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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

Babyfucker

by
Urs Allemann


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Babyfucker



Title: Babyfucker
Author: Urs Allemann
Genre: Novel
Written: 1992 (Eng. 2010)
Length: 133 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Babyfucker - US
Babyfucker - UK
Babyfucker - Canada
Babyficker - Deutschland
  • German title: Babyficker
  • Translated and with an Introduction by Peter Smith
  • This is a bilingual edition that includes the original German text
  • With an Afterword by Vanessa Place
  • Preis des Landes Kärnten at Ingeborg-Bachmann-Preis, 1991

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Our Assessment:

B+ : despite what its title might suggest -- and if one can get beyond that -- a largely successful and fairly impressive work

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Diagram . (10.6) Arin Fisher
Exquisite Corpse . 11/1/2011 Christian Prozak
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction . Spring/2010 Jeremy M. Davies
Der Spiegel . 8/7/1991 Hellmuth Karasek
Die Zeit . 11/12/1992 Reinhard Baumgart


  From the Reviews:
  • "The first time I read this, I was desensitized to the language towards the end and fell into the impression that this book was purely masturbatory. I believed that Allemann's only effort was to shock and awe. I focused on the surface details that belied my efforts to really dig in. (...) The second reading was productive. Found a story that wasn't hyper-indie in the tasteless sense. (...) Read. The. Book. Give it a chance. Give the Babyfucker some time, some love, some therapy, some morphine, a Fleshjack©." - Arin Fisher, Diagram

  • "But is this revelation worth it ? No, but the highly literary super-surreal side-splitting sojourn is ... through creels of trippy infant-fucking fun." - Christian Prozak, Exquisite Corpse

  • "(I)t is in this rampant indeterminacy that the book becomes an act less of cultural provocation (certainly to name your book Babyfucker is also to say, "Yes, I have written a book called Babyfucker -- and what of it ?") than a raking of the ashes of the novel -- what Beckett left us of the novel -- until they again give off heat. Here one finds a text both revolting and comforting -- comforting because, god help us, Allemann demonstrates that literature can always be made, even if you need to fuck a few babies to get the job done." - Jeremy M. Davies, Review of Contemporary Fiction

  • "Es ist ein literarischer Satz und nicht etwa das Geständnis einer realen Tat. Und in die Literatur paßt, zu ihrer Tradition gehört, daß sie Monstren gebiert, sich in Verbrecher einfühlt, die dunkelsten Seiten der Psyche auslotet. (...) Der Text ist ekelhaft, wird als ekelhaft empfunden, weil er unserer Phantasie zu nahe tritt, in eines ihrer widerlichsten Schlupflöcher grell hineinleuchtet. (...) Ich gestehe, ich hätte dem Text sogar den ersten Preis, den Bachmann-Preis, gewünscht. Warum ? Einmal, weil es in Klagenfurt keinen stärkeren Text gab. (...) Allemanns Text ist als Provokation gedacht, konsequent gedacht und ebenso geschrieben. Literatur muß die Grenze, an die sie mit ihren Phantasien und Erfahrungen stößt, immer wieder suchen, sie darf nicht da stehenbleiben, wo sie schon zu Hause ist." - Hellmuth Karasek, Der Spiegel

  • "Etwas Verbissenes und Beflissenes in der Durchführung hemmt und verkrampft die Radikalität und die Spielmöglichkeiten dieses Textes. (...) Damit wird die Lektüre, wenn alle Sympathie für den Versuch, alles Interesse für die Durchführung, aller Respekt für die literarische Höhenlage sich erschöpft haben, zum guten, ob keuschen oder komischen Ende doch noch ärgerlich, und das aus strikt humorlosen, außerliterarischen Gründen. In einer Zeit, in der Empathie für Gewalttätigkeit, Unmenschlichkeit auch literarisch kaum dringend auf der Tagesordnung steht, läßt sich ein Text wie Babyficker rechtfertigen nur, wenn er die Moral seiner Ästhetik rücksichtslos durchhält. Allemann aber hat scheinbar rücksichtslos nur begonnen, um dann seinen Text mit allen nur denkbaren und immer nur halben Rückversicherungen wieder psychologisch, moralisch, literarisch zu konventionalisieren. Das macht ihn am Ende und im Rückblick so haltlos, so verwischt und, statt provokativ, sanft schmuddelig." - Reinhard Baumgart, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Babyfucker.
       Yes, that's quite a provocative title.
       About as provocative as you can get.
       Well, maybe 'Catholic Babyfucker', or 'Kitten-eating Babyfucker' could ratchet things up a notch or two further, but if provocation is what you're after, titling your book Babyfucker accomplishes that effectively and succinctly.
       Of course, readers might think the title is merely an attempt (misguided or otherwise) at eye-catching sensationalism -- like titling a book 'Mother-Fucker', or 'Fuck You' -- but the adroitly manipulative Allemann tries to dispel that notion pretty quickly, too. The first line of the book, after all, reads:

I fuck babies.
       This is not a place most readers probably want to find themselves, in the company of a narrator who begins an account by saying he fucks babies. (Of course, most potential readers probably haven't made it that far -- a glimpse of the title is probably enough to have them keep their distance; who wants to be the guy (or gal) seen in the bookstore picking up this book and mumbling, 'Hmmm, Babyfucker, that sounds interesting' ?)
       [It's worth remembering that the book was initially presented at the Ingeborg Bachmann Prize competition in 1991 -- a competition where authors read their texts aloud: Allemann had a (more or less) captive audience, and there was no escaping his baby-fucking narrator; if it had initially been presented merely as a published text it's unlikely it would have ever received much notice or achieved such notoriety -- which isn't a reflection of its literary qualities, but simply due to the fact that, well, a book titled Babyfucker just won't get anywhere without being forced into the public eye in dramatic fashion such as this. (The text was runner-up in the prestigious competition, by the way -- winning, in delicious irony, the Preis des Landes Kärnten ('Prize of the state of Carinthia' -- widely considered the most repressed and provincial of Austria's nine states), which also came with a whole lot of (state) money.)]
       To be clear, however -- and it becomes very clear very quickly in the text, too -- the baby-fucking in Babyfucker is ... well, not much of a sexual act. That would be one way of putting it. Yes, the narrator says: "I fuck babies" (and he says it a lot), but when you really get down to it ... he rarely really seems to get down to it. Sure, he describes his routine:
Reach into the swarm. Fish one out. Fuck it. Throw it back to the others.
       But he never gets more precise. Or rather: when he does, he doesn't manage to fuck those babies. He tosses -- or gently lays -- them back unfucked. Indeed, there's never anything more graphic than the claim that he "fucks" the babies -- clear enough, one might (should ?) think, and yet so vague (as presented) as to amount to little more than an abstraction -- : it's that language, that mere suggestion -- babyfucking ! -- that offers all the shock-value. Upon any closer examination the story itself looks considerably more benign.
       The narrator's baby-fucking obsession turns out to be somewhat more complicated than a literal reading of the term and his early claims would have it. Early on he states his own, more uncertain cogito ergo sum-variation:
I fuck babies. Therefore maybe I am.
       Yes, he's not even confident about this (his very existence !): he's entirely unsure of himself, and uncertain of his condition and situation. So what is part of his solution to his very fundamental existential crisis ? Resort to the most radical of answers: to fuck babies -- or at least to claim he does:
I fuck babies. That's my sentence. I don't have any other.
       That's his sentence, he repeats. In English this has a welcome double-meaning, absent from the German ("Das ist mein Satz"): a sentence being a linguistic as well as juristic unit, as Vanessa Place notes in her Afterword. And, indeed, this particular sentence feels like both: it is his mantra, and it is also his curse -- and he clings to it, desperately, in the hopes that: "Therefore maybe I am."
       Let's be clear: there's little realism to Babyfucker. The narrator claims to be living in a garret, but isn't very clear about how he manages to live here -- as, for example: "Sometimes I wonder how I relieve myself up here in my garret. Whether I still relieve myself. Piss in a bottle." etc. Around his bed there are creels, swarming with babies. He doses their milk with morphine, so: "Now they're always sleeping" (even, he notes, when he fucks them). And he suggests quite a few things are not quite what they seem -- from whatever his concept of 'fucking' is to whatever his concept of his own identity is, as for example:
I don't need a sex to fuck babies. Oh come on. I don't have a sex. Oh come on. A slight misunderstanding maybe. Mine is just different from other people's. It moves. Changes.
       It sounds -- and seems -- a lot like everything is in his head, where anything from shape-shifting genitalia to ... baby-fucking is both possible and completely abstract. So also the babies who age but don't grow -- eternal babies who don't stop growing older even when they've reached the narrator's own age, to the point where:
They don't die though. Never do. Only get older. Would crumble here and now if I fucked them. Without dying.
       But, again, he doesn't put it to the test (whether those aged babies really would crumble): he's all talk (clinging to that sentence of his) and very little action. At one point he sees himself: "Made of babies", at another that: "I'm not a baby. Never been one."
       The narrator explores his sentence -- that is both millstone and life-preserver, pulling him under yet also keeping him afloat. Late in the game he wonders:
If I just once. One single time. Instead of incessantly saying my sentence. Tried. To imagine. What my sentence says.
       Of course, what it say is: he fucks babies, a sentence so outrageous that it blinds to reason or understanding. The truth he's hiding from is obviously something he is so terrified of facing that instead he withdraws into this horrific pseudo-fantasy (pseudo because even he doesn't believe in the act itself, or see himself as capable of it -- his genitalia mutating and de-forming even as he just contemplates it). To face it head-on is beyond him.
       What his actual crisis is remains unclear. A woman is involved, Linda, as is made clear when he starts off by describing his routine:
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.
       Linda's not here: that would appear to be the crux of the problem -- hence: "I fuck babies. Linda I don't fuck." (The other guy in her life is apparently someone named Paul -- or is the narrator Paul, an identity he has now disassociated himself from ?) She's certainly also on his mind a lot, but he's clearly lost her, left wondering (and hoping ?):
Does she write me letters. Does she call me. Does she visit me. Does she try to take the babies away from me.
       (There is an obvious connection between his baby-obsession and Linda, perhaps the result of some pregnancy or child-birth trauma: his fevered imagination certainly hints at as much, without allowing him to focus on the exact details.)
       He recognizes his somewhat precarious state -- noting:
I'm babbling. O it hasn't escaped me that I'm beginning to babble.
       That's what happens when you revel in your one sentence -- and, after all: "Babbling's much easier it seems to me than fucking babies". But even constantly droning: 'I fuck babies' (as opposed to actually engaging in that activity) only gets him so far. Eventually he has to wonder:
And what if it's 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.
       A thought which, of course, does nothing to ease his existential crisis.
       He's filled with frustrations: "I tried to cry. Failed. Tried to fuck a baby." -- with failure there, too, implied. By the end even he isn't convinced by any of his words or assertions any longer:
Claim to be made of babies. Claim to fuck babies. Oh come on.
       Yes, Babyfucker is both an acute psychological portrait and exploration of the power of words. Ironically, its weakness is not the failure of its overall vision -- well-presented by Allemann -- but its timidity. Allemann provokes with a word and concept -- an unspeakable act -- but instead of driving his stake home with sledgehammer blows he doesn't do much more than prick with a(n admittedly pretty sharp) needle. Babyfucker isn't harmless -- not because of the concept of fucking babies (presented here so abstractly and so far removed from any reality that it bears no relation to the actual act), but because it does effectively burrow into a mind at its most elemental and conveys a fundamental existential Angst. But it's too bad Allemann wasn't willing to get his hands truly dirty and mine it completely unreservedly.
       This text is more Samuel Beckett than de Sade (if you want graphic fucking, of the baby- and any and all other perverted kinds, de Sade remains your man: he pretty much described it all, in every variation, and at mind- (and other organ-) numbing length). Babyfucker is not porn (and certainly not erotica); indeed, the narrator is almost entirely removed from any sort of sex -- indeed practically everything in (actual) life: his has become a tiny mind-world, and even here he tries to crush his own imagination, trying to leave only a single sentence to cling to and rebuild his life on. (For god's sake, the narrator isn't even clear about an even more fundamental physical act, about whether (or how) he goes to the bathroom any longer.) The narrator is so overwrought that he tries to reduce any sense of self to the single sentence that he futilely repeats: I fuck babies -- while Allemann also allows him to still try to reason (rather than, for example, fuck) his way out of his existential crisis.
       Rhetorically, this is an impressive performance, from the clipped sentences to the question-mark-less questions -- questions turned into statements, because the narrator does not dare actually ask anything, too scared of the answers. Nicely presented in a bilingual edition that has the German text facing the (very good) English translation, and with a helpful Introduction as well as an Afterword , Babyfucker is -- if one can move beyond that initial reaction of disgust at the very idea -- a significant and largely successful literary experiment.
       Yes, Babyfucker may be a book that one is reluctant to pick up because of that very off-putting title, but it is a text worth engaging with. Allemann does something interesting here -- not in the sensational-pornographic sense (definitely not ...), but in the (im)purely literary sense. And he does it well.

- M.A.Orthofer, 24 January 2011

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Links:

Babyfucker: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of German-language literature
  • See Index of Bilingual editions under review

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About the Author:

       Swiss author Urs Allemann was born in 1948.

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© 2011-2012 the complete review

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