A REVIEW OF THE CARNIVEROUS LAMB BY AGUSTIN GOMEZ-ARCOS
L'Agneau Carnivore was published by Éditions Stock in Paris in 1975, and translated from the French by William Rodarmor as The Carniverous Lamb, published by David Godine in Boston in 1984 (269 pages).
by Robert Rockwood, April 1991
The Carnivorous Lamb by Agustin Gomez-Arcos, an exiled Spanish writer whose works were banned in Spain, was originally written in French as L’Agneau Carnivore (Editions Stock, 1975), and was awarded France's Prix Hermès as the best first novel of 1975. At first glance, The Carnivorous Lamb may seem like a Swiftian burlesque satirizing brotherly love, but there is much more to it than that. Gomez-Arcos presents a radical vision of childhood sexuality that reveals the absurdity of the current anti-sex hysteria.
Set after the Spanish Civil War, The Carnivorous Lamb tells the story of two brothers who grow up to marry their childhood sweethearts - each other. Antonio, the older sibling, looks like his father, who fought against Franco and now sits under self-imposed house arrest in his study, listening to subversive programs on the radio. The narrator, Ignacio, looks like his mother, who stays cloistered in her shuttered house waiting for a cataclysm. Ignacio spends his day spying on his mother and waiting for Antonio to get home from school to officiate at their afternoon bath, “a ritual strewn with caresses, ripe with still-unnamed desires.”
When Ignacio was born, he kept his eyes tightly shut for more than two weeks. He finally opened them and they settled upon six-year-old Antonio, who had kept a daily vigil beside his cradle. His mother despises the baby, and gives him to his brother. The cradle goes into Antonio’s room, and the older boy becomes his little brother's protector and mentor. As the years go by the relationship develops. “With a lover's patience” Antonio teaches Ignacio to read and write. Eros is a pedagogical tool, Antonio believes; “what you learn in bed, you never forget.”
The grownups in the house suspect that the brothers are “too close,” but no one interferes. The maid remarks that Antonio “always comes home from school with his pants on ﬁre”; his mother, when she sees sperm stains on the sheets where Antonio and Ignacio have slept, alludes to the “smell of sulphur”; and their father says “I have an idea Tonio is sodomizing the boy.” Ironically, the children are the only sexually active people in the household. By the time Ignacio is six years old, he and 12-year-old Antonio are experimenting with pleasure like a pair of newlyweds:
Antonio gave me a taste for the most intense pleasure…. His hands tightly gripping my small waist, he would suck on my ears while I wriggled and silently screamed, begging him to stop. But he went on and on without releasing his prey, bringing me to the brink of ecstasy. Antonio panted like an animal as I moaned his name and clawed at the nape of his neck, and the room, the night, and everything disappeared in a whirlwind of uncontrollable love. We didn’t even realize when the orgasm burst out. It was a shaft of light into, clinging to my brother with my arms, my legs, my nails, my teeth. And he still wouldn’t let me go. He would fall asleep with his whole body on top of mine, instinctively knowing how to make me feel not his weight, but the power of his protection.
The Carnivorous Lamb culminates in the "family tea” in which the brothers show who is in charge. The boys are 11 and 17 years old. Antonio discovers a bruise on Ignacio’s rear end, and learns that his brother's tutor is responsible. The next day, Antonio confronts the tutor and orders Ignacio to strip naked. Pointing to Ignacio’s bruise, Antonio hits the tutor in the face, and then he and Ignacio march upstairs to their room. Their father runs out of the house while their mother attempts frantically to bandage the tutor’s wound. With their bedroom door ajar so everyone downstairs can hear if not see what is going on, the boys make love. Then they don silk bathrobes with nothing underneath and come downstairs for a family tea. Antonio spreads his legs, showing his penis, to the acute embarrassment of his mother and the tutor.
At 13, Ignacio is finally baptized and confirmed so he can enroll in public school. Antonio, serving as godfather, tells Ignacio that “You and I are all that’s real. The rest is just a joke.” Antonio, to whom Ignacio said “You are my god,” mocks and subverts the church ritual by giving it the finger:
My brother took me in his arms, and held me out to the priest like an infant. Spreading his legs to take my weight, he held my back up with his left arm, and skillfully slipped his right hand under my thighs, so his open palm was glued to my behind…
While all these rites were being performed, Antonio was gently stroking my behind, one of his fingers carefully probing my asshole. I was burning with pleasure, and a kind of ecstasy must have shone from my face, because the priest said, “My son, I can see you are beginning to believe in God. You are becoming His creature.”
My brother pressed harder with his finger. On the point of fainting, I murmured, “Yes,” which made everybody happy, each in his own way. Then Antonio set me down. Completely drained, I leaned weakly against him for a few seconds, feeling his body throbbing all over
I felt we had just carried out a heroic action, one of our very first steps in subversion, and no one could point a finger at us. It was braver and sweeter than when we embraced alone in our room, and though the cold sweat on my forehead could have meant any number of things, only my brother and I really knew why it was there.
The appearance of a visionary work like The Carnivorous Lamb suggests that, despite the current antisex hysteria fostered by the “child abuse industry,” a fundamental reorientation concerning sexual freedom is in process in some parts of the world. Like myth on the transpersonal level, or dream on the personal level, the complex symbolic structure of The Carnivorous Lamb lends itself to various interpretations. For those who champion the cause of youth liberation and sexual freedom, the novel can be read as an allegory on present-day religion and education.
Ignacio, having freely expressed his eroticism from earliest childhood, personifies the natural human sexuality that Christianity attempted to repudiate in favor of pure spirituality. This, of course, was doomed to failure, as anyone familiar with the often lavishly erotic imagery found in Catholic mystical literature can attest. Not surprisingly, Ignacio’s inner world is rich with poetic sensibility. Intellectually astute, the boy outmaneuvers adult adversaries such as the tutor and his mother’s confessor as though it were child's play. Antonio's pedagogy based on eros, versus the tutor's pedagogy based on coercion and oppression, shows what education could be, versus what it often is.
The present tendency, particularly in the US and Great Britain, to deny the existence - much less the legitimacy - of youth sexuality is one of several indicators that our society is seriously out of balance with nature. Whenever a dangerous imbalance occurs, a transpersonal, unconscious mechanism, deep in the collective psyche, begins the painful process of restoring the lost equilibrium. As always, it is the artist who comes to the rescue. Functioning like his archetypal counterpart, the tribal shaman, the artist provides the ideas that would make society whole. The creation of a work like The Carnivorous Lamb is how the necessary healing process manifests itself. The novel is a “thought experiment” with Antonio as the force that destroys society's concept of youth asexuality, and Ignacio as the reemergence of a model of humanity missing from the Western collective psyche for almost two millennia: the small child as a fully sexual being.
How did The Carnivorous lamb get its title? This, like everything else in the novel, is symbolic. As a girl, Ignacio’s mother had a white lamb that was so pretty she did not want it to grow up. Therefore, at the time of her confirmation, the lamb was slaughtered, and its skin tanned and lined with pink satin, and made into a throw rug. A foot stepping on the thick wool disappears as if devoured alive. To little Ignacio, eyeing his mother from under the furniture, her lambskin is “carnivorous”; and since he absorbs everything that touches him - including perhaps, the Lamb of God— Ignacio, too, is a carnivorous lamb.
There are increasingly many accounts of boyhood sexual love between brothers - Kevin Esser’s “Brothers in the Dark” in the Fourth Acolyte Reader (Acolyte Press, 1990), Dr. Joseph Winchester’s “Timmy” in Getting It On (Acolyte Press, 1989), and Ethan Mordden’s “Kid Stuff” in Buddies (St. Martins Press, 1986), to cite only three. But the ultimate paean to erotic brotherly love, for now and perhaps forever, is Agustin Gomez-Arcos’ The Carnivorous Lamb.
Review originally posted in the April 1991 issue of the NAMBLA Bulletin (Volume XII, No. 3) pp. 12-13.
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