Disgusting Desire: Urs Allemann’s Babyfucker
Babyfucker is gross.
As in, just looking at the cover – the word “babyfucker” swamped in bright yellow– reminds me of puke. It makes me want to puke.
The word: it makes me screw up my forehead, my mouth automatically opens – to remove the bad taste, or maybe in preparation for vomit, or maybe just to exhale all that nastiness, throw it out of me, literally – the word makes me drop the book, or, get it as far away from me as possible, toss it, throw it, make it go away.
I am so grossed out.
In Yuck!: The Nature and Moral Significance of Disgust, Daniel Kelly explains my response:
“Behaviorally, disgust produces an immediate aversive or withdrawal response, wherein the disgusted person attempts to distance herself from the offending entity. This rejection need not always manifest as moving away, however, but can often result in motivation to get rid of the offending entity in some other way. The associated facial expression of disgust is known as the ‘gape face.’ It is characterized by the nose wrinkle, extrusion of the tongue and expelling motion of the mouth, and wrinkled upper brow. The gape face mimics the facial movements that precede or accompany actual retching” (16).And this response is exactly what the book wants.
It is impossible to separate Babyfucker from disgust theory. The book wants the reader to be disgusted. The words evoke disgust. The content evokes even more disgust. It goes against everything we think or know as moral. To fuck a baby is worse than murder.
And the narrator fucks hundreds of babies. Or, maybe he fucks hundreds of babies. He says he fucks hundreds of babies, but what he says is questionable, unreliable, he cannot be trusted.
Disgust is unique though. It doesn’t work the way most emotions do. It moves beyond mere affect programming. When feeling disgust, we not only have an automatic physical reaction, the offensiveness is sustained.
It stays with us. We are reminded of it. We cannot let it go. It clings.
Allemann, page one, sentence one: I fuck babies.
Allemann, last page, last sentence: Say nothing. Open Wide.
Allemann taunts us. Not only does what he writes offend and disgust, but he does not relent. He demands our sustained disgust. With every sentence, it is renewed.
And yet, does it work? Do we believe it?
Yes, it is disgusting, and all our mores tell us that fucking babies is wrong, but somewhere within this narrative, we question what we are told. We must put our disgust on hold. We are forced to.
Otherwise, we could not continue.
And then Kelly explains how one core component of disgust is contamination sensitivity. That is, we don’t want whatever disgusting thing near us to contaminate us with its, well, yuckiness.
Imagine children. Imagine being a child. Imagine the fear of cooties. That’s contamination sensitivity. We don’t want someone else’s cooties touching us, or else, we will be contaminated and there’s no hope once you’ve got it. You’re fucked.
But we’re not children anymore. We know better.
And yet, I challenge you to take Babyfucker out with you. Put it on your table at a café. Show people you are reading it. They will move further away.
Once, before I’d read any disgust theory, I took Babyfucker on a plane with me. The woman next to me – a middle-aged moral lady, with her prim hair and layered make-up and gaudy pearls, her immaculate morality visible through her judgment of me: ick, an Asian sitting next to her on a plane, lordy, what has this world come to?, plus I probably smelled bad from a long day’s travel, disgusting, and then, jesus, I pull out this pretty pastel little book, it looks so sweet, and on the cover, in bold unapologetic letters: babyfucker. The woman recoils. She actually moves her body further away. Airplane seats are modest in size. Good thing she wasn’t very big.
But that was fun, see? So I started taking it out with me more. I took it to parties. (Ok, that’s an exaggeration. I took it to one party, where I lent it to a friend, and the whole exchange was fairly inconspicuous.) I took it to coffee shops and parks. I would place it at the very top of my stack, forcing curious passersby to see the cover, read the word, and every time, their faces changed. They elicited the “gape face.” Then, they placed that judgment right onto me. Who would read that kind of book? Who would read that kind of book in public?
They want to get away from it, lest I contaminate them with this thing that has contaminated me.
Before we even open the book, to simply look at the cover, we are disgusted – disgusted past the point of endurance. We open the cover, we read the first line, and we are even further disgusted. It is possible that the first line – I fuck babies – pushes us to the limits of our disgust. And Allemann continues, forges on, pushes us further and further, so far, in fact, that we must believe he is not telling the truth. The consequences of his honesty are unfathomable.
Imagine: hundreds of babies in cribs and he picks one up and feeds it whiskey and fucks it.
Imagine: a grown man putting his hard dick into a baby’s mouth.
Imagine: a grown man putting his hard dick into a baby’s cunt.
Imagine: a grown man putting his hard dick into a baby’s asshole. It’s just a baby.
No, not a singular baby. Hundreds of them.
Disgust is a far more complex emotion than sadness or happiness or whatever else. We can’t control our disgust towards things, our automatic responses, with disgust, we become automatons, mechanical, controlled.
But see, Allemann is just playing with us. It’s all intentional. He wants us to be disgusted. He wants that response, and the worst part about it: it’s involuntary. We are hard-wired to respond to disgust this way.
What is striking, however, is that Allemann somehow compels his readers – or, me, at the very least – to forge on, to turn the cover and begin and continue and continue and finish. Because we are compelled. He has us under some kind of spell, surely. How does he do it? How does he make us ignore what our physiology warns us against? Well, it’s magic. It must be. That, or disgust – in that extreme dosage – becomes pleasurable, and Allemann has turned us all – in 125 delicate pages – into masochists.
LILY HOANG is the author of the books Unfinished, The Evolutionary Revolution, Changing (recipient of a PEN Beyond Margins Award), and Parabola (winner of the 2006 Chiasmus Press Un-Doing the Novel Contest). She serves as an Associate Editor at Starcherone Books, Editor at Tarpaulin Sky, and Prose Editor at Puerto del Sol. She teaches in the MFA program at New Mexico State University. With Blake Butler, she co-edited the anthology 30 under 30.