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Urs Allemann’s Beginnings
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Urs Allemann’s Beginnings

In the past twenty years, few literary events have caused as much controversy in German-speaking Europe as the awarding of second prize (the “Ingeborg Bachmann Preis des Landes Kärnten”) in the 1991 Ingeborg Bachmann Competition to Urs Allemann’s Babyficker.1 In a list prepared for the newsmagazine Spiegel of the top forty-five scandals between 1949 and 1999, the “Allemann affair” is one of only three cultural events listed.2 The announcement of the prize sparked vehement reactions from the right and the left, ranging from a statement by Jörg Haider in a full-page newspaper advertisement to a spectacular attack, before a reading, in which a group of masked protestors covered Allemann in red oil paint as a protest against his putative aestheticization of rape and violence against children.3

For those readers unable to deduce the subject matter and the motivation of these attacks from the title, the text’s first sentence clears things up: “I fuck babies” [Ich ficke Babys]. This sentence is declared by a Beckettian voice, which continues, in the seventy-two pages that follow, to describe some of the technicalities of this act. But this voice also undercuts the text by thematizing the difficulties of the text’s composition, and it also raises the possibility that the narrator’s sentence does not refer to his activity (7). A few pages into the book, the opening sentence appears again, in a juxtaposition that reveals the philosophical stakes of Allemann’s text: “I fuck babies. Therefore I am, maybe” [Ich ficke Babys. Also bin ich vielleicht] (11). In this parody of the cogito, Allemann makes explicit the link that will be the focus of my reading: the relation between his text’s violent thematic content and a literary voice’s mode of existence. [End Page 1088]

As a starting point for my reading and to frame its theoretical claims, I would like to look briefly at some of the statements made by Allemann and his critics in the debates surrounding Babyficker. In a 2004 interview, Allemann insists that he was surprised how the text’s subject matter overshadowed its style: “I set out with the goal . . . to write about this appalling topic in a text that people would then say was a beautiful text” [Ich hatte mir vorgenommen . . . zu diesem grauenhaften Thema einen Text zu machen, von dem die Leute nachher sagen würden, es ist ein schöner Text] (Mair). He goes on to say, “Maybe it was a bit hubristic to make that kind of demand on aesthetics” [Das war vielleicht ein Stück Hybris, der Ästhetik das zuzumuten]. Maybe it was, but a number of reviewers responded just as Allemann intended, including Spiegel reviewer and Bachmann Competition jury member Hellmuth Karasek, who writes, “Allemann’s text Babyficker makes clear that the rape that occurs in it is only carried out in jest” [Allemanns Text Babyficker macht kenntlich, daß in ihm nur zum ‘Spaß’ geschändet wird] (Karasek 174).

But Karasek’s reaction fails to take account of the disturbing force of Allemann’s text. Any reader of Babyficker knows that it is no joke. The choice of content is neither arbitrary nor neutral, as one of Allemann’s critical opponents insists: “Oh, a metaphor. But coincidentally a metaphor and a sentence that describe an extreme, violent reality, a sentence that therefore is simply not available for the presentation of any other issues” [Aha, eine Metapher. Zufälligerweise aber eine Metapher, ein Satz, der eine extreme, gewalttätige Realität bezeichnet, ein Satz, der deshalb einfach nicht frei verfügbar ist zur Einkleidung irgendwelcher anderer Probleme] (Morf). It would be naïve to think that literary language could make its thematic content disappear, and Allemann is not naïve.

In a 1991 interview, Allemann offers a summary account of the critical reactions to his text:

Either my text and reality exist in a crude 1-to-1 relation, and in this case, even if I’m not an actual babyfucker, then at the very least I’m someone expressing his secret fantasies in his writing. Or, if this is not the case, then it...