- Male Maternity in Michel Tournier's Le Roi des Aulnes
Inspired in part by the Book of Genesis and Plato's Banquet, Michel Tournier's myth of Adam before the Fall as an androgynous "porte-femme et porte-enfant, perpétuellement en proie à une transe érotique—possédant-possédé" ( RA 90)1 expresses the author's utopian nostalgia for sexual self-sufficiency and wholeness. Marriage, patriarchy's attempt to solder the three, this "trilogie dipienne" (Monès 587)—man/woman/child—back together again into the original family unit is, in his view, a "solution dérisoire" ( RA 26).2 Of all human bonds between adults, the heterosexual one is the weakest, held together coercively by inequality and obligatory gender roles, both of which widen further the already existing rift between differing, if not incompatible, individuals. Alternative solutions, such as identical twin, lesbian and homosexual couples, circumvent gender distinctions. But they prove to be merely pale approximations of lasting self-containment and one-ness. Lacking always one of the two genders and of course the child, these couples cannot complete the initial threesome that was united by a human bond stronger than any other, since it was both and at the same time erotic and maternal.
In Le Roi des Aulnes (The Erl-King), Tournier turns his attention to the only other possible human bond, that between an adult and a child, which he expresses through his image of the pédophore, a man carrying a (male) child on his shoulders. The metaphor is obviously a variant of that of the "grand ancêtre androgyne" ( RA 90), imbued with the same nostalgic yearning. Tournier explores the similarities between Adam and Abel Tiffauges with tenderness and a great deal of humor. Firstly, their gender is ambivalent. While both are male, they are far [End Page 69] from masculine. Adam is hermaphrodite, and Abel, microgénitomorphe, "au seuil de l'impuissance" (16). Secondly, although male, both are "porte-enfant," therefore female. The woman is not so much absent as she is subsumed. Motherhood is a physical attribute of Adam: he is a mother (and a father). Through his "perversion"3 and vocation of la phorie (from the Greek pherein: to carry), Abel too is a mother of sorts. Tournier playfully exploits the double meaning of "porter un enfant": to carry a child and to be pregnant. Thirdly, while being adults, both are also children. Adam is a child: it is one-third of his physical make-up. Abel too is physically and intimately connected to the child: as the antlers are part of a stag, so the child on his shoulders seems to him a continuation, an extension of his body. And by a kind of diffusion, the child's proximity lets Abel share in its pre-pubescent innocence. And finally, the child completes them, makes them whole, as men. In the case of Adam, the child is physical proof of his virility. For Abel, the child, like the antlers, is the phallus that reaches proudly upward rather than hides, shrunken, in the lower regions of his body. And so Abel, as Tournier painstakingly shows, succeeds in attaining to some degree Adam's utopian state by the mere holding of a child.
What is the nature of Abel's bond with a child that makes it more satisfying than any relationship he could have with an adult? In his postscript to Le Roi des Aulnes, Philippe de Monès points to part of the answer by defining Abel's phorie as "la vocation suprême de l'homme: le porte-enfant, l'homme-mère" (Monès 592). The novel does in fact describe the act of carrying a child as a profoundly maternal one. And it goes without saying that maternity is first and foremost tender solicitude. But, like all mothers, Abel is also a sexual being; the ambiguity of la phorie resides in the fact that it meets Abel's maternal and erotic needs. What makes Tournier's insights into maternity so unique (some would say skewed) is that they are based on a man's experience of it. To ascribe to la phorie the paradoxical...