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About Jules et Jim: Some Figures of Matriarchy from Bachofen to Truffaut via Benjamin, Roché and Hessel

Michael Hollington
p. 57-74


Cet article essaie de relever quelques aspects d'un mouvement de pensée « matriarcale » du XXe siècle, parfois plutôt souterrain, et de montrer dans quelle mesure cette pensée fait partie du contexte du grand film des années soixante de François Truffaut. Il s'agit des hypothèses de Johann Jakob Bachofen (1815-1887), juriste et archéologue suisse, qui proposait la théorie d'un matriarcat primitif à l'origine de la société humaine. Dans un premier temps, en Méditerranée par exemple, existait selon lui un système communiste où l'idée de propriété privée était absente, fondé sur l'« hétaïrisme », où les rapports sexuels, organisés selon les vœux des femmes, étaient complètement libres.

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1The purpose of this paper is, first, to provide a brief sketch map of a comparative nature of some linked, formative appropriations in Germany and elsewhere in the early part of this century of the Swiss jurist and archaeologist Johann Jakob Bachofen (1815-1887), famous for his influential but controversial theory of the precedence of primitive matriarchy over patriarchy in the Mediterranean and elsewhere. On the one hand we shall look briefly and fragmentarily at two figures who formed the core of the Munich Kosmische Runde at the turn of the century: Alfred Schuler and Ludwig Klages, reactionary anti-modernists and anti-semites whose ideas associating matriarchy with the health and vigour of the European and Aryan races and the introduction of patriarchy with a decadence inspired by Judaism and the Semitic races form part of the background to Hitler, who at a formative stage frequented the salon of Else Bruckmann-Cantacuzène, a fervent admirer of Schuler's ideas (see Schlößer 136). On the other hand are a whole series of Jewish or part-Jewish writers and intellectuals - Karl Wolfskehl, a leading apostle of the Munich Bohème, his disciple Franz Hessel, Walter Benjamin, Hessel's close friend and collaborator, and, perhaps at first surprisingly but not essentially unrelated, François Truffaut, whose biological father seems to have been Jewish (see de Baecque and Toubiana 360-61) - whose work reflects a range of ambivalent tensions and contradictions which Bachofen's theories seemed destined to produce in the first two-thirds of the twentieth century.

2The mention of Truffaut's name serves also to indicate that the second purpose here is thus to examine part of the complex and again ambivalent intellectual context of his film Jules et Jim, where the 'archaic smile' of the heroine Catherine indicates that she is to be seen in one perspective as a 'heathen Madonna' or primitive matriarch, and where the subordinate role of her two male lovers also seems to be in consonance with Bachofen's theories. It is based on a novel of the same title by Henri-Pierre Roché, the Modernist Don Juan and art connoisseur, which draws directly upon his affair in the 1920s with Helen Hessel - the origin of Catherine, as Hessel and Roché are of Jules and Jim respectively. Roché had met Hessel in 1907, when the latter had decided to exchange the Munich Bohème for that of Paris in its heroic modernist phase. He himself can be seen as another ambivalent disciple of Bachofen - in particular, through Otto Weininger, to whom he was introduced by Gertrude and Leo Stein - and is treated as such here, his approach, as we shall see, perhaps somewhat closer to that of Klages and Schuler than are Hessel and Benjamin.

3But we shall begin with a brief outline of some of the major ideas of Bachofen with the aim of showing both how these were capable of interesting the Kosmische Runde and at the same time of showing how much that group distorted him. Bachofen's work is informed with what Foucault identifies as the dominant nineteenth century episteme - that is to say, it adopts throughout a cognitive model drawn from organic nature, and thinks the progression of human history entirely through this metaphor. Thus at the beginning of human society, according to Bachofen, the régime of promiscuity that then prevailed is seen as a kind of ritual imitation of and harmonic accompaniment to the proliferation of plant-life in swamps and marshes seen as the model, not only of the principle of fertility, but of a life-cycle in which death is thought of as slow decomposition rather than violent cessation, and thus vitally interlinked with life. He calls this « the lowest, purely Aphroditean stage of tellurian life. This stage is characterized by an unregulated sexual relation, the absence of all individual possessions or private rights of any kind, by the communal holding of women, children, and consequently of all property; it is a stage of formless, orderless freedom, and the only bond between creatures is that of Aphroditean love. » (Bachofen 190)

4At a certain stage of human evolution, however, recorded for Bachofen by the Demeter myth, this primitive form of matriarchy was replaced at the time of the Second Punic wars by a purer, more classical and Apollonian kind of matriarchy, in which property was acknowledged and its descent passed through the mother; as he wrote of the Epizephyrian Locrians, « nowhere do we find more noteworthy manifestations of the gradual rise of Demetrian matriarchy over the original Aphroditean ius naturale; the history of no other people shows so clearly how all political development is contingent on the defeat of hetaerism. » (Bachofen 98-99) In time this later stage was itself overthrown by a successful patriarchal revolt, establishing a new system of property and inheritance which Bachofen now saw as in decline. He certainly made his own anti-democratic contribution to the widespread theories of decadence at the end of the 19th century: « when every scoundrel counts for as much as the orderly citizen, » he wrote, « it's all out with rational government » and elsewhere that « the supreme aim of archaeology... consists in communicating the sublimely beautiful ideas of the past to an age that is very much in need of regeneration. » (Bachofen xxxvii) But he was not sure what would replace the patriarchal system, and certainly did not subscribe to any simple cyclical scheme of alternance between matriarchy and patriarchy.

5Nevertheless, it was the earliest phase of Bachofen's schema that proved to be most influential in the early 20th century, with Klages and Schuler and others amongst the Kosmische Runde in Munich, but not only with them. Their racist reading - that the original matriarchy (which they conveniently tended to forget had in Bachofen's account been lorded over by a powerful male tyrant) had been sullied by a patriarchy which had been introduced by Jews - was clearly a thorough misreading of Bachofen, who saw patriarchy as the most spiritual phase of human development (he affirmed that « Roman is the idea through which European mankind prepared to set its own imprint on the entire globe, namely, the idea that no material law, but only the free activity of the spirit determines the destinies of peoples » - Bachofen li), as an advance even over the period of classical matriarchy, which in turn he strongly favoured over the period of chthonian promiscuity. The preference of Klages and Schuler and Wolfskehl for this latter, which they saw in Nietzschean terms as « Dionysiac » (against the latter Apollonian periods), was in fact shared by Friedrich Engels in The Holy Family, who fixed upon the idea of a primitive communism and the absence of private property as the essential element to be retained from this primeval stage of human society.

6Thus Bachofen's theories were thoroughly contested, the site of a struggle between left and right for their interpretation and control. For Klages and other Nietzschean Schwabingers Bachofen was a profound analyst of modern technological decadence. He and Schuler and other members of the Kosmische Runde were distinguished by the intensity of their reaction against the massive industrial development of Germany in the period after 1870, fuelled in part by French war reparations; as Plumpe notes, they came from small towns, and experienced the rapid growth of cities like Munich with alarm (the bohemian world of Schwabing functioning for them in this respect as a kind of village city counter-culture). Their intellectual profile was made up of positive and negative poles: Klages, as a mother-earth worshipper, later to become a hero for German ecologists, was clearly also an anti-Semite and proto-fascist who promoted the by now familiar attitude towards the enlightenment as a cultural disaster, and embraced fully the potentially sinister anti-intellectualism of such a view (Fritz (145) observes that « Schuler und Klages sahen die Aufklarung in Gegensatz zum « Blut »). Their temperament also responded to Bachofen's evocation of « the sublimely beautiful ideas of the past » by turning nostalgically to pre-Enlightenment utopias - Schuler to the world of classical antiquity, to Rome and the Mediterranean, and Klages to primitive and authentic Germanic society and the world of Teutonic myth. « Die heutige Flugmaschine war Wodans Untergang, » wrote Klages (Plumpe 81). Their way of fitting Bachofen into their schema was to regard him as the harbinger of a Nietzschean historical return to the benign stage of development represented by primitive matriarchy.

7Apart from being half Swiss, Schuler had additional reasons for being attracted to Bachofen. His phallus-worship was a more thinly disguised expression of homoerotic tendencies than that of D.H. Lawrence. Encouraged by suggestions in Bachofen's work that the earliest stage of human development was marked by the prevalence of androgyny, he liked to dress up as a Magna Mater and preside as a Mother Goddess at the carnivals and ritual maskings that were beloved of the Munich Bohème. He was an intense anti-Semite, and yet, remarkably, shortly before his death in 1923, when he actually became familiar with Hitler and his methods and ideas, he saw him as an enemy of 'pure' anti-Semitism, and delivered one of the first and most strikingly prescient condemnations of what this further appropriation of Bachofen would entail: « Der nationalsozialistische Tumor auch in München rapid im Steigen, droht in der Hitlergruppe den Antisemitismus - 'So geben Sie mir ein anderes Schlagwort, womit ich die Masse gewinne' (Hitler) - aus dem Zentrum drängend, ist die trunkene Todesfackel, welche den Völkern ins Schlachthaus voranleuchtet. » (Plumpe 179)

8But at this point we may encounter the first truly ambivalent figure who stands in relation to the Bachofen heritage. This is Karl Wolfskehl, who saw himself (and most others have since seen him, despite possible counter-arguments advanced in favour of Alfred Schuler) as the person who, having encountered Bachofen via his father's library of religious and anthropological writings, had introduced the theory of matriarchy into Munich at the turn of the century: « ich darf sagen dass dieser völlig Verschollene durch mich wieder in die Welt des deutschen Geistes eingeführt wurde » (Schlößer 119). Wolfskehl was a Jew, yet he shared some of Klages's pan-Germanic enthusiasms, and unlike Schuler was more influenced by the world of Nordic mythology than by the Mediterannean - « weit mehr als die mir verekelten griechischen Altertümer von früh an Seelensubstanz, » he wrote (Schlößer 117).

9Up to a point, too, Wolfskehl accepts the anti-Semitic tendencies of Klages's manner of appropriating Bachofen. Yet he seeks to make a crucial non-racial discrimination. Although at some point Judaism may be connected with the race of patriarchy, it is not endemic to it: at an earlier stage Jews too were matriarchs and worshippers of the chthonian powers. In other words, there is nothing inherent in their race and character that produces patriarchal patterns of society. His arguments refine the anti-Semitic view of paternity, so that it is a late addition to Judaic experience: « dass die erdfremde, zerstörerische Tendenz des Judentums tatsachlich erst nach der Rückkehr aus dem babylonische Exil bei den Propheten zu bemerken sei. Er verherrlichte in Versen die prä-jahwistische Substanz » (Plumpe 169) This way of reconciling contradictions, of finding ways of submitting dubious and recalcitrant points of view to a Brechtian 'Umfunktionierung', will have later parallels, perhaps, in Hessel, and most particularly in Benjamin's dialectical way of dealing with material shot through with contradictions. Wolfkehl's closeness to Franz Hessel can be seen in the fact that is was he who took him to the station at Munich and saw him off when Hessel first left for Paris in 1906: he was one of the two figures of that Bohème whom Hessel most admired. The other was Franziska zu Reventlow, in whom we meet the first person actually to attempt to live out, or to have thrust upon her, the role of the primal earth goddess mother figure, which meant combining the role of Madonna with that of promiscuous pagan man-consumer. She discharged the former task with passionate commitment, bringing up her son Rolf without support and without ever naming anyone as his father: « so ganz unselig kann ich nie mehr werden, denn der tiefste Grund meines Lebens ist doch das Muttersein » she wrote (Fritz 95). She fulfilled the latter role with equal enthusiasm, but also with a humorous detachment which is of the essence in defining her attitude to the great myths of Bachofen and matriarchy and hetaerism at the turn of the century.

10For the 'heathen Madonna', as she was known, moved through a seemingly never-ending series of lovers that included both Klages and his deadly enemy Wolfskehl, though not of course the homosexual Schuler. Hessel shared a ménage à trois in Schwabing with her and the Polish painter Suchocki, a kind of trial run for the later, longer relationship with Helen and Roché, and Roché himself had a spell in Munich when he too became her lover. However, zu Reventlow was an essential mocker of the Kosmische Runde in Munich: « Sie war eine sehr scharfe Kritikerin und sah die Verstiegenheit dieser Leute um Klages, Schuler und George, sah sie sehr genau » said her son, many years later (Fritz 122). The Schwabing satirical magazine of which she and Hessel produced four numbers together in 1904 saw more immediately and clearly through Klages on physiognomy than (as we shall see) Benjamin or Roché. Zu Reventlow returned his exalted compliment on her racially pure Bachofen exterior (« in dieser Frau begegnete mir, gestaltet und verkörpert, das Element nordischen Heidentums in unvermischter Reinheit, strahlend, unbesieglich ») by calling him « Doktor Langschedel », in reference to his preference for supposedly Aryan features, and by writing satiric parodies of his disturbingly prophetic witch-hunt against supposedly Jewish ones:

um ein für alle mal mein Volk zu wahren
Von runden Schadeln und brunetten Haaren. (Fritz 62, 142).

11And so on to Hessel himself, who shared zu Reventlow's sense of humour and irony, which was indeed one of the grounds of his reverence for her. We may capture it here in the critical, mock-heroic element in his relation to the classics, which he shares with Joyce, as well as with earlier figures like Dickens and Daumier. Like most of the figures discussed here, he was in essence a pagan admirer of Mediterranean antiquity, expressing a European-wide, Nietzsche-inspired turning against Christianity and toward paganism at the end of the 19th century (in England, for instance, dissimilar figures like D.H. Lawrence and Rupert Brooke described themselves as pagans, and in Ireland, Joyce joined forces for a while with Oliver St. John Gogarty, inhabiting a Martello Tower which the latter regarded as the omphalos of a new pagan sun-worshipping cult). Here, for example, is Stéphane Hessel's account of his father's classicism, in which we cannot fail to observe the Munich-inspired anti-patriarchal note - « Franz m'a inculqué le goût du polythéisme, qui ne réduit pas le divin à l'entité unique et un peu angoissante du Père éternel, mais nous livre à l'arbitraire émouvant d'Athéna, d'Aphrodite, d'Apollon et d'Hermès » (Stéphane Hessel 13) - and which we can readily compare with Rolf Reventlow's memory of how his mother Franziska gave him a classical education outside of all conventional schooling: « hat sie mir viel aus dem Homer vorgelesen, die griechischen Götter und Odysseus sind mir heute noch ein Begriff. « (Fritz 95) Franz and Franziska were obvious fellow-pagans.

12Yet the astringent side of Hessel is present not only in his mockery of the Kosmische Runde but also, at moments, in his attitude to the Roché/ Helen Hessel affair, with its avowed classical model, the relationship between Achilles and Penthesilea. One comment recorded in Helen's journal is particularly striking in its deflation of the pretentions involved, in modem times, in the attempt to live heroic, 'cosmic' lives, in Munich as later in Paris: « Il ne faut pas toujours mêler les Grecs dans tes affaires. Tu en fais un usage abusif. Leur monde est autre. Et pour toi, c'est trop facile. » (Helen Hessel 107)

13Roché's own attitude is clearly different here - he notes in his journal how « l'après-midi elle me et nous lit superbement Penthesilea de Kleist, comme si elle était Penthesilea (elle l'est) et moi Achille (je voudrais l'être). » (Roché (1) 61) Taking himself, his masculinity, and his relation to Bachofen rather more seriously than Hessel, he tended to follow Klages's belief in the possibility of judging someone from the observation and decipherment of signs apparent in their visible external existence and appearance (something, we shall see, he had in common with Benjamin). One of the chief spheres in which this operated, for Roché, was in the divination of physical auguries in the bodies of women that might indicate whether they could give birth to and nurture strong male children. In other words, with Roché the search for the woman with the « archaischer Mundwinkel » is the search for the woman fit to bear his son. It was in part because for a time at least she appeared to have passed every test in this respect that Roché embarked on what was easily the most intense affair of his career as a Don Juan, that with Helen Hessel.

14As we have said, Roché came at Bachofen through Weininger, whose relation to the source of the theory of matriarchy, and rôle in the elaboration of its central ideas, is well described by Jacques Le Rider, even if his assumption that Bachofen shared Nietzsche's ideas of an 'eternal return' is questionable, and seemingly indicates an uncritical acceptance of the parti pris of the Kosmische Runde:

Weininger part du constat angoissé qu'à l'époque moderne la féminisation de la culture triomphe et sape les valeurs masculines... Il explique le matriarcat contemporain par une périodicité historique (proche de celle qu'analysait Bachofen) qui fait osciller la civilisation occidentale entre le féminin et le masculin. La modernité serait dominée par les valeurs féminines : la majorité des hommes s'était efféminée, le virilité se trouve réduite à une idée de 'virilité héroique.' Sexe et caractère s'avère au contraire sur la prophétie d'une montée en force de la féminité, sous le double visage de la mère et de la putain, de la magna mater et de l'hétaïre. (Le Rider, 152)

15Thus we see that Weininger (who is in the line of descent from the Sacher-Masoch of Venus im Pelz, himself as Deleuze observes influenced by Bachofen) takes an opposite but complementary view to that of Klages and Schuler in studying signs of the féminisation of culture, and associating this - not patriarchy - with decadence and the rise to cultural prominence of behavioural features characteristic of the Jewish race. This seems to have corroborated Roché's own observations of Jewish character: he endorsed Weininger's typology of the different races of humanity, and the gender assignments that he concocted, according to which Jews were associated with 'feminine' weakness and passivity. It seems difficult not to conclude that this, in fact, informed his attitude to Hessel, and that in their long and close friendship there were elements, not only of a repressed homosexual attachment, but also of a fantasised master/slave relationship. Right at the start of Jules et Jim we learn that it is the moment when Jules chooses (fetishistically, it seems) a slave costume to wear at the ball that inaugurates the relationship between the pair - « C'est pendant que Jules fouillait doucement parmi les étoffes et choisissait un simple costume d'esclave que naquit l'amitié de Jim pour Jules » (Roché (2) 11) - and perhaps establishes its essential tenor.

16But the most deeply protected secret behind Roché's dealings with Bachofen, I think, is that his attraction to the ideal matriarch masks an anxiety about paternity. He is clearly obsessed with male health - sharing with Brecht and others that cult of boxing which was widespread in the 1920s, and seeing it as a means of keeping in combative shape for the Amazon with whom he must procreate - and with all forms of physical and cultural degeneracy: with his own degeneracy, in fact, part of the symptom of which to him is his own obsession with the question itself. A Strindbergian anxiety about fatherhood becomes explicit at times, undercutting and contradicting his Don Juanism, or at least revealing the double standard at its base: he is indeed anxious that the son borne by his seed shall not be contaminated by Helen Hessel's sexual relations with other men.

17And it is ironic, perhaps, that this anxiety should surface most explicitly in connection with Herbert Koch, another of that endless series of lovers that Helen Hessel, like Franziska zu Reventlow, seems to have needed to take on in order to carry out her own role as primitive hetaera and matriarch. Again it was Hessel who had first known him in Munich, but in 1911 Hessel and Roché went to Greece, and there at Tanagra Koch showed them the statuette of a satyr abducting a young girl upon whose lips the archaic smile played, even in the moment of rape. (Flügge 76-77) Roché shows himself a good deal less phlegmatic at the moment of the revelation that their 'son' may in fact be Koch's, or even sired by a completely anonymous male:

C'est ainsi qu'elle m'a avoué Hulle à Munich, puis l'inconnu dans le train et l'hôtel, ainsi qu'elle a avoué, devant moi, à Franz, qu'elle était peut-être enceinte de Koch. - C'est le premier soupçon qu'elle me donne sur la paternité du fils probablement conçu en elle. Je pense au Père de Strindberg. Je pense froidement : « Si c'est ainsi, ouf ! Je m'en vais... » Le fils ! On verra plus tard à qui il ressemble. Mais il ne sera jamais pleinement mon fils. » (Roche (1) 404)

18So that despite regarding himself and Helen as on another plane ('enorm', in the jargon of the Kosmische Runde), and seeing Hessel by contrast as the embodiment of a passivity which would also at times enrage Helen herself - when in the 1920s Roché passed Weininger on to her to read, she too was repelled by its account of 'femininity' - the inherent tension and ambivalence in their relationship undermined his sense of heroic superiority. The very combativeness of Helen, which, if turned in the right direction was the sign that, as a suitably regenerate Bachofen mother-figure, she might be fit to bear his 'son,' was also, if turned against him, a threat to his male identity. On another, more literary plane, the whole Jules et Jim project that he conceived - the idea that all three members of the ménage à trois should write their own accounts of the affair - involved the threat of textual contradictions, or at least unreconciled overlappings and mergings, that perhaps in itself carried the danger of upsetting his will to dominate and control the situation so as to produce a son of maximum masculine prowess.

19Helen Hessel, meanwhile, perhaps saw herself, like Franziska zu Reventlow, as most essentially a mother-figure. « Et puis, j'avais la conviction que de Franz, Pierre et moi, le plus aimé d'Helen, c'était moi, » writes Stéphane Hessel (Stéphane Hessel 24). Like zu Reventlow, who wouldn't even let on who the father of her child was, she downplayed, as we have seen, the role of the male as patriarchal father-figure. In the good hetaera tradition, though he had an indispensable part to play at the moment of conception, the existence of multiple lovers meant that he could never be sure even that he was indeed father of his own child. Here Franz, through acceptance of a radically scaled-down role as father and patriarch, possessed a paradoxical power over the other members of the trio - the power of he or she in the relationship who tolerates everything.

20Walter Benjamin's entrée into this web of relations occurs in the important year 1926. In 1925 he had finished Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels, concluding what he was to call the first cycle of his philosophical career. In March of 1926, Benjamin went to Paris, the move that marks the opening of his second cycle of preoccupation with French culture, which was to have culminated in the Passagen- Werk. The activity that characterises the transition is translation from French into German, and he went to France to work with Hessel on the Proust translation for which, with Hofmannsthal's help, a contract had just been secured. Yet most fundamentally in these years - as his Proustian tribute in Berliner Chronik acknowledges - he was indebted to Hessel, whom he had met in 1924. In Paris, Hessel introduced him to flânerie and to the leading literary figures of Surrealism and other movements, thus helping to launch the second phase of his career. He also, as reader for Rowohlt, gave Benjamin regular reviewing work for the magazine Literarische Welt from October 1925 onwards.

21What we can see at this precise moment in time is that the trio Jules et Jim et Catherine might easily have expanded to include Walter as well. It was because of her passion for Roché that Helen Hessel and her two sons settled in Paris in 1925, after which Hessel was drawn there himself the following year to continue the ménage à trois for a while longer. This time it also involved using Roché as a kind of native-speaker adviser for the Proust work, and Benjamin was initially invited to share the Hessels' house in Fontenay aux Roses, which would obviously have put him in regular close contact with Roché. He declined because of Helen Hessel's habit of flirting with him, perhaps with the aim of enlisting him as a pawn in her struggle with Roché, which consisted in part, as we have seen, in outdoing her lover in the art of seduction. Thankmar von Münchhausen, one of her earlier conquests, who acepted the rôle of accompanying him to various literary salons during this initial period of his introduction to Paris, may have given him an additional feel of the lie of this land.

22But despite his refusal of further intimacy with the household, we can note that Benjamin did go as far as to read two books by Roché that summer, one of them, his Don Juan of 1921, with an obvious bearing on the issues examined here, the other a book that Benjamin lists as Six semaines à la conciergerie pendant la bataille de la Marne, which Flügge identifies correctly as Deux Semaines. (Flügge 95) It was a rarity, published in 1916 in an edition of 150 copies, and must have come via Hessel from the horse's mouth. Hessel also influenced Benjamin's reading and writing in other Munich-inspired ways at that time - Benjamin read, for instance, Franziska zu Reventlow's Von Paul zu Pedro in that same period, thus making the acquaintance of the work of his friend's Schwabing heroine, as well as some of the early novels of Hessel himself. Scholem recounts that Hessel at this « gave Benjamin much inside information about that period in Munich (1903-4), which he could not have received from anyone else. » (Scholem 126) And in November 1927 he would introduce him to Wolfskehl, who was also in Paris at this time.

23Nonetheless, Benjamin did in fact already know quite a lot about Munich and the Kosmische Runde. During the First World War he had gone to Munich, not only to follow his friend Jula Cohn, but to study and seek contact with Klages, only to discover that he had gone to Switzerland to evade military service. Benjamin had in fact already met him, for Klages had been one of the tutelary geniuses of the Youth Movement, with which Benjamin was associated before the first world war, and had spoken in 1914 in Berlin at a Youth Movement meeting that Benjamin organised. Benjamin also in some measure shared the classical enthusiasms of Schuler and Hessel and zu Reventlow, if not of Klages and Wolfskehl - we find, for instance, that at his future wife's house he read aloud « an ode by Pindar in Hölderlin's translation and in the original Greek » (Scholem 28), expressing there, and in his essay on Hölderlin, his solidarity with the Munich Hölderlin cult of the time.

24It is surely in this general context that we should approach Benjamin's first significant Bachofen text, the review of Bernoulli's Johann Jakob Bachofen und das Natursymbol, one of the first that Benjamin wrote at Hessel's instigation for Literarische Welt, which appeared in September 1926. It is a piece written clearly under the influence of Klages, whose name Benjamin had already bracketed with Bachofen's in January of the same year (« Die Auseinandersetzung mit Bachofen und Klages ist unumganglich, » he wrote in a letter to Scholem, Benjamin Briefe 1,409). We can in fact see evidence in this review of the significance Klages would hold for Benjamin's later work, where, to quote Bischof and Lenk drawing on Adorno, « il ne serait pas toujours facile de discerner en quoi l'approche de Benjamin se distingue de celle d'un Klages ou d'un Jung » (Bischof and Lenk 183). What they mean is that some part of the method of the Passagenwerk, the idea of resurrecting the past and reanimating the soul of things through the use of a « collective unconscious » expressing itself in myth as well as in dream, seems to borrow elements from Klages and Jung.

25But the trio Bernoulli, Klages and Bachofen had also made a previous appearance in Benjamin's work, in his essay on Die Wahlverwandschaften, first published in January 1925. This work, in fact, lays considerable interpretative emphasis on telluric and chthonic powers over life and death in Goethe's novel, and so it is no surprise that Ottilie's death is compared to that of the symbolic cricket of Bachofen's Mutterrecht, « dem Tiere, das ursprünglich nur der dunklen Erde eigen vom mythischen Tiefsinn der Griechen in den Verband der uranischen Sinnbilder hinaufgehoben ward, » (GS I, 192-3) who sings of the mysteries of the earth as he dies, expressing again the intertwining of life and death in the chthonic phase of human development. Benjamin's discussion of the absence of surnames in Die Wahlverwandschaften may also carry echoes of Bachofen: no patronymics implies no consciousness of ontological origin other than mother earth, and we may notice that the absence of surnames is also a marked feature of Roché's Jules et Jim.

26However, despite these interesting details, one is tempted to conclude that at this point in his development Benjamin had not yet fully come to grips with Bachofen himself other than as mediated through Klages and Bernoulli - perhaps in part because the discussions with Hessel about Munich had not yet properly broached the subject. Though he certainly seems to know something about the controversies surrounding him - he mentions both Engels and Weininger for instance - he draws here, much more uncritically than he was later to do, on the Kosmogonische Eros of Klages, « dieses grossen Philosophen und Anthropologen. » Most eye-catchingly, he seems as yet less than fully aware of the capital significance in Bachofen of matriarchal theory, for he says of Klages that « sein Buch entwirft ein System der natürlichen und anthropologischen Tatsachen, auf denen die Grundschicht der antiken Kultur beruht, als welche Bachofen die patriarchalische Religion der 'Chthonismus » (Erd- und Totenkultus) erkennt » (GS HI, 44; my italics).

27That Benjamin's debt to Klages, like Roché's, had something to do with the Kosmiker 's energetic promotion of various 'sciences ' of reading the internal essence of a person's character from visible external signs (physiognomic, graphological and the like) - practices that were to make their own sinister contribution to Nazi ideology - is apparent in his second major Bachofen piece, the essay written in French in 1934 for Jean Paulhan and the Nouvelle Revue Française. Here he seems to follow Klages once more in commenting on the portrait of Bachofen which had accompanied Bernoulli's work, claiming that in the writer's physiognomic appearance one can read signs of his intellectual propensities: « une largesse presque maternelle répartie dans l'ensemble de la physiognomie lui confrère une parfaite harmonie. » (Benjamin GS H, 232)

28Yet the emphasis on harmony here in itself suggests that he is beginning to qualify Klages's « Dionysiac » approach to Bachofen. As he wrote to Scholem in July 1934, he was now in fact directly confronting Bachofen for the first time (« So komme ich zum ersten Male dazu ihn selbst zu lesen; bisher war ich vorwiegend auf Bernoulli und Klages angewiesen gewesen. » Benjamin Briefe II, 614) Partly in consequence of this fact, the1934 essay is a much more politically aware piece of work than the earlier Bachofen piece; it is consciously and explicitly anti-fascist, and discriminates carefully between different ways of appropriating Bachofen. We may also speculate, though, that Hessel's account of Munich in 1903­-4, in particular of how Klages and Schuler had denounced Wolfskehl as a Jewish 'Molochite' fifth columnist who had infiltrated the ranks of 'correct' cosmic Bachofen-disciples, and of their definitive rupture with the George-Kreis, could have influenced his new approach.

29For in fact the essay shows many signs of Benjamin now distancing himself from the Kosmiker's misreading of Bachofen. « En regard des théories d'un Klages, » he writes, « rien ne mérite d'être souligné autant que le manque de tout néopaganisme chez Bachofen ; » the harmony Benjamin discerns in his work really more or less bypasses the Munich pagan approach to Bachofen, being composed on the one hand of respect for Swiss patrician democracy and for the communism of the matriarchal era. This latter gets respectful attention here, partly as a way of highlighting that there are other aspects of the era of primitive matriarchy to be considered in addition to the unbridled promiscuity that fascinated Klages and Schuler (« cet ordre différait foncièrement de l'ordre patriarcal du point de vue juridique ainsi que du point de vue sexuel. ») And though he still clearly finds much of value in Klages, particularly where his theory of mythic and symbolic survives of the past into the present is concerned, and discriminates between his and Schuler's proto-fascism and the full­blown fascist reading of Bachofen he finds in Baeumler, it is clear now how sharply he perceives the interweaving of sexual desire and political fantasy in the world of Schwabing and elsewhere: « Partout ces théories ont provoqué une réaction dans laquelle la vie intime de l'affectivité et les convictions politiques semblent unies indissolublement. » (Benjamin GS II, 232, 227, 231)

30Further corroboration of this new approach to Bachofen is to be found in Benjamin's Kafka essay, also written in 1934. « Seine Romanen spielen in einer Sumpfwelt. Die Kreatur erscheint bei ihm auf der Stufe, die Bachofen als die hetarische bezeichnet, » he writes. Once more it is clear that he is moving away from a Klages-derived idealisation of the era of primitive matriarchy, which survives into the present in the subliminal perceptions of Kafka's mind and art - « eine Erfahrung, die tiefer geht als die des Durchschnittbürgers » - as a token that twentieth century humanity has made no progress from its earliest beginnings. Here too he seems to endorse Bachofen's pessimistic, patriarchally oriented characterisation of primitive matriarchy as an era « deren regellose Üppigkeit den reinen Mächten des himmlischen Lichts verhaßt ist und die Bezeichnung luteae voluptates, deren sich Arnobius bedient, rechtfertigt » (Benjamin GS II 428, 429).

31But I conclude with a brief attempt to leap the gap between Benjamin and Truffaut, which may be greater in appearance than reality. We first require some simple factual links between Truffaut and Roché, which involve tangentially, as we have seen, links with Hessel and Benjamin. Truffaut in the early part of his career was a right-wing film-critic who worked for the right-wing magazine Arts, of which Roché in his old age was a regular reader. Conversely, Truffaut read Roché soon after the appearance of his novel, and, finding its narrative method exactly suited, formed straight away the desire to make a film of Jules et Jim: it was in fact to have been his first film.

32At this stage, we should not neglect to mention, Truffaut was an apologist for Pétain and the Vichy régime, as Roché had been. Roché in fact wrote Jules et Jim at Dieulefit in the Drôme in Vichy France during the war, roughly simultaneously with a proposed replacement for the Marseillaise as the appropriate anthem of the new collaborationist government, his Germanophilia, admirable in the 20s, when there was near-total aversion in France to all things German, having clearly taken a more unattractive turn. Truffaut, already at this stage, and Roché earlier, also unknowingly shared other character traits, in particular a marked Don Juan propensity.

33But Truffaut's politics began a leftward tack at the time of the Algerian war - that is to say, before Jules et Jim was actually made. So the film can be studied in a dual optic - as a fable with a strong sediment of right-wing ideology handled now from a more liberal perspective consonant with the 60s revolution in sexual behaviour and personal morality. Even Truffaut's earliest films had expressed a revolt against the classical institution of the bourgeois family (« mes films sont une critique de la façon française d'élever les enfants » - de Baecque and Toubiana 395), and reflected the traumas of his childhood: his mother's coldness and indifference, and her family's hushing up of his illegitimacy by having her marry a man who became to the outside world at least his 'father,' but whose most significant relationship was to strongly masculine outdoor activities like mountaineering and swimming. Later in 1968 he would hire private detectives to identify his 'real' father - a certain Roland Lévy, born in Bayonne in 1910, was the man they uncovered. The revelation of his Jewish origins was profoundly troubling - on the one hand, « il s'est toujours senti Juif » (de Baecque and Toubiana 361); on the other, he could not bring himself actually to make contact with the man whose existence and rôle in his life his profoundly right-wing family had sought to suppress.

34Approached from these two sets of ambivalences - personal and political - Jules et Jim can be seen to align itself less with Roché than with Hessel and Benjamin. Its unconsciously 'Jewish' portrayal of an alternative matriarchal family set-up that must end in disaster not only reflects Truffaut's deepest anxieties about his mother, and the identity of his 'real' father; it also seems to reactivate and reanimate collective aspects of the earlier Bachofen problematic sketched in above. Though, like Benjamin, it is likely that he would have quoted with approval Paul Lafargue on patriarchy - nous voyons que la famille paternelle est une institution relativement récente ; son entrée dans le monde est caractérisée par des discordes, des crimes et de viles niaiseries » (Benjamin GS II, 231) - its alternative remains, in Jules et Jim, a utopia.

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Bachofen = Ralph Manheim, trans., Myth, Religion and Mother Right: Selected Writings of Johann Jakob Bachofen. Introduced by Joseph Campbell. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1967.

Benjamin Briefe = Walter Benjamin, Briefe. Gershom Scholem and Theodor W. Adorno eds. 2 vols. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1978.

Benjamin GS = Walter Benjamin, Gesammelte Schriften. Eds Rolf Tiedemann and Hermann Schweppenhauser. 7 vols. Frankfurt am Main : Suhrkamp, 1980ff.

Bischof and Lenk = Rita Bischof and Elisabeth Lenk, « L'intrication surréelle du rêve et de l'histoire dans les Passages de Benjamin. » In Heinz Wismann, ed., Walter Benjamin et Paris. Paris : Les Editions du Cerf, 1986. pp. 179-200.

de Baecque and Toubiana = Antoine de Baecque and Serge Toubiana, François Truffaut. Paris : Gallimard, 1996.

Flügge = Manfred Flügge, Le Tourbillon de la vie. La véritable histoire de Jules et Jim. Paris : Albin Michel, 1994.

Fritz = Helmut Fritz, Die Erotische Rebellion. Das Leben der Franziska Gräfin zu Reventlow. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Verlag, 1980.

Helen Hessel = Helen Hessel, Journal d'Helen. Lettres à Henri-Pierre Roché. 1920-1921. Marseille : André Dimanche Editeur, 1990.

Stéphane Hessel = Stéphane Hessel, Danse avec le siècle. Paris : Editions du Seuil, 1997.

Le Rider = Jacques Le Rider, 'Weininger,' in Jean Clair, ed., Vienne 1880-2938 : L'Apocalypse joyeuse. Paris : 1986.

Plumpe = Gerhard Plumpe, Alfred Schuler. Chaos und Neubeginn. Zur Funktion des Mythos in der Moderne. Berlin : Agora Verlag, 1978.

Roché (1) = Henri-Pierre Roché, Carnets. Les Années Jules et Jim. Première partie : 1920-1921. Marseille : André Dimanche Editeur, 1990.

Roché (2) = Henri-Pierre Roché, Jules et Jim. Paris: Gallimard, 1953.

Schloßer = Manfred Schlößer, Karl Wolfskehl: Leben und Werk in Dokumenten. Darmstadt: Agora Verlag, 1969.

Scholem= Gershom Scholem, Walter Benjamin. The Story of A Friendship. London : Faber and Faber, 1982.

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Référence papier

Michael Hollington, « About Jules et Jim: Some Figures of Matriarchy from Bachofen to Truffaut via Benjamin, Roché and Hessel », Babel, 2 | 1997, 57-74.

Référence électronique

Michael Hollington, « About Jules et Jim: Some Figures of Matriarchy from Bachofen to Truffaut via Benjamin, Roché and Hessel », Babel [En ligne], 2 | 1997, mis en ligne le 14 mai 2013, consulté le 28 mai 2018. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/babel.2770

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Michael Hollington

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