goto Appendx main menu Three Boys and Their
Growing-Up Performances :
Benton Komins
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Quite different from the painting and the statue are the gardens' habitues, whom Tupik carefully watches and listens to.  In dichotomous fashion, he reads these people "formally" and infuses their anecdotes and behavior with ethical meaning. 

Old Madame Mamouse, the attendant at the gardens' toilet house, holds an important position in the reading scenario.  While this "Cerberus" of the restroomsAppendx 3 page break 33 | 34 forces little Tupik to enter "the men's domain with its smelly urinals" (p. 75), she prevents him from entering "le domaine des dames" (p. 75).11  Very early in his association with Mamouse, Tupik realizes that he must convince her to grant him admittance to the "promised land" of the women's restroom.  At her throne between the restroom doors the woman keeps a stinking alcohol stove, which has a steaming pot of animal offal on it.  Tupik ignores the presence of this vulgar stew of scraps: "Tupik had indeed had the opportunity to glance into the dented saucepan which simmered on the stove. But these poultry necks, these livers, these gizzards had evoked nothing in his mind" (p. 77).  Mamouse's stew has a delayed signifying power, Tupik only takes an interest in the "symbolic" contents of the pot when he finishes constructing his alternative story.  Ultimately, Mme. Mamouse holds a position of dual importance: she guards the desired women's toilet and she cooks the secretive stew.  Before Tupik unravels the mystery of the restrooms and the contents of the pot, he hears the attendant's "philosophy of masculinity," which expands upon his scope of ethical readings. 

    One of her habitual diatribes regularly followed against men with their disgusting ways, all are perverts, pigs, debauchers. She knew something, after all, she kept a toilet house for thirty years. (p. 77) 
Tupik hears Mamouse's voice of "expertise" as a confirmation of his revulsion at the "unethical" filth of the men's restroom.  This expert Mamouse knows something important, and her verification of Tupik's men's room revulsion induces great interest in the contents of the stinking pot. Tupik's logic becomes quite clear: If Mme. Mamouse knows so much about the wiles and ways of men, then the contents of her stew must hold some important information— an integral piece of the divided restroom puzzle. 

Yet another character in the reading process holds the key that connects all the pieces of Tupik's revisionary gender/sex story:  Dominique, the intriguing son of the carousel proprietor, holds a special place in the boy's daily garden adventures.  Dominique is especially kind to Tupik as a "compensation" for his size (he cannot reach the trophy buzzer on his carousel car to earn a longed-for second ride). On many occasions the older boy either boosts his young friend up to the buzzer or simply allows him to take a free second ride.  Tupik looks at his older friend with reverential eyes; while big Mme. Mamouse is a "wise" barrier to his ascent to the women's room, kind Dominique acts as a nurturing agent of his everyday garden Appendx 3 page break 34 | 35world. Tupik's deep feelings of admiration allow him to ask his friend a troubling question: "Tupik had found a sort of older brother in this big, peaceful and maternal boy.  Also he did not fail to question him after he saw him leave the women's side of the toilet house with Mamouse's evident blessing" (p. 80). Does Dominique's kindness grant him the privilege of entering the women's restroom?  Is there something about Dominique that Tupik does not know?  When asked why he is accorded the special honor, Dominique obliges Tupik to tell no one about it.  The older child agrees to share his secret with Tupik in the boxwood labyrinth on a mossy pedestal that once held a statue—to display himself as a living mythical figure in the most secretive corner of the park.  The outcome of this display seals Tupik's fate, providing the decisive evidence that dictates the story's gruesome conclusion. 

    So Dominique stood up on the plinth and began to unbutton the fly of his short trousers, without taking his eyes off  Tupik.  Then, having it open wide, he lowered the red underpants that he had uncovered. His white smooth belly ended in a milky crack, a vertical smile where a trace of pale down played.  

    'But . . . Dominique' Tupik exclaimed.  

    'Dominique, it's also a girl's name.' Dominique who had refastened her shorts in a blink of an eye, explained. (p. 82) 

After the disclosure of this surprising evidence, Tupik makes his way to Mamouse's toilet house.  He cannot help but reflect upon the differences between the hairy men at the urinals with their dangling pieces of dark flesh and gentle Dominique on the pedestal with "his" smooth, downy stomach and milky slot.  In a blinding flash of realization, all signs come together; in Tupik's juvenile mind, the male maturation narrative becomes clear.  Dominique, like the hero Theseus, indeed is different from men like Tupik's father.  Tupik too will be different.  The way to avoid the bristles of manhood, and moreover, the way to enter the women's restroom, equals a contribution to Mme. Mamouse's offal pot (along with gizzards and livers, Tupik now sees discarded pieces of male genitalia).  With dignity and "patient grace," he cuts off his tiny penis and faints.  The sign of Dominique's sex—the smile between "his" legs—is the final evidence in Tupik's alternative maturation narrative, which dictates an act of self-castration. 

How do we read Tupik's acts of reading?  Quite simply put, Michel Tournier's "Tupik" is the story of a little boy's sexual enlightenment; the boy reads signs in a way that undercuts his parents' promise of bristles.  Yet there are more profound Appendx 3 page break 35 | 36 implications to the logic of Tupik's story.  Two possibilities surface in the story's reading process: Where the suggestions of the boy's narrative disposition provide a positive alternative to the rigid pattern inscribed in his parents' manly promise (the bristles that mark the move from boyhood corruption to manhood consolidation), the ritual emanating from the process of reading—Tupik's confusion surrounding questions of the Other—leads to tremendous loss.  "In other words, sexual, genital desire [including a physical alteration of the genitals] can only be fully realized and consummated at the cost of one's life.  So it may be better to remain with one's livable perversions and to seek in displaced/replaced desire a sense of fulfillment.''12  Tupik escapes the dreaded state of bristliness through his reading of cultural artifacts; once he extends his reading into the realm of "sexed" people, tragedy becomes inevitable.  When he connects the threads of his story to the presence or absence of the penis, his "livable" alternative narrative becomes an overt expression of violence.  The boy thrives in his secret world of skirted heroes and boy-girls, yet his imaginative world collapses when the physical constraints of anatomy bear down upon the demands of his "completed" story. next page 

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