Copyleft : Bernard CHAMPION

1 Éléments d'Anthropologie du Droit
Avant-propos : Philippe LABURTHE-TOLRA Doyen honoraire à la Sorbonne
Préface :
Norbert ROULAND Membre de l'Institut Universitaire de France

présentation avant-propos préface introduction plan
index analytique références table illustrations
1- Le souverain juge
2- “Pourquoi le sang de la circoncision...”
3- Dessin du dessein
4- “Authentique ! sans papier !”
5- L“Âme du Mil”
6- “Il faut se battre pour la constitution...”
7- Rire et démocratie
8- Sur l’innovation
9- La “culture des analgésiques” et l’individualisme
10- Du “mariage arrangé” à l’“amour-passion”
11- Du mythe au roman, de la Patrie à la Filisterie
12- La chimie du rire
13- La prohibition de l’inceste... archéologie des émotions
14- Morale et handicap
15- Le juge, de quel droit ?
16- Droit au sol et mythes d'autochtonie
17- Habiter, cohabiter : sur l’exemplarité
18- Le territoire de la langue : les deux natures
19- Enquête sur la forme humaine : 1
20- Enquête sur la forme humaine : 2
21- Enquête sur la forme humaine : 3
22- Quelques exercices de Travaux Pratiques


Une présentation raisonnée des pages WEB qui composent ce site
sous forme d’un ouvrage électronique téléchargeable
sur la page d'accueil
(2 Go, 1900 pages au format A4)
SOMMAIRE : unité de l’homme et diversité des cultures

version française:

Chapter 13

(translated from French)

Plan of the chapter:

A) Some notions on the incest taboo: on the culture of species

Paper presented at the conference “Marriage - Marriages”, Palace of Luxembourg and University Jean Monnet, Sceaux, May 1997.

B) Passing down genetic heritage, passing down economic
paradoxes of reproduction
Paper presented at the conference “Families-Kinship-Filiation” (in honour of Jean Gaudemet), Palace of Luxembourg and University Jean Monnet, Sceaux, June 2005.

A) Some notions on the incest taboo :

on the culture of species
IV - 13-1

The question of the incest taboo constitutes a vexata quaestio in anthropology. From the very beginning, this much debated question, which has no sure answer, has disturbed the calm of the philosophers... Despite its peremptory certainties.

This is not surprising, as the matter at stake is no less than the feature distinguishing us from animals... It is actually an obvious fact in universal anthropology and common sense to say that we, as men live under the rule of Law, unlike animals and barbarians. In contrast with the panmictic indifference, culture signifies distinction and discrimination. An incestuous man is like an earthworm, the Jivaros say: he enters the first possible hole. The discussion on the incest taboo symbolises or focuses on this transition from nature to culture. This vexata question is thus what students would nowadays call a trite question – the pontus asinorum of yesterday – not only of anthropology but also of the social culture of the species.

Until relatively recently – the seventies – the anthropological approach to the question of the incest taboo was dominated by the authority of Claude Lévi-Strauss, in a cardinal introduction to the Elementary Structures of Kinship, first published in 1949. This interpretation is still the authority on the subject, even if the configuration of the knowledge on the issue has fundamentally changed. Ideologically convergent with psychoanalytical theories, it basically backs up or rediscovers our common consciousness, of living under the rule of the norm and not according to nature's necessities. It is a known fact, particularly in social sciences where proof is never truly certain, that theories prevail after having been invalidated. The ways of thinking, the “misoneism” in the scientific positions, it is still common today to teach and to hear being said that incest is commonly practised among animals or that the transition from nature to culture is based on the basic event of prohibiting incest.


This proverb in the epigraph of the Elementary Structures of Kinship could summarize the Lévi-Straussian theory on the incest taboo: “A relative by marriage is an elephant's hip”. It means that “matrimonial and economic exchanges [are] forming an integral part of a basic system of reciprocity” (1969 : 33) and that the incest taboo must be understood as the necessary condition for an essential alliance.

We could start with the counter example: that “a lonely man is in bad company ” (Paul Valéry). "One of the strongest field recollections of this writer was his meeting, among the Bororo of central Brazil, of a man about thirty years old: unclean, ill-fed, sad, and lonesome. When asked if the man were seriously ill, the natives answer came as a shock: what was wrogn with him?–nothing at all, he was just a bachelor. And true enough, in a society where labor is systematically shared between man and woman and where only the married status permits the man to benefit from the fruits of woman's work, including delousing, body painting, and hair-plucking as well as vegetable food and cooked food (since the Bororo woman tills the soil and makes pots), a bachelor” is really only half a human being." (1956 : 341 in : 'The Family', Man, Culture and Society, ed. H.L. Shapiro, New York)

It is thus a sort of Copernican inversion, by reversing the perspective and formalizing the Taylorian hypothesis, that Lévi-Strauss suggests we use to understand “universal prohibition”. The incest taboo is no longer the capital feature that would engage humans in necessary matrimonial exchanges (since we can't marry ourselves), on the contrary, the reason why men abstain from their sisters lies in the acknowledgement of the primary necessity of exchange. "As Tylor has shown almost a century ago, the ultimate explanation is probably that mankind has understood very early that, in order to free itself from a wild struggle for existence, it was confronted with the very simple choice of either marrying out or being killed out. The alternative was between biological families living in juxtaposition and endeavoring to remain closed, self perpetuating units, over-ridden by their fears, hatreds, and ignorances, and the systematic establishement, through the incest prohibition, of links of intemarriage between them, thus succeeding to build, out of the artificial bonds of affinity, a true human society, despite, and even in contradiction with, then isolating influence of consanguinity." (1956 : 350). [“Comme Tylor l'avait déjà compris il y a un siècle, l'homme a su très tôt qu'il lui fallait choisir entre "either marrying-out or being killed-out" : le meilleur sinon le seul moyen, pour des familles biologiques, de ne pas être poussées à s'exterminer réciproquement, c'est de s'unir entre elles par des liens de sang.1983 : 83-84. Edward B. Tylor, "On a method of investigating the Development of Institutions, applied to Laws of Marriage and Descent", JAI, vol. 18, 1889, pp. 245-272.]

By this calculation and the taking on of the responsibility of their own destiny, which proves what we might call, in french, a truly admirable “level of conscious” and that we would like to be able to observe in man today, the first men would have thus foiled “the savage struggle for existence”, fears, hatred and ignorance to engage the species in civilization… The prohibition of incest “expresses the transition from the natural fact of consanguinity to the cultural fact of alliance” (30). “Before it, culture is still non-existent; with it, nature's sovereignty over man is ended. The prohibition of incest is where nature transcends itself. It sparks the formation of a new and more complex type of structure and is superimposed upon the simpler structures of physical life through integration, just as these themselves are superimposed upon the simpler structures of animal life. It brings about and is in itself the advent oa fa new order." (25)

By these considerable consequences, the incest taboo, in reality, is thus nothing but than the very condition of exchange. This negative rule is the counterpart of a positive practice, this prohibition a counter-part of a dictate. “Considered as a prohibition, the prohibition of incest merely affirms, in a field vital to the group's survival, the pre-eminence of the social over the naturel, the collective over the individual, organizationn over the arbitrary. But even at this point in the analysis, the converse of this ostensibly negative rule has already appeared." (45) Car toute interdiction est, en même temps, et sous un autre rapport, une prescription” (1967 : 52). “Il y a plus : que l'on se trouve dans le cas technique du mariage dit “par échange”, ou en présence de n'importe quel autre système matrimonial, le phénomène fondamental qui résulte de la prohibition de l'inceste est le même : à partir du moment où je m'interdis l'usage d'une femme, qui devient ainsi disponible pour un autre homme, il y a, quelque part, un homme qui renonce à une femme qui devient, de ce fait, disponible pour moi. Le contenu de la prohibition n'est pas épuisé par le fait de la prohibition ; celle-ci n'est instaurée que pour garantir et fonder, directement ou indirectement, immédiatement ou médiatement, un échange” (1967 : 60). “The prohibition of incest is a principle of reciprocity” (1969 : 62).

This concept contradicts the theories that look for a natural foundation to this universal rule. “We are opposed to those concepts , such as held by Westermarck and Havelock Ellis, which credit nature with a principle of determination, even a negative one, for marriage”. “... It is certain that [the] great anthropoids practise no sexual discrimination whatever against their near relatives” (31). “The supposed aversion would have to be seen as a specific phenomenon without any sign of corresponding psychological mechanisms. We consider that if this aversion were a natural phenomenon, its appearance would have been anterior or at least external to culture, and unaffected by it. It would be useless to wonder in what way or by what mechanisms the articulation of culture with nature, without which there could be no continuity between the two orders, was brought about. This problem becomes clear when nature's indifference to the modalities of relations between the sexes is acknowledged. For it is precisely the notch where the hinge might be fixed.” (31) “The fact of being a rule [...] is indeed the very essence of the incest prohibition.” (32).


Half a century later it is obviously easy to object this theory facts whose main points were not clearly known. Even when disregarding this revision of knowledge, it would be hard not to see a petition that is, in this representation of origins, for a less idealistic, “rationalizing” and voluntaristic – mythical – of human society: by a truly inspired decision, the men of these mythical times would have, everywhere and for ever (since despite its variants and diverse degrees, the incest taboo is universal), chosen civilization over barbarism... Unless to recognize, possibly, in this outburst of the legitimate belief in the primacy of the rule and of cultural mediation on what Lévi-Strauss elsewhere calls (1985 p.264) the “overflows” or the “torrent-like forces” of the “psychic life”, the activity of this culture of species.

But the most important thing does not lie here. This discussion on the incest taboo gives an ideal opportunity to remind us that amongst the fundamental knowledge over the last fifty years, to the best of man's knowledge, it seems to me that there probably is that of ethology in general and that of human ethology in particular.

I will introduce the debate by the following common sense remark (unformed): “If it is true that the incest taboo distinguishes nature from culture, then it must be considered that animals are far more cultured than us, hence incest is rarely practised amongst animals (in their natural environment) whereas it is relatively common amongst humans ”.

One of the preconceptions concerning the question is indeed that “incest is commonly practised in the animal kingdom”. According to the quotation above, it would be useless to expect that ethology (and genetics) would allow us to identify, or to understand these “physiological mechanisms”. Beforehand I would like to clarify that the approach summarized here by no means constitutes a playing down or a debasement of culture, as a quick interpretation might imply. By the following remark Plato himself, who legitimately could be presented as the father of idealism, opposed Socrates as he was busy solving the mystery of the god Eros: “And you, ignorant of the animal nature, would like to be able to speak on love?” (Symposium, 207 c.) It is a question of trying to understand on the most objective basis this combining of nature with culture, this “great mystery” according to Saint Paul in a letter to the Ephesians, intending “a man to leave his father and mother, to become attached to a spouse and to become one.”

Without necessarily going back to the history of protozoans, it is obvious that we could not approach this “great mystery” without knowing the general laws of sexuality, whereas the simple consideration of the human form disqualifies this inclusion of man in nature. It will be enough here to remember that the “invention” of sexuality substitutes for reproduction by division a reproduction which does not reproduce the same, but which consists in the creation of new individuals in favour of the process of segregation (separating the chromosomal pairs) and in the process of genetic recombination. Meiosis and fecondation lead to the formation of an original genotype resulting from the fusion of the chromosomes of the male parent and those of the female parent. Whereas some bacteria have stayed exactly the same since the origin of life, sexuality appears, from an evolutionary point of view, with the death of individuals, like a mechanism that speeds up and accentuates the invention of vital forms- the rhythm of evolution (genetic polymorphisim intensifies; probability of mutation increases). In this perspective, a race that practises the union of siblings as a rule “only would retain almost all the disavantages of biparental generation, without being bale to profit from a single one of its advantages. Its variety would sink to the low level of self-fertization, and its evolutionary rate would accordindly be so halting that it could stand up against competition only under favourable conditions of life ; as a general rule the lack of adaptative palsticity would act as a death warrant.” (Bischof, 1975 : 58) To use a well-known proverb : « Evolution does not put all its eggs in one basket ».

S.E. Scales, Otago Daily Time, 1977, New Zealand

Thus marriage is not only co-operative as it was stated above, but also a genetic venture. “Come along darling, lets mix!” By accident I found a drawing (as represented above) which perfectly illustrates this; we see a priest blessing the married couple establishing their union in the following terms: “I now pronounce you genetic engineers!” The objective interest of this lottery is the fact that we don't know which number will come up. Reproduction is not an exact science. In contrast to the naïve belief of a Nobel winner who was convinced that his semen as such would create other Nobel winners and who, in this spirit, entrusted it to a surrogate mother, there is Bernard Shaw's righteous response to a beauty queen who suggested putting their resources together: “I would be afraid, Madam, that this child would have my beauty and your intelligence ...” This is precisely what genetic polymorphism is. The theory according to which incestuous mating “would be a natural phenomenon commonly practised by animals” according to Lévi-Strauss is customary to universal anthropology and relies on generalisations of observations conducted on domestic animals. Besides, they are rapidly refuted when deprived of apologetics and more attentive. For example the Bambaras note the repulsion of the studhorses regarding incest. Aristote also writes: (Histoire des Animaux, IX 47) : “Les chameaux ne couvrent pas leurs mères, et même si on les force, ils s'y refusent. En effet, il arriva qu'un jour, manquant d'étalon, on recouvrit la mère d'un voile et on lui amena son rejeton. Pendant la saillie le voile tomba : alors le jeune mâle consomma l'accouplement, mais peu de temps après, il mordit le chamelier et le tua. On raconte aussi que le roi de Scythie avait une jument de race dont tous les poulains étaient bons : voulant avoir un produit du meilleur de ces poulains et de la mère, il la fit amener pour la saillie. Mais le poulain ne voulait pas. On couvrit la mère d'un voile et il la monta sans la reconnaître. Mais après la saillie, on découvrit la face de la jument, et le poulain à cette vue prit la fuite et alla se jeter dans un précipice.” Pline tells about a horse “ayant reconnu, une fois le bandeau de ses yeux enlevé, qu'il s'était accouplé avec sa mère se jeta dans un précipice pour se tuer”. And that “pour une raison du même genre, une jument, dans le territoire de Réate, mit en pièces un étalonnier”. “Les chevaux, en effet, Pline concludes, ont aussi le sens de la parenté” (Histoire Naturelle, VIII, 42). These observations and judgements arise precisely from domestication - the ideal of domestication being defined by Aristotle: “Les étalons couvrent même leurs mères et leurs filles, et le haras est considéré comme parfait lorsqu'ils saillissent leur progéniture” (Histoire des Animaux, VI, 22) - when “nature” resists the pressure of the breeder, who aims at selecting and reproducing the useful characteristics and not the polymorphie of sexed reproduction.

In 1978, a British biologist, John Maynard Smith, declared : “For ten years, I considered the avoidance of incest as an entirely cultural phenomenon. Today, only a bigot would share this point of view ”. Domestic animals indifference towards incest is due to the conditions of domestication which eliminate the refractory individuals from the unions of blood relation when those are looked for. In natural populations incest is not a rule, for obvious reasons, except amongst some parasite worms whose exogamous reproduction is prohibited by their own ecology. Besides, it is noticed that some hermaphrodites that are capable of self-fertilization “prefer” crossed fertilization. As the last chance of reproduction, self-fertilization only takes place in isolated circumstances. Exogamy's interest on agamy (asexual reproduction, division), on autogamy and on incest would thus be of a selective sort. The description of social structures of natural populations of mammals brings up the existence of mechanisms that have the effect of limiting or preventing sexual contact between related individuals. “In the higher animals the most important of these are the change of object, repression of sexuality and - from the female point of view - repulsion; also the mounting of the autonomy claim which leads to expulsion” (58).

In light of this primary set-up, we can understand - on the condition, certainly, that we put the question, which makes the whole question, into brackets : that of the qualitative leap from nature to culture - that marriage and exogamy are two definitions of the same reality, and that if exogamy constitutes the general law of reproduction, it would not be absurd to look for a trace of the genetically fixed mechanisms inherited by the natural selection that would be perceptible in man's emotional constitution, before being taken over and systematized by the law.

A biological theory on the prohibition of incest poses several types of problems that this presentation is not intending to tackle head-on. Bischof, who sets about to restore the hypothesis formulated by Westermark reminds that “the first objection (to this hypothesis) was based on the entirely naïve presumption that the aversion to incestuous mating was linked to some sort of sixth sense allowing us to detect blood relations: this argument claims that whoever admits that there are instinctive obstacles to incest necessarily believes in “the voice of blood”. This debate seems even more incomprehensible when Westermarck (1889) and Hobhouse (1912), often referred to with irony in this context, objected to these assumptions of surprisingly modern arguments. “Contemporary study of instinct does not expect to find nature performing supernaturally. If birds only rarely catch wasps, then the biological reason is that wasps are poisonous. The quality of being poisonous, however, is invisible, and so the mechanism restraining the birds operates, quite simply, as if every insect with black and yellow stripes were a wasp; the hover-fly and other insects with wasp-mimicry have this simplification to thank for their undeservidly carefree lives.” “L'argument de Westermarck est donc biologiquement légitime quand il affirme que la nature voit dans la familiarité de la petite enfance un signe suffisant de consanguinité, tout comme les stries noires et jaunes signifient poison ; l'inhibition, biologiquement inutile du mariage avec une sœur adoptive aurait même valeur que l'abstinence de syrphes chez les oiseaux” “The Westermarck's argument is thus biologically justified when it affirms that nature sees in the familiarity of the early childhood a sufficient sign of consanguinity, just like the black and yellow scratches mean poison; inhibition, biologically useless of the marriage with an adoptive sister would have the same value that abstinence of syrphes in the birds”. (85)

The mimetism rests on the use of aposemantic colours, oranges and reds and is coupled with a mimetism of behaviour (batesian and müllerian mimetism); its effectiveness applies to different classes of predators. Revealed in 1862 by Henry Bates, mimetism justifies the theory of natural selection in “The origin of the species”.

A classic example of this “natural knowledge” is given by the observation of the development of youngsters in Israeli kibboutz (Spiro 1958), where segregations and injunctions of a middle-class education are challenged and where one notices that a surprising inhibition exists in the nature of an unbridled nature, free from moral conformism. “The children of a settlement grow up together, grouped separately according to age; living-rooms, dormitories, and bathrom have, on principle, no separation of the sexes. Up to about twelve years of age there are no signs of embarrassment between the sexes ; on the contrary, the children indulge [...] heterosexual play, both in the dormitories and in public. This behaviour is tolerated by the adults in the interest of a repression-free sexual development. On the treshold of puberty, however, there develops, more markedly in the girls, a mountic tendency to embarrassment, with a considerable admixture of antagonism towards the other sex in the same group. The girls reject the co-ed showers and seek to avoid being seen naked by the boys; at the same time, their insterest turns to young men outside the group. As far the authors could discover, no marriages ensued within any one of these peer groups ; nor any case known of adult sexual relaionship of group memebers. The reason fot this abstinence, given by the juveniles themselves, is that they would 'feel like siblings.” According to Bischof, these facts, that are often referred to (Spiro, op. cit. : 347-8) constitute an “obvious parallel to the mechanisms of inhibition and repulsion of intra-familial sexuality (Bischof, 1975 : 61). Another classic illustration comes from a study on the “under-age marriage” in Taïwan, where « the stranger » is the preference (Wolf et Huang,1980). Thus we can understand how affinity creates kinship and that the same prohibitions apply to people related by both blood and affinity.

“The stranger” would then be preferred, “the spice always being stronger elsewhere”, according to a Malagasy proverb (the spice of difference is, often and exemplarily, a pigment of difference). This points to the fact that intimacy within a family secretes a anti-erotical spirit - as the Sambians notice by saying that “le pénis des Sambia ne se lève pas pour leurs sœurs” (“the penis of Sambia does not rise for their sisters”) (Herdt, 1981 : 176) ; that “an unwritten law” exists (Platon, Lois, VIII, 838 b) which naturally neutralizes (“non pas contre le gré, mais d'aussi bon gré qu'il est possible” et cela “même chez les hommes les plus mauvais”) (“not against the will, but of as good liking as it is possible” and that “even at the most black-hearted men”) the sex appeal of our close ones (et qui “nous garde de dormir à côté de nos fils et de nos filles”) : “c'est là un désir qui ne vient même pas à l'esprit de la plupart des hommes” (and which “keeps us to sleep beside our sons and of our daughters”): “it is there a desire which does not even come to mind from the majority from the men”); that erotism in the family sphere simply impedes individual developpement - a young woman being a victim of repeated incest declares : “L'inceste est une prison. C'est une prison.” “The incest is a jail. It is a jail.” (T.F. l, le 6 mars 1984) ; and that there exists an anti-aphrodisy of proximity and of blood-relations as is easily illustrated by everyday observations. What we want to know is how this instruction, that naturally is a matter of knowledge, but which develops in such involuntary effects as the lack of taste, curiosity or interest etc., is achieved. It would be tempting here to follow the image used by medieval theology when defining the freedom of marriage as soon as 'the odour of kinship fades”, advocating the missionary value of exogamy and fixing the bottom limit of matrimonial proximity by using the symbolism of a natural sense.

“Un Blanc, près d'une Blanche. Il vaque. Sa mère était blanche, comme ses sœurs sont blanches, ainsi que ses cousines. Résultat : il prétend savoir ses blanches sur le bout des doigts et ne s'inquiète que des merlettes non communes. Que survienne une almée rare, noire des cheveux aux chevilles, noire comme une fourmi noire sur une pierre noire, dans la nuit noire le silence opaque de sa peau constitue à lui seul une instruction qu'on a envie d'avoir. Aussitôt des ailes de poète poussent à l'homme hâve, le voilà bouleversé, altéré par la couleur de l'invisible, happé par la force de l'étrange.” (A. Ferry, Le Devoir de rédaction)

Love story

Jacqueline et André had an unfortunate childhood, first in care (entrusted to the public Assistance), then they were placed; he in a community home and she in a foster family. They met much later, he was a 27-year old bachelor and she, 22 and divorced at the age of 18 after six month of unhappy marriage. Little by little they fell in love as it took two years for them to come out of their shells. Now they've been happily living together for five years and a small girl has just been born from this unexpected happiness. They wanted to get married for their daughter to be legally recognized and so she could have their name. But marriage is out of the question in the current state of French legislation as they are brother and sister. The story, very modestly told in “Vendredi” magazine, thanks to a truly tactful commentary by Mireille Dumas and Dominique Colonna, is unusual. And it poses some difficult questions. On incest first of all, the last taboo that comes from the dawn of ages - deep-rooted and troubling- especially the one that the specialists call the “horror-zone” and the “absolute incest”, in other words between parents and children or brothers and sisters. But can we really talk about incest when it is a question of a couple who met for the first time as adults, even if they are a brother and a sister? Problems do arise with children born from such incestuous unions, but the risk is minimal. “Your chances of having an abnormal child are multiplied by four”, the doctor informed them. But the risk is particularly high if the intermarriage carries on from one generation to another and modern research tends to relativize the idea that endogenic procreation would be harmful to the race. Moreover, incest is commonly practised by numerous species of animals.
From a legal perspective: Contrary to Great-Britain or Sweden, France has the paradoxical situation where incest is not a crime (it is only considered as an aggravating situation when related to rape or to indecent assault) but siblings can not marry, whereas some dispensations to this prohibition have been allowed in Sweden. Thus the letter for the President of the Republic that ends the programme with Jacqueline and Andre “so that our child would not have to go through our situation one day”. Finally from a moral perspective, we can wonder where the interest of the child born from such an union lies. Jacqueline and Andre are clear-headed, but a child is an essential part of their happiness: their distraught at the time of the first abortion, that was decided under the pressure of the people around, is one of the most powerful moments in the film. They know that a child is “a harsh judge”, as manifested by their sister Françoise. But love is stronger that that. And their story is not one of incest, but a real love-story.

“Les liens du passé” FR3, Friday 14 September, 20 h 35.
Le Monde of 14 September 1984, in the “Communication” column

The “odour of kinship”. A whole programme to which the latest research on the chemical communication in the animal world (on the pheromones which transmit the chemical messages of the animal communication) gives substance. Even more so, as from the beginning of the 80's it is known that man does not only have a “conscious” nose in charge of identifying odours, but also a vomeronasal organ that was thought to be fossilised and inactive. Some researches define this organ as the “sexual nose” and its functionality amongst rodents is well-known. What ever comes out of this debated function in man - it is obvious that the impact of a double-articulation, this “instinctive drive of man to have language at his disposal” to use a Darwinist expression, is otherwise important compared with the impact of a scent - it is striking to notice (with the help of Cultural Anthropology and Moral Anthropology) the role that some traditions, customs and mores attribute for example, to sweat in the sexual imprint and in seduction. The observation on the synchronisation of menstrual cycles conducted in convents or in boarding schools or on the regulation of the menstrual cycle and fertility by the effect of a pheromone synthesized at the level of the mammary glands of man and solely resulting from proximity, pose the same question on the functioning of this vomeronasal organ.

A relational judgement is a matter of nose, is said. This emphasizes the role of smell in an empirical manner in the regulation of proximity and affective commitments. We talk without thinking - and without thinking the tears of Myrrha - about the “scent of incest”, but this extreme form of lack of distinction is also supposed to result from the lack of “nose”. In this manner for example the Natchez (visited by Chateaubriand) contrast the three exogamic groups, the “Suns”, the “Nobles” and the “Honourables”, with the “Smelly” who practise endogamy. The production of apocrine glands is a matter of the hormonal determinism and it is an acknowledged fact that the olfactive abilities diminish along the climateric (“Old as you are and still perfumed like that !”- Archiloque, frag. 237). The olfactive system distinguishes by an exception which is different from other sensorial systems : the absence of thalamic intermediary ; the information comes directly from the olfactive mucous membrane, named as rhinencephalis (nose-brain) by Turner in 1880. The paleobrain affects both olfaction and emotion as well as memory ( the Papez circuit).

Many are unsatisfied with the form of their nose and seek help in plastic surgery. The researchers
can have large quantities of this mysterious organ's cells, in a cavity localised in front of olfactive mucous membrane. In this way it has been possible to prove that in fact these cells react to human sweat by emitting electrical signals, which is a preliminary condition to a transmission of information to the brain - which itself has not been proven. I would like to finish with these vomeronasal organ specialists, the mice (at least the researchers use them amongst other objects to this end), as they seem to complicate the issue introduced here. The mice actually put in question the hypothesis of an “anti-aphrodisiac mood” summarized here (by proximity and not by kinship, except for admitting the uniformisation of olfactive identity in a common impregnation or the denaturising of the diacritical ability in question…) as far as these VNO-gifted are capable of subjecting their partners not only to a “test” of proximity, but also to a “test” of genetic similarity, taking the proposal “it's the scent that constitutes kinship” to the letter, the olfactive perception being equivalent to reading a genetic identity card. This recognition most likely works by interpreting the genes of histocompatibility that the immune system expresses in order to recognize the self and the non-self. These molecular signals obviously indicate genetic proximity (all the cells of the same organism have to recognize themselves as “sisters”) and the proteins stemming from these signals transmit the “smell of kinship” to mice by the urines. (One could note here the amusing manner in which we explain the absence of marriage between young people in the same kibboutz, as noted above: “it is hard to fall in love when you have spent too much time on the chamber pot together”…) What does the fact that mice prefer mating with a genetically dissimilar partner tell us? That the other (non-self) is sexually interesting, as it matches the plan of sexual reproduction.

It is written that even compromises with heaven could take place (Tartuffe, IV, V : "Le Ciel défend, de vrai, certains contentements / Mais on trouve avec lui des accommodements"): culture leads to compromises even with genetics. In reality we marry nearby - whereas the “exotic” is valued sexually. An ideal marriage probably lies in the nearest exteriority, as the frequency of marriages between cousins seems to point out. This could be confirmed, mutatis mutandis, by observations in the animal kingdom (Bateson, 1979 et 1982). Moreover, it is in the most “evolved” societies where the most shocking unions are legalized. “If we didn't know about the marriage between a brother and a sister amongst the Egyptians we would have claimed wrongly that it is by a universal opinion to forbid men to marry their sisters”, Sextus Empiricus writes in his Hypotyposis (III, 24, 234). This type of marriage, well-documented in the Roman times in the region of Fayum (Hopkins, 1980), show that reasons relating to patrimony justified the daughter's marriage, precisely called epikleros (litt. In the head of “kleros”, the patrimony) with the father's brother or his son in Greece, get the better of the “universal opinion”. Necessity, demographic constraints and the desire to adjust reproduction to resources (vide supra : chapter 6 init., for the ancient Greece; e. g. Aristotle, Pol. II, VII, 5 : when the legislator regulates citizens fortunes, it also has to fix the number of children) have a natural connection with the forms of marriage, devolution and sexuality. When we think about the destiny of the youngest children, that of girls without a dowry (“I would rather marry him than a convent”, so would say the future Madame de Maintenon about the sickly and sarcastic Scarron - supra : 12.6 - suffering from a spondylarthritis immobilizing him in a crippled chair and being 25-years younger), the celibacy of the monks - the Tibetan monk could inherit his older brother's widow if he passed away childless - to the loneliness or the congenital unsociability of the jack of spades or the jack of clubs (this “flea-ridden person” in the eponymous game, the devolutionary counterpart of that of Lévi-Strauss), to whom their weak economic position, in reality forbids every matrimonial establishment, without descendants for the lack of means, all those who are condemned to reproduce amongst themselves, this essential pessimism that justified the buggery (or the Malthusianism) of the Bogomils and the Cathars (to multiply man means to multiply evil)… In his comparison of the constitutions of Sparta and Crete Aristotle explained homosexuality in the following manner: “Pour la restriction de consommation qu'il juge utile, le législateur a nombre de vues ingénieuses ; pour l'isolement des femmes, afin qu'elles n'aient pas trop d'enfants, il a permis les relations homosexuelles” (Pol. II, X, 9) ; still in Sparte, according to Athénée (602 f), “la coutume [voulait] qu'avant le mariage, on s'unisse aux filles comme si c'étaient des garçons” ; one joke of Aristophane underlines the inclination of the Spartans for the “behind” (the rump, tôgkuklon), when the Athenians preferred the “front” (kusthos, the sexual parts) (Lysistrata : v. 1162 and v. 1158). To direct the sexuality towards the “sterile sex” (Lucien, Amours, 30) (a “semence improductive” “dans des rochers ou dans des pierres où jamais [elle] ne prendra racine” - Platon, Lois, VIII, 841d et 838e), also means to protect against the inevitability of sharing, what close marriages, oblique unions and superfluously marriages between a brother and a sister aim to bring about. The pathology of the culture with the - outlawed - incest, to which I hinted at in the beginning - so little exceptional in this natural exception that a man is, equally displays in a critical manner his freedom over nature's injunctions and the human lability of the universal rule par excellence.

Although we obviously are quite far from the sovereign device imagined by Lévi-Strauss (to simplify): on one hand, some of these observations -if they are confirmed- seem to contradict the idea that man would definitively be free of these inductors of behaviour (like pheromones) and for the other part that his freedom would as much stem from the exceptions to this rule that he would have fixed to himself than from respecting it. But this discussion - notably to know how cultural arrangements take into account, in the strategies of alliance, this primary fact of avoiding incest, how “ces dernières se superposent, en les intégrant, aux structures, plus simples qu'elles-mêmes, de la vie animale”, according to Lévi-Strauss himself - that an attentive anthropology can not evade, obviously extend beyond the limits of this communication.

(Communication présentée au colloque “Mariage - Mariages”, Palais du Luxembourg et Université Jean Monnet, Sceaux, mai 1997.)

Plan of the chapter:

A) Some notions on the incest taboo: on the culture of species
Paper presented at the conference “Marriage - Marriages”, Palace of Luxembourg and University Jean Monnet, Sceaux, May 1997.

B) Passing down genetic heritage, passing down economic
paradoxes of reproduction
Paper presented at the conference “Families-Kinship-Filiation” (in honour of Jean Gaudemet), Palace of Luxembourg and University Jean Monnet, Sceaux, June 2005.

Rechercher dans :