Sunday, February 19, 2012

Babyfucker Blog Project: an Introduction

Babyfucker Blog Project: an Introduction
Elizabeth Hall

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.

When Babyfucker won the second prize in the 1991 Ingborg Bachmann Competition, it became one of the biggest literary scandals in recent years. Some cultural critics claimed that the book was “inexcusable” and a “sexual perversion.” Over twenty years later, those are still words associated with Allemann’s text. As such, I had to be careful when soliciting authors for the blog project—asking only those authors who I knew would not be offended by the invitation. These writers were [redacted], Lily Hoang, M. Kitchell, Jon R, JA Tyler, and Jessalyn Wakefield. Their responses represent a variety of approaches to the text from playful poems to string theory. However, as google searches are many professional authors' “second CV,” there is always the looming threat that a future employee, student, or family member will discover one’s connections with those two terrible words. “Imagine children. Imagine being a child. Imagine the fear of cooties. That’s contamination sensitivity,” Lily Hoang writes in Disgusting Desire, her response to Babyfucker. “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.” In this sense, the Babyfucker Blog Project is also an invitation for you, the reader, to be contaminated, to join the conversation.

Each day this week, a different author’s response will appear on the Les Figues blog in this order:

Monday, February 20: Jon R
Wednesday, February 22: M. Kitchell
Thursday, February 23: Lily Hoang
Friday, February 24: J.A. Tyler
Saturday, February 25: Jessalyn Wakefield

Les Figues Press is also pleased to announce that Babyfucker is now available as an e-book, which can be downloaded from amazon or itunes.

ELIZABETH HALL lives in Los Angeles where she is currently finishing her first book, I HAVE DEVOTED MY LIFE TO THE CLITORIS, a study of small things.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This novel and its composition has been seminal in my writing to date. Urs has nailed a language of trauma.