaction of being right.
The passers, too, turn round when the sister passes and want at once to “check and determine . . . the magic number which appeared.” This mathematical surface of twin contact and (here sororal) incest makes the divided and secured forms (moral persons, physical persons) of love peerlessly disgusting in comparison. The exceptionality of the twins in The Holy Sinner is answered by the two sisters’ aristocratism: “The immense majority of beings disgusted us, we literally could not feel them” (Le perroquet vert).
The pederastra, too, is repulsed by the duties of reciprocity and respect for “the other.” The mathematical nature of twinness is manifested with Franz’ virtuosity, sketch of third brother, Tournier’s young person loved by the twins. The mathematical game at work in meteorology seduces the three boys. They live on “meteoric” phenomena, meteorites, are fascinated by barometers and tides. “Sometimes on summer nights, at neap tides, I would feel him trembling in my arms. We had no need to speak, I could feel—as though by induction—the pull on him of the great, wet, salty expanse the ebb had just uncovered.” The young girl in Le perroquet vert also shares this taste for the repetitive rhythm of the tides, this attraction for aerial and marine surfaces:
Beautiful smooth shores, which the sea of clouds would uncover at low tide in good weather, at which time I would remain motionless for hours, my head down in the sand . . . I dived in this upside-down ocean which stretched out above the Bay of Biscay. Along these celestial beaches, at the edge of those waves and clouds, around luminous rocks, I ran and played with a child who did not exist [her dead first brother]. Together we approached the same golden island, rode seagulls to reach the same harbor, with cottony banks, and together we made the red ball of the setting sun roll into the sea.
This companion character which makes the induction of meteoric phenomena possible is neither a fantasy nor a mirror image. Its effective power can roll this sun which the pederastra Ogre, too, boasted of being the master of.
Stereoscopy is not the imperialist depth of the I, geminate intuition is the multiplication of surfaces of vision. “[W]e were the possessors of a superior visionary power . . . It was a foretaste of that geminate intuition which for a long time was our strength and pride . . .” (Gemini).
Binoculars and their powerful magnification are one of the preferred toys of the twins in Gemini, a certain privileged way of apprehending the world, vision more detailed than deep. In contrast, Jean and Paul reject telephones, tandem bicycles, all the instruments of internal complementarity. The toy telephone does not entertain them, firstly because they are telepathic, but also because the entire game of telephone occurs in the empty space provided by the voice that comes from afar, which their immediacy has no use for.
The twins’ appearance within the world without equal is not only the intrusion of repetition in the midst of the anxieties of difference, it’s also an optic magnification effect through the destructuring of bodily individuation, through the search for details that allow them to be distinguished. Just like Edwin, who loves stereoscopic views, the twins appreciate non-functional doubles like themselves: "things whose function was clearly contradicted by being duplicated . . . For instance, the two little pendulum clocks . . . [W]hat no one realized, apart from Jean-Paul, was that Jean’s clock persisted in chiming a few seconds before mine," producing a “slight time lag.” The pendulum stereoscopy is, in its way, a resistance against diachronic flow. The twin effect is not one of a search for total identity, rather it is akin to a subtle stereoscopic offset. Twin-time, repeating almost instantly, quick but eternal, ridicules the slowly-continuing and irreversible time of familial production.
Franz “displayed a stupefying virtuosity” which was completely formal, concerning the calendar as figures and not as events. The dates do not mean anything to him, he is an idiot in school, but he is capable, to the great surprise of specialists come from around the world, of giving without any mental calculation, immediately, instantaneously, all the responses most complex when trying to reconstruct them in historical diachrony:
“What day of the week will it be on the fifteenth of February 2002?”
“A Friday.” . . .
“What day of the week was the eleventh of November 1918?”
“Do you know what happened on that day?”
“Would you like to know?”
The Twin Drama
For Tournier’s twins, things quickly enough turn bad. One of the twins abandons this “true incest, the union incestuous beyond all others . . . that ovoid loving which mutes like with like and arouses by cryptophasic understanding a sensual passion which multiplies itself . . .” He chooses “extensity” over intensity, decides to play the “dialectical game” of husband, father, etc.
One suspects that the only twin drama is the rupture of the twin cell. This rupture itself is not an “individual decision of free will; we must guard ourselves against a purely incomparable interpretation of this drama whose true reading must be twinny.” By introducing into the twin cell—“negation of time, history, stories, all the vicissitudes, disputes, fatigues, betrayals, aging that they accept . . . those which throw themselves into the river whose mixed waters roll towards death”—a rupture, the fleeing twin shows two things, which are also the two traps of twin representation in Tournier. First, that there is an interior of the twin cell, a limit between it and the world, that it constitutes, not a travelling inclusion capable of multiplication to infinity (The Holy Sinner) but rather a closed egg seen from the inside. As a result, twinness is no longer the act of duplication, the being’s multiplication, it is a being among others, an obviously fetal unity which, in place of distributing the same into numerous surfaces, closes it in a primordial and mystical egg. Second, that twinness is deserved, that it is no longer a formal mathematical and artistic relation, but a church membership, in which the world (“without equal”) is a Satanic invention destined to trouble the peace of the unique twin being by dividing it from itself.
The twin phenomenon, recuperated in platonic form, that of the quest for a complement to form the unique original being, is indeed a reversion toward the mother. We can therefore talk, like Tournier, about twin “damnation,” quite comparable to the homosexual damnation of the twins’ uncle, the mystical mad worshipper of symbolic waste. Twinness turns into a human drama.
Musil explained very well how a twin mystery is made, when the separation between phenomenon and interior is accepted, when one lapses into the interiority/exteriority game, of which it’s precisely the principal quality of doublet-birth to be able to abolish it. The spectacular stereoscopic world, the multiplier of surfaces of vision is done for: the psychological projection of “internal relations” between twins becomes the object of inquiry. “Imagine two twins looking like two drops of water . . . They are identical to our eyes, but not to theirs.” Put in the presence of a psychologist observer with the gaze of a spy, the twin cell shatters among internal functions (complementarity) and functions that are now only their disguise or manifestation to the senses. How do they live between them? What happens when no one sees them? And above all, how do they see one another? So many psychologizing or religious regressions.
No, there is no twin damnation, neither any mystery hidden behind the carnal shell. To think so only renews the platonic search for a body which one has been separated from. In the Tournierist mystique, the identical world [monde pareil] is hidden behind the world without equal [monde sans pareil]. It is the key to it, but a lost or rejected key. When it exists, the twin cell must be opened like a shellfish to the interior in which only one soul resides.
Not only do we not believe in twin interiority (or in the compensatory inner twin of the isolated individual), but it even appears obvious that twinness can be read on each individual, since it is in fact formed from two contiguous symmetrical surfaces: the two twins are already four. It’s Bateson and Gesell’s hypothesis about “universal twinning.” Far from being hidden in the hollow of a mystical fundamental egg, twinness sprawls before our eyes all the time: Tiffauges notes that
[I]f you divide a child's face into two halves vertically by a line passing through the bridge of the nose, . . . [i]t is as if the child were made of two halves, based on the same model . . . At the other extremity of the trunk the raphe, the little pebbled amber coloured protuberance that runs along the ridge of the perineum and the middle of the scrotum, from the front edge of the anus to the end of the prepuce, also suggests . . . that the boy is formed of two halves stuck together at the last moment, like a shell-fish or a celluloid doll.
But there is nothing within, no more than there is anything within the twin cell: this bonding or welding is only multiplication of a visible skin by two, and not the double mask of a unique principle. The gaze of enjoyment is satisfied to wander on repetitive surfaces, it does not look to penetrate deep meaning.
Repetition and Boredom
When the story of the twins turns into the quest for the holy grail of an impossible unity, twin “sterility” is included in the theme of damnation. It spills over from the mother exhausted by the double birth to the two united fetuses. The boredom of repetition is the essential argument Paul uses to escape Jean. Repetition is no longer a twice- or several-times-possible inauguration, a new childhood, but the twice-repeated application of the same internal principle that this double shell allows one to speculate is at work. Once it’s accepted that the twins must be thought through a single common mediator which is sketched out in the hollow of their intimacy, their double existence is no longer anything but a tiring stammer. The repetition of the same (it’s always the first time), becomes the boredom of the faithful copy (it’s because I’ve already seen this that I want to see something else).
There is confusion between the logical qualities of twinness (inclusive and travelling) and its stationary operations: I know beforehand what can happen because I know the twin principle. If Tournier’s novel ends in the worst banalities of the familial novel (apologia for the “true life” with all its difficulties, transgression of the twin or homosexual fence), it’s because it confuses twinness with the immobile excavation of the principle of identity. No, it’s not the same as always making one thing and one thing only at a unique place. It’s not the becoming which travels, since it is displaced on a univocal line. The great river of mixed waters does lead only to death.
In opposing an evolving productive becoming to an identical sterility, one reconstructs the antinomy that twinness resolves as soon as it exists. One constructs the twin world apart through the exclusion of the world “without equal.” What The Holy Sinner asserted, in contrast, was the possibility of perceiving the whole world, in a nomadic repetition, according to a twinness productive everywhere.
Cryptophasia, Secret of Childhood
The childhood novel, as in the case of Gemini, is often drowned in the sentimentalism of child death. There’s nothing more moving than the suicide of a child in the face of the mystery of life; the mystery of the child, limbo, establishes its value in official literature. The child’s game with death (Forbidden Games), children playing among bombs, Joseph Losey’s atomic children, little Vietnamese, a background of war does make the tacky cost stand out. These are no longer mutants, orphans or twins as such, but only so much spice for adult tragedy. The entire childhood novel is only perceived in a veil behind which shows through the mysterious secret or why the child is sad, a confrontation between what the adults known and the children are unaware of—war, misfortune, sex, etc.
In a film by Howard Hawks, Monkey Business, a scientist has invented an elixir of youth. Finding a baby in his laboratory, abandoned there by mistake, his friends believe that it’s him, immoderately transformed by reckless ingestion of his product. He tries to communicate: “Look, he’s trying to talk to us.” There’s laughter, because it’s a confusion, a misunderstanding. The childhood novel, likewise, is only seen as a rhapsody of wailing that tries to tell us something, something essential that the little Miles’ teacher wears herself out in vain to decipher.
The cryptophasia which the author of Gemini talks about and Lewis Carroll’s cryptograms are not sphinx-like riddles. Like Humbert’s discoveries in hotel registries, they are meticulous ciphers, or traveling puns.
Aeolian, the language of Tournier’s twins, consists of “gentle, wholly incomprehensible phrases.” Like the buzzing of Alice’s portmanteau, they dissolve the word’s unity of meaning in a skillful mix. Coats of arms or ideograms in the Incan fashion: “What other names have you beside ‘Edith’? Tell me, and I will make you a ‘monogram’ for writing all the initials at once” (Letter from Lewis Carroll). Calligraphed initials, where the loops are curled like plants until the original inscription is masked, the liquefaction and telescoping of syllables—all these formalist traits dissolve signifying imperialism.
Deleuze speaks of Lewis Carrol’s games as returning to an ideal game: an event-game, where each move carries in it its own rule, a game completely rid of complementarity with other activities (work). “My dear May, [d]o you ever play at games? Or is your idea of life ‘breakfast, lessons, dinner, lessons, tea, lessons, bed, lessons, breakfast, lessons’ . . . [W]ould you see how you like my new game ‘Lanrick’? I have been inventing it for about two months, and the rules have been changed almost as often as you change your mind during dinner, when you say ‘I’ll have meat first and then pudding . . .’” (rehash of the axiom of the plum).
Non-progressive games, which don’t pedagogically prepare for a life first isolate, “Bep’s game” of the twins, neither regressive nor infantilizing, languages which, like Aeolian, know neither translation nor learning. Because Aeolian only exists through its flux and incessant modification between the twins, never referring to the totality given theoretically in the division between communication and what permits it.
Don’t let Edith torture you with that funny way of writing, but tell her that I’m going to send her a better way that’ll make her hair stand on end with delight. Babies of six months old easily learn how to write it in a minute, and a whole regiment with fixed bayonets couldn’t find it out in a fortnight without knowing the key-word. (Letter to Dolly Argles)
Those that want to force the lock of the hidden meaning, who, in place of letting themselves get caught up in the game presuppose its complete solution, get caught in a stalemate.
I took the biscuits to represent the givens of the problem. Her mother told her, “Come on, dear, think hard and try to find the solution.” The consequences of this demand were appalling! The little girl started kicking a fit: “I don’t know how to do it! I don’t know how to do it! Oh, mummy, mummy!” Then she burst into tears . . . that will teach me to try to make children solve puzzles! (Letter to Helen Feilden)
Puzzles, like Aeolian, must produce themselves at each moment; the presumption of prior totality hides the logical game, to make it into a psychological game. From the “mummy, I don’t understand!” to the “what could children be talking about among themselves?” there is the same projection of concern.
When Princess Bibesco’s heroine discovers the tortoiseshell box containing two miniatures of the first Marie and her brother-lover from the nineteenth century, she notes that “the inside part of the lid bore this motto, arranged in a rebus: I have the key to the heart. The box being open, the two images (the two portraits) were opposed, but once the box was closed, they were overlaid in the shadow.” Why force the box, to be able to compare the portraits, to pierce the mystery, to separate what is coupled just to “know more”?
On the Surface of Letters
Ascent to the surface, ignorance of metaphor, the ability to take everything literally, the young Edwin Mullhouse demonstrates all of these when he encounters the writing on his bright screen. Edwin’s games with letters and reading are non-signifying, graphical games which in their own way trace this continuous backwards movement movement before the abyss of signification, this constant revival of the primary plane which establishes the childhood novel. Edwin’s letters have the nature of cartoons; he begins by making them run or jump just as the only part of a text he can retain is its sound: For hours, Edwin reads aloud to his little sister from Hebrew texts that clearly neither one understands. This is the persistence of “baby talk,” which Millhauser has given entire pages of, and it is not true that the babble is informal, nor that reading for sound is regressive. Babies are not (as is the theme of Howard Hawks’ film) men incapable of speech, taking the text in its audible materiality is not infantilization.
Each letter is a small being here, a little independent nature connected to the others by similarities and not by compatibilities of common signifying organization. Let’s compare two texts; the first refers to the alphabet as child-executor because it “is necessary to find” the solution;
A man of twenty-four has preserved the following picture from his fifth year. He is sitting . . . on a small chair beside his aunt, who is trying to teach him the letters of the alphabet. He is in difficulties over the difference between m and n . . . [The memory had] only acquired its meaning at a later date, when it showed itself suited to represent symbolically another of the boy’s curiosities.
The reason for these difficulties: “[J]ust as at that time he wanted to know the difference between m and n, so later he was anxious to find out the difference between boys and girls, and would have been very willing for this particular aunt to be the one to teach him.” Freud writes this text regarding the difference between the screen-memory (the jambages of the letters) and the real memory of childhood that the first was hiding (the legs [jambes] and what he has between them). With this impoverished remembered alphabet reduced to two aspects hidden in the forest of the letters, we contrast the garden of letters where Edwin snorts:
[He] had a distinct feeling for each one. He had a special fondness for . . . b and h that rose . . . to touch the dark blue line above, and letters like g and y that plunged . . . to touch the pale blue line below. . . . He liked to form categories on the basis of similarity of shape: thus b and d were related to one another in much the same way as q and g, except that the tails of the latter both began on the same side of the o; m was two n’s and w was two v’s; capital G was capital C with something added. The relation of capital to small letters intrigued Edwin: C was a bigger c, . . . but what was the relation of D to d? of G to g? of Q to q? of E to e? F and E were clearly related to one another but f and e were clearly not: f was related to t . . .
If we wanted to find in these details of the graphical game of letters so many substitutions, we would use up a set of Happy Families. The manic abundance of minutiae noted by Edwin’s passion drown the poverty of an alphabet reduced to a unique mystery.
Edwin’s alphabet is voluntarily desexualized, like the whole of Millhauser’s text, to avoid any interpretative recuperation. In another case, that of the little Fritz analyzed by Melanie Klein, the formalist wealth of the child alphabet is instead explicitly sexual: “I is a man that lives in a hot country and so is naked,” I and E love each other on motorcycle, generally speaking, the lines are roads and the letters roll on them, mounted on motorcycles.—the fountain pen. The problem is not the alphabet’s sexualization or non-sexualization. It is the choice between the humming road-lines of escape and the symptom-Letter emptied of its graphical substance: for Klein, the motorcycle, i and e come down to the penis/vagina problem.
Edwin’s flourish-letters are extracted from the words, peeled off signifying rootedness like a decal.
Several times, Edwin talks about drawn strips that slip out of their frame and drag it into their danse along the walls. The Edwinian alphabet follows the same trajectory of development, the same cancerous multiplication as shades of car bodies. A cancer of meaning as an organism, multifaceted development, in the fashion of those Japanese cuttings that unfold themselves in the water blossoming with innumerable adjacent surfaces. Edwin’s alphabet is already his childhood novel, an anarchic swelling of cells, cornucopias where childish preciosity draws without fear of lacking anything.
The childhood novel is self-generating on every level, from the most literal to the phrasing, like a kaleidoscopic profusion born under the child’s very gaze. Childhood mannerism, the taste for detail and decoration, the motifs’ preciosity, are found, from the pedantry of Tournier’s twins, , to Ada and Van, to the caprices of Sigmund and Sieglinde:
Siegmund and Sieglinde came last, hand in hand . . . They were twins, graceful as young fawns, and with immature figures despite their nineteen years. She wore a Florentine cinquecento frock of claret-coloured velvet, too heavy for her slight body. Siegmund had on a green jacket suit with a tie of raspberry shantung, patent-leather shoes on his narrow feet, and cuff-buttons set with small diamonds. . . . His head was covered with thick black locks parted far down on one side . . . Her dark brown hair was waved in long, smooth undulations over her ears, confined by a gold circlet. A large pearl—his gift—hung down upon her brow. Round one of his boyish wrists was a heavy gold chain—a gift from her.
The jewelry intertwines from the brother to the sister to construct the precious painting they always have more or less the air of having come out of. The childhood novel draws an ornamental paragraph, always a little overwrought; if it’s impossible to find ways to think about it, it’s because it loathes all mediation, it’s an art of pure contiguity or direct transmutation. In Thomas Mann’s short story, the conversation at table with Sieglinde’s future husband gives the twins the opportunity to display a sovereign insolence. The fiancé is careless enough to put the conversation onto art: he refers to a painter whom he asserts one must admire, because “he was only a peasant before he took it up, so his performance is after all astonishing.” Disdainful smiles from the twins: “For the vision, the intention, the labouring will, they had no use at all . . .” Their snobbishness applies Deleuze’s formula before it was coined: “In sense and nonsense, what is deepest is the skin.”
They accompany their uncompromising speeches with “gestures [which are] nervous and self-assured.” Capricious, nonchalant, their thought is all “acuteness and vigilance,” like the little Morgan’s. Much more than the realist and organic adult naturalism projected onto them, what children make their own are these absolute, recourseless choices and the mannerist artificiality characteristic of dressed-up portraits or the posed photos of the pederastic collection. For those that would find the little costumed mannerists overly unbearable, let’s say that savagery, too, attests to an acute preciosity, and not to a natural “depth.”
Fallen Back into Childhood
The emotion procured by a child’s face in its precious obviousness is never the one that would be aroused by purity, fragility, or innocence, but that given by the certainty that this depth, in search of which we get lost in ourselves, we have right there, emerging before our eyes.
It’s no more a question of turning back on [retourner sur] ourselves than of peering down at the child. Attentive to hand more than to speech, to the presence of their sound more than the memory of their image, we stop questioning them to instead touch them and accompany them.
Twisted around [retournés]—we are only too much so already; no return [retour] or backwards gaze matters to us, if we do not find in it another way of deploying and opening ourselves:
Who has twisted us around like this, so that
no matter what we do, we are in the posture
of someone going away?
Attentive to the musical vibration of the relapse into childhood, invaded by the new childhood which seizes the pederastra caught on the hill, and is the end of Lolita:
As I approached the friendly abyss, I grew aware of a melodious unity of sounds rising like vapor from a small mining town . . . But even brighter than [the] quietly rejoicing colors [of the town] . . . was that vapory vibration of accumulated sounds that never ceased for a moment, as it rose to the lip of granite where I stood wiping my foul mouth. And soon I realized that all these sounds were of one nature, that no other sounds but these came from the streets of the transparent town, with the women at home and the men away. Reader! What I heard was but the melody of children at play, nothing but that, and so limpid was the air that within this vapor of blended voices, majestic and minute, remote and magically near, frank and divinely enigmatic—one could hear now and then, as if released, an almost articulate spurt of vivid laughter, or the crack of a bat, or the clatter of a toy wagon . . .
The child’s depth and ours is the surface where those things were inscribed and resounded.
Works Cited in the Postlude
Henry James, “The Turn of the Screw,” in The Complete Works of Henry James., 2013.
———, “The Pupil,” in The Complete Works of Henry James., 2013.
Princess Marthe Bibesco, Le perroquet vert (Paris: Grasset, 1924).
———, La nymphe Europe (Paris: Plon, 1960).We are indebted to Michel Cressole for the documentation concerning Princess Bibesco (to be published).
Vladimir Nabokov, Ada, or, Ardor: A Family Chronicle (New York: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2011).
Thomas Mann, “The Blood of the Walsungs,” in Death in Venice, and Seven Other Stories, trans. H. T Lowe-Porter (New York: Vintage Books, 1989).
Michel Tournier, Gemini, trans. Anne Carter (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998).
Thomas Mann, The Holy Sinner, trans. H. T. Lowe-Porter (New York: A.A. Knopf, 1951).
Marquis de Sade, Historiettes, contes et fabliaux (Paris: Union Generale D’Editions, 1971).
Marcel Griaule, “Nouvelles recherches sur la notion de personne chez les Dogons,” Journal de psychologie normale et pathologique. 40, no. 4 (1947): 405–31.
Géza Róheim, Héros phalliques et symboles maternels dans la mythologie australienne (Paris: Gallimard, 1970).
Robert Jaulin, “Le Problème de La Formation Du Clan Mara et La Gemellité,” in La Mort Sara; l’ordre de La Vie Ou La Pensée de La Mort Au Tchad. (Paris: Union Générale d’Editions, 1971).
Sigmund Freud, “The Psychopathology of Everyday Life,” in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, trans. James Strachey (London: Hogarth Press, 1975).
Melanie Klein, Love, Guilt and Reparation and Other Works 1921-1945 (New York, N.Y.: Free Press of Glencoe, 1984).
Steven Millhauser, Edwin Mullhouse: The Life and Death of an American Writer, 1943-1954, by Jeffrey Cartwright (New York: Vintage Books, 2011).
Rainer Maria Rilke, “Eighth Duino Elegy,” in Ahead of All Parting: The Selected Poetry and Prose of Rainer Maria Rilke, trans. Stephen Mitchell (New York: Modern Library, 2015).
Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita (New York: Knopf : Distributed by Random House, 1992).
Pivot: The Constellation of Childhood
Therefore let’s not propose a counter-system, but set the child back in the constellation where they stand. The word constellation we borrow from Rilke; Musil and Tournier have also used it.
The faces of the constellation are neither fantasies nor metaphors. They can be conceived as examples. But above all, they are the tensors of a field of forces. Or, if you like, the stars among which, according to the lovely Australian image that Géza Róheim records, the child takes a position in the Milky Way.
Appendix: Open Letter by René Schérer
Gai pied, Paris, 10 March 1980
Gentlemen, I thank you for sending your book, but, no matter what desire I have by courtesy, I cannot thank you for what it contains. If it were only a matter of a critique of certain of my writings or of those authors that I assess, I would have kept silent; but through a systematic and treacherous editing of citations you talk less of works than you aim to throw discredit on people. Do not deny it, since in short you designate a bunch of pederasts guilty of wanting to wield or of advocating, with regard to children, the worst of oppressions.
The abundance of your carefully selected references will give the uninformed reader the impression that you faithfully reproduce the intention of the writers to whom you attribute this genre of thought, while in fact by removing some phrases from their context you falsify its meaning and scope. Flitting between the texts where you catch expressions capable of supporting your preventions, you construct a sort of monster which it is easy for you to affirm represents the most pressing danger for childhood. A monster all the more disturbing since you only find opposed to him a silent childhood, or rather to which, making yourselves strong from this silence, you lend your own aversions.
Such a procedure does not in any way give way to the manipulations to which police reports are subjected during an affair of morals: it designates without recourse the innocent victims and the culprits confined in their obsessions. Is this what you’re getting at, in spite of prior declarations, which in this context take on the aspect of hypocrisy, against the penalization of sexual relations between majors and minors? Since both the ghost of the childhood that you wave and the pederast caricature that you erect piece by piece form so many prosecutor’s arguments for a condemnation without reserve?
Limiting me to what concerns me, reducing what I have written to a type of pederastic optics is to completely miss its orientation and sense. The reason behind my last books has been to propose a new figure of childhood, through the search for new means of access to it thanks to the lifting of prohibitions which weigh on it and on its approach. I believe I have shown (with Guy Hocquenghem in Co-ire and others) that this childhood is not silent but that it expresses itself in an extremely rich and varied fashion, provided one knows how to understand it by going beyond the system within which it is confined and constituted. You do not mention that subject, you do not oppose another aspect of childhood to it that you would have uncovered. You breathe not a word about it. And for good reason, since this void gives you full freedom to take up the most hackneyed prejudices against a narcissistic pederasty solely interested in its own desires. That it is a question of anything other than pederasty in Co-ire or in L’Emprise, for example, matters little to you. You need a bespoke pederast for a childhood to be sheltered. Where we try to break a system where children, in the course of a relatively recent history, have been produced little by little, released either to silence or to the feebleness of implanted adult words, you replicate the platitudes of official discourse towards them. You are content, to give those platitudes a more enticing face, to dress them up with pieces that you have extracted from us, hijacked from their intent.
I would say to you, like Rousseau did to the archbishop of Beaumont: "What common language can we speak, what exists between you and me? while you are not even capable anymore of understanding that myriad passages, in Co-ire like in other books, must be taken with a grain of salt, with a critical or poetic intention in the large sense transforming them into observations of reality or programs (I’m thinking of our citations of Lewis Carroll or some remarks on prostitution borrowed from an American author in Recherches №26). With horror I think of what your commentary would be on certain pages that Baudelaire dedicates to children! That does not mean, incidentally, that my—or our—analyses are not to be taken seriously, but that quite often poetry and humor are the appropriate language making it possible to break with the wooden language, the insufferable commonplaces of discourse about childhood. So many weights joined to so many vacuities dismay and surprise me.
Allow me a last surprise. I learn in the conclusion of your book that you express yourselves as homosexuals. Oh? When, then, did these homosexuals (who are thus called anti-pédés) start to come? But there I am: one of you starts by retracing the story of a painful first experience. I am not in his place and neither can nor want to contest what he reports: his defloration by a pederast in a particularly unpleasant encounter. I note only that as an example and doubtless as a motivation for his antipederastic hatred, it constitutes a case of quasi-rape, which is quite exceptional in truth. While most pederastic or pedophilic relationships do not include sodomy, being limited to caresses or sucking, or only contain explicitly desired ones (On this point, an investigation by Dr. Fitz Bernard of the Netherlands seems convincing, confirmed by numerous testimonies, including from judicial reports: most pedophiles are convicted for trifling and, however you take it, consensual fondling.
But there is more: the demonstrative value of this case is questionable, if only because the denounced violence could just as easily be done by a minor, perhaps by one child to another—the pain of a forced penetration in a tight ass seeming to play an essential role here. Either way, the honest thing would have been, above all on the part of homosexuals, to distrust this sensational headline, to survey other people, to be inspired by other sources. And also to admit that what can also fall under the name of trauma (how very widespread, that!) is this sexual prohibition which weighs on the young boys of our world, those who quite often languish in desperate waiting for the one who will give them a little enjoyment, whatever it be.
It’s all very well to pin up unfortunate encounters, while the immense sexual frustration of childhood and adolescence reigns, while the first experience is instead, in the child’s relations with adults, one of snubbing or terrorising condemnation. Somewhere you quote Freud’s Little Hans in support of your thesis, doesn’t that spell it out clearly?
Look at the prevailing state of our society and not a fantasmatic dictatorship of pederasts that you see fit, with a strange attack of zeal, to put on the stand.
On that note, do not be upset by my criticisms: others, the majority of whom are not silent, will be only too happy to read you.
Index of Names
Cornelius Nepos, 113
David (Balfour), 10
Dolly (Arglès), 129
Helen (Feilden), 129
Jean (who grumbles), 33
Jean (who laughs), 33
Lazarillo (de Tormes), 23
Moll (Flanders), 25
Nils (Olgerson), 106
Oliver (Twist), 13
Mr. Abel, 33
Alan (Breck), 10
Col. Bigua, 19
Mr. Féréor, 33
Mr. Georgey, 33
Mr. Leblanc, 33
The Ogre of Kaltenborn, 28
Peter Quint, 117
Mme de Warens. 10
Back cover blurb
The “real” child is of little importance to us, the hollow ghost of a yet-to-come to be formed or respected. Here we follow the finger pointing out the constellation where, above or below the person, animal and superhuman, an aesthetic idea outside psychology, an incommunicable or desirable mute, a little monster outside growth in suspended time, the child is now only childhood’s accomplice (as one says accomplice of the devil).
A childhood which demands nothing, especially not its autonomy, but circulates, by tying, untying and eluding adult relations, a childhood which we finally return to its universal prostitution.
Translated from the French by approx. 41,523,446 millipedes with typewriters in pillowfort labyrinth Ω.
GUY HOCQUENGHEM was a writer, filmmaker, revolutionary, and homosexual.
RENÉ SCHÉRER is a philosopher who writes on Fourier, childhood, hospitality, and anarchism.