‘When I interviewed Urs Allemann about his book Babyfucker in the spring of 2010, my family was outraged, and understandably so. Less than a month had passed since my mother divorced her husband, my stepfather of twenty years, after discovering that he had lived a secret life for almost the entire extent of the marriage, including sexually abusing my older sister throughout her childhood. It was not that my family opposed the idea of a book like Babyfucker so much as they could not understand why I would ever willingly associate myself with the words “baby” and “fucker,” especially only eleven months after learning about my sister’s abuse. Their approach was to get over “it” as quickly as possible. However, I was not so sure that this was something I wanted to move beyond; I didn’t want “it” to lose its shock value.
‘Excessive books like Babyfucker elicit excessive reactions. Excess, here, can be defined as that which is more than necessary, or desirable. Not only is the act of “babyfucking” an extremely rare occurrence in the realm of sexual abuse, the setting of the book is also excessive. In fact, it is all but impossible to imagine, except, perhaps, as a bad acid trip. The book opens: “I fuck babies. Around my bed there are creels. They’re swarming with babies. They’re all here. Always have been. Always will be.” As Allemann noted in our interview, “These sentences have no place in a realistic story [and] definitively exceed every notion of reality that claims to be adequate to reality.” More specifically, the last two “create a context that corresponds perfectly to the timeless present of the sentence ‘I fuck babies.’” As I was all too aware, nothing can be as it has “always been, always will be.”
‘Excessive responses to the book typically range from horror, disgust, and outrage to that other extreme, extreme insouciance, or denial, embodied by those who shrug off the very idea that they could be shocked by a book, no matter its content. A popular reaction to Babyfucker: “The author is merely trying to shock. So what?” However, if shocking behavior, i.e., writing something shocking, is nothing more than a shameless attempt to get attention, it is also an individual’s desperate attempt to be recognized, to be seen or heard. Allemann has suggested that the narrator of Babyfucker has lost the “certainty that he exists” and attempts “to catapult himself back into existence with an extreme sentence.” In this sense, I imagine the narrator as a kind of fanatic, stammering to himself in the desolate abyss of a dank attic, driven not by any specific appetite or longing, but by the absolute conviction that if he ceases, even for a second, to utter his sentence (“I fuck babies”), the very narrative of his life with dissolve, and he will be left only with the excessive frustration and confusion of his suffering.
‘The Babyfucker is helpless. His “extreme sentence,” and his belief in the power of it, is a kind of cure for his excessive vulnerability. That is, the vulnerability we all experience as animals who cannot easily identify what we want, and even if we can identify it, may not be able to get it, much less keep it. Worse: we may discover that desire, and its twin suffering, no matter how excessive, may lead us nowhere. “I fuck babies” is the narrator’s conviction, his fact, safe haven, which is to say, also a fantasy. One he must return to again and again, not because it gives him any identifiable pleasure, but because it keeps him hopeful in his very uncertain and meaningless world.
‘When I found Babyfucker—or rather when it found me—I was still actively grappling with the significance, perhaps even “meaning,” of the wild, roving ache I felt on a daily basis as a result of the dissolution of my family. Of course, during these months, I wrote next to nothing. (It was unfortunate that I was enrolled in an MFA program for creative writing.) As an avid reader, I was also horrified to discover that no book could hold my attention: they all felt so trivial. Every book, except Babyfucker. Since my pain was still too ripe, I could not dismiss it as “just a book” or “some pervert’s riff.” I was immediately intrigued by the beauty, the hypnotic elegance, of Allemann’s prose. It’s true: the thing I found most interesting, initially, was not that Babyfucker served as a potent reminder of the “power of literature,” but rather, that “monstrosity can’t be beautified away by skillful prose pirouettes” (Allemann). That is—no amount of gloss or spin can sublate the horror of a monstrous act.’ — Elizabeth Hall
Urs Allemann @ Wikipedia
Babyfucker @ goodreads
Three Books Blurring the Borders of Memory and Reality
Babyfucker Blog Project: Jessalyn Wakefield
Babyfucker Blog Project: J.A. Tyler
Babyfucker Blog Project: Lily Hoang
Babyfucker Blog Project: M. Kitchell
Babyfucker Blog Project: Jon R.
The Old Man and the Bench – Urs Allemann
Urs Allemann’s Beginnings
Wüst gedacht, brav gemacht
A FURTHER READING OF URS ALLEMANN’S BABYFUCKER (WITH DRIPPING FAUCET) Concerto No3 for 2-7 Voices
Created by Daniele Pantano & David Kelly/Erkembode for Enemies of the North
First public screening: 30 March 2013, The Cornerhouse, Manchester, UK
Words/Sounds: Daniele Pantano
Visuals: David Kelly/Erkembode
Urs Allemann bei Sprachsalz 2011
Urs Allemann zu Gast bei Züri Littéraire im Kaufleuten
Freemix la segunda (Urs Allemann, Suiza)
from Tarpaulin Sky
What prompted you to write Babyfucker? Did it start as an idea, a sentence, question, challenge?
It wasn’t an idea. It was an image. An image in my head. A vexing image. An image that was just suddenly there. Without reminding me of anyone or anything. Without eliciting any feeling in me. That’s what was vexing. A challenge. And then suddenly the sentence was there. As a response to the image? As an escape? As self-defense? I don’t know. “I fuck babies.” And then there was the decision to attempt to extract something like a story from this terrible sentence.
Your prose is often hypnotic. Babyfucker evokes its own associative logic by which words generate further words, creating a dazzling rhythmic trip. Yet the beauty of your prose is offset by the disturbing nature of the text. Everything hinges on the monstrous “I fuck babies.” Why did you choose that sentence specifically?
I’m very happy to hear you use the word “beauty” to describe my prose. Because, as strange as it may seem, it was in fact my intention to make something beautiful out of this monstrous material. To write a beautiful story. In this anything but obvious intention a certain idea played a role: the idea that beauty as an aesthetic category can only have relevance today if it passes the endurance test represented by the most un-beautiful, revolting material thinkable. I had the somewhat megalomaniacal idea that I could transform shit into gold by writing. And there was the quite crazy corollary idea: only gold made from shit is true gold.
Ten years after Babyfucker I wrote an ode titled “Censure.” It opens with the verse “The black bar in front of the sex organ.” And the first verse of the second strophe reads: “The axe that – chop now! – that shatters beautifully in your hand.” There’s a similar crazy notion at work here: the notion that a murder weapon is transformed into its opposite in the last second, before the deadly blow, right when the axe holder is ordered to act. The axe, it is claimed, doesn’t just shatter, no, it even shatters “beautifully.” Hard to believe, isn’t it?
Few concrete details are given about the narrator or his surroundings. The reader must navigate the narrator’s grunts, groans, stutters, and mumbles. He repeats “O I am babbling.” It’s unclear whether his activities are a fantasy, dream, real-life telling, or all three, all at once. The instability of the narrator’s mental world mimics the physical world he perceives. Was the structure of the text set from the first draft or did it come to you through the writing process itself?
The character, the first person narrator only has one thing: his sentence. The problem with the sentence – beside the fact that it’s monstrous – is that it has no context. The only thing that the narrator does, and he does it incessantly, is this: he attempts to invent something like a context for this context-less sentence. Not to remember, but to invent. Babbling away, he produces and discards his “reality.” It’s meaningless to decide in this context whether something is a dream, a fantasy, or reality. Reality is simply what is narrated. And what’s narrated is only what could correspond to the sole certainty that is alleged to exist: “I fuck babies.” The “few concrete details” that the narrator tosses us are, at closer examination, just as fantastic as his grotesque hallucinations.
Take the very first sentences in the narrative. Sentence one: “I fuck babies.” The foundational sentence. The theme. The challenge. A sentence that isn’t just monstrous, but also fantastic. A sentence that no living person could ever say. The verb’s timeless present and the noun’s plural make the sentence one of trans-real monstrosity.
Sentence two: “Around my bed there are creels.” An attempt to invent a place for the first sentence where either A) the sentence is spoken; B) the narrated event occurs ; or C) the sentence is spoken AND the narrated event occurs. This sentence, read by itself, in version A, might be a “true story.” A realistic story could begin in this way: a real man lies on a real bed surrounded by real creels. For reasons that we expect to learn in the course of the story, the man utters THE monstrous sentence: “I fuck babies.”
Sentence three: “They’re crawling with babies.” This sentence has no place in a realistic story. A situation in which four creels surround a bed and in which each of these creels “crawls with babies” cannot occur in reality. CANNOT occur. A baby in each creel, ok. Two babies? Maybe, whatever. Three babies? Oh come on, stop already. Four babies? Shut up, you idiot. What does exist is: cans that crawl with worms (on fishing boats). But creels that crawl with babies? Definitely not.
But what if they were there, these babies? Dozens of them? Twelve in every creel? Ok, we are prepared to picture the impossible and against our better judgment accept the assurance offered by sentence four: “They’re all there.” But sentences five and six finally, definitively exceed every notion of reality that claims to be adequate to reality. “Always have been. Always will be.” These sentences create a context that corresponds perfectly to the timeless present of the sentence “I fuck babies.” In reality however NOTHING always has been and NOTHING is for always.
I don’t know if that’s an answer to your question. Hopefully it is. Reality is annulled after six sentences. At that point one can no longer distinguish “from the first draft” and “through the writing process itself.”
The narrator is someone who has lost his identity, is unsure if he even exists. There is the hint of a Linda and a Paul, but their reality is tenuous: “Linda. What if she asked me to substitute a stuffed dog for the dog. If she asked me something. Anything. Could I then claim she exists.” Throughout the text, the narrator struggles to regain his existence through his sentence: “I fuck babies. Therefore I am, maybe.” Repetition-as-comfort. He relies on his sentence to save him, yet by the end, he is unsure whether “I fuck babies” was ever “his” to begin with: “And what if its a mistake. A mix-up. What if I’ve been saying that Paul’s sentence the whole time. Because someone somewhere put in the wrong tape for me.” Can you talk a little about your intentions here?
That’s correct: the narrator has been afflicted with a feeling of total derealization. The world’s presentness, the existence of others, his own existence: nothing is guaranteed for him. Only one terrifying sentence – “I fuck babies” – is vested beyond any doubt for him with the reality index that the cogito had for Descartes. That’s why it’s “his” sentence. That’s why he clings to it as if it could save him and catapult him into existence. AS IF – that is the decisive point. It’s IMPOSSIBLE that a sentence like “I fuck babies” can help bring a human being into existence. Because it is necessarily an UNTRUE sentence. The person for whom it would be a true sentence – if we want to admit for a moment that such a creature exists – someone who would actually “fuck babies” serially, on a conveyor belt, many of them one after the other, many times a day: such a person would NEVER SAY this sentence.
To whom for heaven’s sake would he say it? On what occasion? For what reason? When the narrator says, “And what if it’s a mistake,” he begins to realize that “his” sentence, despite the index of reality it bears for him, might be the wrong sentence. He begins to realize this. He has already begun to realize this when he arrives at this “maybe” conclusion: “I fuck babies. Therefore I am maybe.” But it’s no more than the beginning of a realization. The narrator doesn’t get any further. It’s not even possible for him to pose a question about what problems the phenomenon of the “untrue sentence with reality index” might cause for understanding. WE, you and I, can of course come up with some thoughts about it. An idea might be: the sentence is not the thing that is vested with the reality index. Instead, it adheres to the sentence’s components, the individual words. To the fact that they come together in a constellation. It’s enough that a sentence occurs to the narrator (that a sentence is foisted on him) that brings together “I,” “fuck,” and “babies” – and that’s enough for the feeling of security – secure because it promises something like reality – to come about for him. But it’s also imaginable that the sentence “I fuck babies” connects the CORRECT words in a grammatically INCORRECT way. False presence. False plural. False voice (active instead of passive). And who would be responsible for the narrator’s blunder or parapraxis? Well, me of course, the author. Maybe I put the wrong tape in for him. Maybe on purpose.
Can you discuss the influence of Beckett on Babyfucker, and your writing as a whole?
I read Beckett intensively ten or twelve years before I wrote Babyfucker. But Beckett’s prose – the novels more than anything, and The Unnameable more than any other – has remained the non plus ultra of modern narration for me. Modern in an emphatic sense. Narrating as not narrating. No narrative as narrating in quotation marks. No “I,” no place, no time. Only this tentative speaking and writing movement that hints at a speaker, a place, a time only to immediately revoke them, hint again, and again revoke them. This tracing out of a trail left behind by a successive writing down and crossing out, by a crossed out writing down and a writing down crossed out. This textual tracing that is NOTHING (thus: “Texts for Nothing”), and, yet, no, absolutely NOT NOTHING. The incomparable, inimitable about Beckettian blackness is: this black is not just the blackness of a message, as black as it may be. It’s more that this black meaning turns into a black syntax. Into a meandering of sentences knotted together. Into a flowing, branching out, uprooted, blocked rush of black sentences. Phew. Such abominably imprecise metaphors! Sorry, Ms. Hall.
When Babyfucker won the second prize in the 1991 Ingborg Bachmann Competition, the book became one of the biggest literary scandals in recent years. Specifically, Jörg Haider claimed that the text was “inexcusable” and a “sexual perversion.” Were you surprised that many misinterpreted the book, focusing on the title rather than the subject matter? Has your view shifted over the years?
Here we are again with the contradiction of “beauty” and “monstrosity.” I really thought that everyone would clap and say: this author does such a wonderful job of making us forget how dreadful his topic really is. The aforementioned shit-gold-thing. That was A) naïve of me; B) but also a misjudgment of the text. Perhaps I even underestimated the “Babyfucker” by minimizing for myself the antagonism between beauty and monstrosity. Monstrosity can’t be beautified away by skillful prose pirouettes. Beauty doesn’t sublate monstrosity. And today I understand much better those people who find that there’s nothing beautiful there, nothing at all, just a triumph of monstrosity. However: the fact that there were people who read the text in all seriousness as “Confessions from the Life of a Pedophile” – that baffles me to this day.
How did you get involved in writing? As a young writer what books were especially influential? What texts do you continue to revisit?
I’ve always written. But intermittently, with long breaks. At first, poems and plays (when I was eight or nine). Then poems again (at sixteen, seventeen: Celan imitations, with poorly measured doses of obscenity). Then once an isolated prose text, under the influence of Proust: “An Attempt by Martin T. to Remember.” Then poems again (at twenty-five, twenty-six: undoubtedly imitations, I just don’t know anymore what of). Then during a long stay in Tuscany in 1978-1979 once again an isolated prose text: “The Condition of Mö or What and how a Story” (now, instead of Proust, Finnegan’s Wake, a book that, unlike the Recherche, I never read). I’ve only written regularly (more or less) since 1983. 1983-1988: poems. 1988-1995: prose. 1999-2010: poems.
I read most enthusiastically (idiotic superlative!) Dostoyevsky, Kafka, Beckett. And as far as poets go: Benn, Rilke (despite everything), and, more than anything, Hölderlin. And not to forget the “experimentalists”: Ernst Jandl, Oskar Pastior. Right now I’m reading Kleist.
What projects are you currently working on?
I’d like to return to prose after a fifteen-year hiatus. An epistolary novella maybe. A man went into the mountains fifteen years ago to write the following letter to a woman: “Dear B., I’d like to strike you down with an iron rod. Maybe I love you. If you feel the same way and your wishes conform to mine, then please please get in touch with me posthaste. We’ll discuss this matter together and make the necessary arrangements if everything works out. With warm wishes, Your Bernd.” The letter is, however, never mailed and never written. In further letters to B. from Bernd, he pursues, among other things, the question: why? The last letter could be the one in which Bernd lets B. know that the matter has been settled since he has just been struck down by a group of women with iron rods.
Urs Allemann Babyfucker
‘A Beckettian character, who may or may not be trapped in a room with four baskets full of infants, focuses obsessively on a single sentence—“I fuck babies.” This virtuoso text by Swiss experimental writer Urs Allemann won the prestigious Ingeborg Bachmann Preis des Landes Kärnten in 1991 and caused one of the biggest literary scandals in the post-1945 German-speaking world. Translated now for the first time in a new-bilingual edition, Babyfucker will change your idea of what literature can be and do. Babyfucker belongs in the canon of twentieth-century provocations that includes Bataille’s The Story of the Eye, Delany’s Hogg, and Cooper’s Frisk.’ — les figues
I fuck babies. Around my bed there are creels. They’re swarming with babies. They’re all here. Always have been. Always will be. Like me. I’m here too. For others it would probably be different. Others would leave. Would have come. Would go somewhere. Have come from somewhere. Not us. We’re here. The babies in their creels. Me in my bed. With closed eyes. Reach into the swarm. Fish one out. Fuck it. Throw it back to the others. All of them naked. All of them here. No names. At night everyone sleeps. Me. The babies. Linda. All is calm. During the day the babies get fucked. Always been that way. By me. Before going to sleep. After waking up. The babies here. Me here. Linda not here. All the lightless day long.
Sometimes I catch a male. Sometimes a female. O it doesn’t matter. Ring finger and pinkie span the flesh notch. The flap of skin can be hidden between my thumb and pointer. It’s all very chaste in my garret. Scraping. Rubbing. I want to write a chaste story. Middle finger. Bumhole. Fontanels. Their toothless, salivating mouths. Where do I penetrate. Where do I slide right in. Their pores flung open to me. My chaste ambition. With closed eyes. Feeling my way. Conquering. Every baby pore a hole for life. I want to write a story about holes for life. The babies sleep. Not only at night. During the day too. When I fuck them. They used to always scream. Now they’re always sleeping. Some other time. It just doesn’t work without any time. I mix a little morphine into their milk. Males. I’m a man. The babies get the bottle from me. Females. It just doesn’t work without any difference. The babies would be breastfed by a woman. From one of two breasts. From both. From neither. O I take that back. But how would the woman mix the morphine into the milk. Maybe it would be injected into her swollen breasts. Into both of them. Into neither. Into one. O I take that back. But where do I get the milk. There appears to be a milk spigot in my garret. It just doesn’t work without any cause without any reason. My head. I could hold my head under the milk spigot. Until. But where do I get the morphine. There appears to be a vat of morphine in my garret. A barrel of morphine. With morphine powder. With morphine brew. My torso. I could roll around in the morphine powder. I could dip my morphine-tossed body in the morphine brew. Until the day. Instead I soak babies. Drug them. Fuck them. Sleeping babies. Haven’t been screaming babies for a long time.
Just as long as none of them die on me. Just as long as Linda doesn’t die on me. Just as long as I don’t die on myself.
All is bright. Once a day the babies are cleaned. Before the fucking that follows the cleaning. After the fucking that precedes the cleaning. By me. Always been that way. I spray them down creel by creel. With lukewarm water. The hose is permanently attached to the water spigot. It would not be advantageous to attach it to the milk spigot. It would not be advantageous to hose down the babies with milk. The milk might go bad. The babies might start to stink. I might possibly be forced by the stink to puke. O it wouldn’t help at all to fling open the windows. How often do I fling open the windows. Without any success. Fresh air refuses to rush into my garret. Stuffy air refuses to rush out of my garret. The cinema outside. The fresh breeze of the movie. Reality inside. Life’s old chamber farts. The babies are drugged with milk. Sprayed clean with water. I drink water. Bathe in the morphine vat. Linda. A word that calls to mind wells trees songs graves. Makes me want to puke. To puke in the well. To puke on the grave. O I won’t puke though. Will eat something though. But what. Maybe some frogs. From where. From the bucket. How did they get in there. They didn’t. They are there. Flourishing. Ribbiting. They would have to be drugged with morphine brew morphine powder. Ribbiting. Jumping into my mouth. Ribbiting. Ribbiting. Can’t be swallowed. Secreting my saliva. Sitting in my saliva. Wallowing in it. They’re inedible. Immortal. Ribbiting.
I fuck babies. Therefore, maybe, I am.
p.s. Hey. ** Armando, Hi. Yes, very shocking and sad. Today? I need to start working on something that’s due somewhat soon. I need to get out and see some life outside my neighborhood, so I’ll venture somewhat afar. I’m being interviewed by Zoom this evening. Uh, so that. Your day, past or present? And good luck to you too! ** David Ehrenstein, Thanks. It always gets to me think about or look at pics of POP in Venice, CA. That place haunted and constructed my dreams as a kid. How nice that Viva is doing well, and I don’t know why I’m not surprised that she lives in Palm Springs because I feel like I should be, but I’m not. ** Niko, Hi! Ah, great, January. Not so far off. My new one doesn’t come out until late next year, which feels like forever. I’ll certainly hope your novel gets an English language publisher. And yes, the wait and see how it goes first plan sounds pretty normal. Okay, I understand about the changes the publisher wanted. Well, I’m totally with you on your attitude about that situation and how you’re working with it. I mean, yeah, the publisher is an intermediary to be finessed. And, yeah, I think you’re right, or it makes sense, that they basically want to feel like they’re having an impact on the book, and that you’re showing them the respect of taking their input seriously, however you enact it, and that that’s basically the deal. Or let’s say I’m not a stranger to your chosen attitude/solution. Good, all of that sounds excellent. I’m not hugely busy. Sure, let’s talk about Tim. Skype or Zoom or something? What’s best? Just let me know when you’d like to, and we’ll find a time. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org if you need it. Thanks! Have a great one! ** Bill, I would imagine that some of them have been horror sets. Maybe without official permission. ‘Virtual balls at virtual blobs’ sounds strangely exciting. Pictorial but very mysterious, at least to low-tech me. Well, not so strangely. Continuing progress? ** _Black_Acrylic, Ha ha, that Blobby twitter thing looks great. I’ll pore over it once I’m outta here. Thanks, man! ** Misanthrope, Ooh, you went to Enchanted Forest when it was alive. Lucky you! From the post, I did the living versions of POP, which was godhead, and Santa’s Village, which was boring and disappointing even to 7 year old me. I remember Lifetime movies. I didn’t know they still made them. What a resilient channel. Way back in the day, Amy Gerstler I drove to San Diego to watch Leif Garrett do a concert at some car racing track. He lip-synced, shimmied around very awkwardly, and performed for no more than 15 minutes. It’s was great, ha ha. He blew a kiss at Amy. Well, or maybe at me, but I doubt it. When does your mom see the doctor? Immediately, I hope. ** Steve Erickson, Every time I go out, another store or several have opened here. Gradually normalising. Very relieving. Everyone, Steve the E. has added another song to his growing arsenal/oeuvre. And now he’ll take over: ‘I wrote a song today, “Chillier”. The guitar loop is sampled from a UK drill song, and I originally wanted to produce something in that style, but it wound up ominous and foreboding in a different, less beat-driven way.’ You mean games like ‘Roller Coaster Tycoon’ and that sort of game? Yes, there are regular new versions, updates, etc., etc. They’re still quite niche popular as far as I can tell. ** Okay. The spotlight falls on ‘Babyfucker’ today. See you tomorrow.