Doug Rice – Bleed into life: menstruation is the origin of language; men have cunts, and women have cocks, bodies are as unstable as words

Doug Rice, Blood of Mugwump: A Tiresian Tale of Incest (Fiction Collective 2; 1996)

«The blood of the Mugwump clan of Catholic, gender-shifting vampires has become infected by decadent words and confused memories. (Not to mention the grey and muddy bodies that have washed ashore and that the Mugwumps have eaten.) Quirky flesh and cryptic desires created by a mysterious looking-glass (that refuses to reflect reality) have driven the Mugwumps beyond the thunderdome into their own house of incest. Now, trapped inside a kinetic body that is always changing from male to female, Doug Rice (the youngest Mugwump) sets out to discover himself in his sister's body. All the while, the familial matriarch - Grandma Mugwump (a woman who once-upon-a-time really was a man) - feeds on the flesh of young Doug. Once through the looking-glass, Doug realizes that Caddie (a polysexual Faulknerian nightmare of a sister) is more terrifying and holy than your average saint. A frenzied sexual virus, genetically conveyed, mutates and possesses the meat of Doug's and Caddie's bodies forcing them to love each other in unspeakable, yet classical, ways. Rice's parasitical language is akin to the acts of those naked 18th-century pirates of desire. None of this autobiographical fragment is in Rice's original words. In Blood of Mugwump Rice cannibalizes the likes of Joyce, Faulkner, Burroughs, Eliot, and a whole host of dead angelic others.»

«BLOOD."In bed under Caddie touching me, our lips parted, spitting blood. I began happening out of nowhere. This was the beginning of bleeding. Straight into Caddie. You will not die from bleeding. I am not among the dead. My sister's breath strange and unsettling. You will bleed into life, not into death. Caddie exhausting her body into me. And between my thighs I felt the making of language." This is Doug Rice, in his 1996 novel Blood of Mugwump. The book might be called a romance about three generations of transsexual vampires. But that makes it seem more linear than it actually is. Nothing in this novel is quite solid. Everything oozes and runs, in a viscous flow. The book is filled with mud, blood, and saliva. These are dense, gooey substances, thicker than water. They congeal, time and again, into flesh and into language. But they never maintain any one shape for very long. They are always bleeding into new configurations. The novel is a flux of words, meeting a flux of bodies. Rice's gorgeous prose stutters and sings by turns. Words cascade in syncopated rhythms. Pronouns shift in gender, person, and number. Sentences break into fragments. Phrases proliferate in kaleidoscopic patterns. Echoes of other texts (by Faulkner, Joyce, Eliot, and Burroughs) resound from page to page. Utterances arise deep in the body: in the throat, the belly, the cunt. Language is intensely carnal. This gets in the way of meaning. As Doug says of Caddie, "she had always had trouble with sentences, running sense over the tops of things... Scattering frozen syllables, lost, on the floor, words were arrested, made to suffer on her tongue." The word becomes flesh, and suffers a kind of Passion. Cosmic confusion ensues. There's no way to distinguish between the genders. Men have cunts, and women have cocks. Bodies are as unstable as words. You can't even tell where one ends and the other begins. Doug and Caddie twist in an eternal dance. She is his sister. But she is also his father. Or else she is his drag persona. Or else he is hers. She is so close, as to suffocate him with her presence. Yet she always manages to evade his touch and his glance. No wonder Doug has no sense of himself. Caddie fucks him senseless. She turns him into a woman, and back into a man. There is no end to these transformations. The novel is full of tales of gender confusion. Doug as a child is seduced by the older girl next door. Doug as an adult is arrested for dressing as a woman. Poppy Torgov, Doug's grandfather, appears as a bearded lady at the County Fair. Grandma Mugwump, Doug's grandmother, is born male. She becomes a woman by devouring female flesh. She recalls when Poppy Torgov told her "how I could become a woman again and my cock getting hard just thinking about it." These delirious stories never add up to a plot that you can follow. The book is like a labyrinth with no exits. Time flows backward. Events precede their causes. Caddie talks and talks, "breeding her own ancestors out of the river stories" that she tells. The past is not recovered by this method. Rather, even the present moment turns into a story. It becomes distant and unreal, already drowned in the past. It seems to Doug "as if the past had taken Caddie over the edge into some sort of abyss." But Grandma Mugwump is that abyss, in person. Her monstrous figure is the focus of every story. She spends the entire novel lying sick in bed, endlessly speaking, endlessly dying. Doug and Caddie explore her reeking flesh. They crawl in "the craters on her belly." They unravel the dizzying folds of her cunt. They watch her eyes glow in the dark while she sleeps. They lose themselves in the vast recesses of her bed, and need help to find their way out again. Through all this, Doug learns what it means to be a girl. A cunt is barely visible from the outside. But it contains volumes, and it can swallow up the world. "What do you see?" is the urgent question that Caddie keeps asking Doug. "Tell me what you see." All he can answer at first is: "nothing there." For you can't just look at a cunt. You have to touch it and feel it. You have to discover it in your own body. The pain of bleeding finally teaches Doug that yes, something is there. It's all a matter, Caddie explains to him, of "the control of blood." Menstruation is the origin of language. Words and blood alike gush from between the thighs. And that is why Doug "will bleed into life, not into death." He's bound to this flesh, whether he likes it or not.» - Steven Shaviro

«I first met Doug Rice, author of Blood of Mugwump, back in the late 1970s while we were students at Slippery Rock State College. He was an athlete, English major with odd fetishes that I found frightening but also attractive. In those years, Doug taught me how to live, how to be myself. He also introduced me to some books that, as he used to say, are filled "with lightening and thunder." Some of MUGWUMP takes place during those old crime-filled days at the Rock. Some of the characters I knew, I remember. I called Doug Thursday after reading about the recent attack leveled against MUGWUMP and FC2 in the New York Times. I want to "unpack" (as Doug would say Said would say Gramsci would say) part of my bias. I know Doug and have been intimate with him in a number of ways.
Why did you write Blood of Mugwump?
- I had no choice in the matter. In a very real way, God forced me to write this book. And I say this without any sort of hip post-modern, avant pop, ironic pose.
What exactly do you mean by that?
- First, let me say that I am, and have always been, a very religious person. I even was about to join the priesthood but I think the call of desire interrupted the shouts in the street. And, I insist that the book itself is a very religious book. Ray (Federman) and Larry (McCaffery) were both struck by the religious aspects of my work after I gave a performance at UB last April. A nun attending a reading I gave at a bookstore came up to me and said that she had never heard that word used so poetically. She didn't clarify which word that word was even when I pushed her a bit. All through MUGWUMP, characters are baffled by religion. That is, except Grandma Mugwump who frightens God because of the fluidity of Mugwump Body.
Personally, I feel that God made my flesh schizophrenic, gave me a virus at birth that I have been living with ever since. There have been mornings when I have gotten up and have forgotten, instead of remembering. Those kafkesque mornings are rather painful moments of impossibility. I have been forced to live inside the body of infancy, to live inside lacking. At a very early age, barbed wire was placed in my mouth to prevent me from speaking or to only enable me to speak through bleeding lips. Living inside this silence hasn't been easy. And writing this book in this specific language was not easy. I first attempted to write this book about 14 years ago while I was a graduate student studying with John C. Gardner (author of GRENDEL, etc). I tried writing Mugwump in the style of 19th century realism but all I could do was stutter. I needed to discover a language, not words but their uninterrupted flow and then I needed to be able to translate that flow into rational speech. Originally, the subtitle of MUGWUMP laid claim to this book as an autobiography because I believe I am attempting to discover my identity and because I think it is important to explore nomadic philosophies by writing within the nomadic existence of confused, indeterminate discourses. My autobiography can be nothing but a scripting of the body through and inside language, desire...books I have read, films I have seen, music, people I have slept with, clothes I have word (interesting typo?...worn). I guess you could say that I have been trying to cure my body through a plunge into language ever since I was a young boy/girl.
A plunge into language?
- Yeah, I fell. Tower of Babel and all that. Much of Mugwump is written in Cunt, which to me is the place where language confronts the meat of the body. Everyone today wants to write "about" the body. That's silly. I think it is more important to write the body. To somehow get inside that moment in Kafka's story of the penal colony when the prisoner is about to recognize his guilt through the inscription of the writing machine but just at that moment the machinery breaks down. I want to fix that machine. I love that machine. The pain of being inscribed and then coming to know your actions through language on the body. That is one of the reasons that I enjoy sleeping with Post-Structuralists. There's something rather precious about exchanging words in bed with a Post-Structuralist. Saying "ouch", for example, takes on a whole new feeling, not meaning.
There are certain risks, obviously, in me saying through my characters: "I am cunt." But by saying so I am not laying claim to speaking as a woman or for women or of women. No, that's just not it. There are no real women in Mugwump. (There are, however, reel women.) They're all men. Their bodies keep running away from them so they need to discover ways out of and into their bodies through speech. I'm telling you, it's not that easy to just keep on talking in the same old routine of language when your body keeps changing. Such a regimented way for speaking your way into flesh. I'm guessing that if I woke up tomorrow morning and my peepee (French for that which fills the Lacanian lack) was gone, MIA, I'm guessing that I'm going to do a lot of stuttering. I'm not going to simply look in the mirror and say, "Oh, I get it. I'm a woman?" What about memory? What about flesh? A woman once threw a chapter of Mugwump at me in disgust and said she didn't understand why men (and here she named Henry Miller, D.H.Lawrence, and some others), why male authors think they can speak "as women". I actually agree with her. But it also reveals the lack of care she put into reading my chapter because it was a chapter that forced Doug to face his new body, inside the hiccup of metamorphosis, without speech. And his lips (two lips) were speaking against each other.
Remember the story about Heraclitus depositing a book in the temple of Artemis? Some people claimed that Heraclitus and here I'll quote the story, "deliberately wrote [the book] in an obscure language so only those capable of reading it would approach it, and not in a lighter tone, which would expose him to the contempt of the crowd." Heraclitus himself said: "Why do you want to drag me here and there, you illiterates? I did not write for you, but for those who can understand me. One person to me is worth a hundred thousand; and the mob, nothing." I guess Mugwump has been thrown open by some savant monkeys who need something to talk about. The threat that Mugwump poses, I think, is that there are many different ports of entry into the narrative routines. That is, some English professor desperately needing something to write "about" in quest of tenure will discover that MUGWUMP is filled with pirated voices, plagiarized histories. Such a person could go on and on about the parallel between Doug's battle with his sister Caddie and Grendel's epic battle against Beowulf. Or suddenly, inside Mugwump's narrative, Joyce interrupts Faulkner on the way to engaging Billy Idol. (Well, that Prof. will probably ignore the Idol allusion.) A younger reader may rifle through the different desires that are explored in the book. Perhaps luxuriate in mastering the sexuality in MUGWUMP. The narrative texture of MUGWUMP invites such dissonant acts of reading.
Who has influenced you?
- James Joyce. Homer. William Faulkner. Marcel Duchamp. T.S. Eliot. The voice of William Burroughs. Cronenberg.
All men?
- Yeah, all men. Well you know Duchamp wasn't sure. But philosophically I am more influenced by women. There's a chapter in MUGWUMP that transforms the writing of Kristeva and Irigaray into body.
Earlier you spoke of curing yourself through language. Since your book explores sexes that keep changing; in fact, Doug Rice (the one in the book) keeps going back and forth between sexes, having sex with both men and women, have you ever thought of curing yourself by having a sex change?
- I've already done that. I used to be a woman or so I have been told.
Oh, that's right. I do remember sleeping with you that one time when you were a woman. Do you remember me?
- Yeah, I think I do. Let me just say that right now I am not a woman trapped inside a man's body. I also do not believe that sex changes do anything. I spent a lot of my life (and still spend much of my life) thinking about this, wondering if I should get a sex change. But I think God is more complex and funnier than this and that the virus he shot into my body is philosophically more interesting than simply chopping and gluing a body together. The sex change does not cure so much as it masks the disturbance in the field of the body. All these images that our culture gives us of cross dressing and transgender are all safe. They have been sanctified and purified by the powers that be. RuPaul, Boy George (who cross dresses in a much more interesting way now), even the radical images coming to the public from other sites of desires are safe because it allows people in America to create a distance between "them" and "us". (Here, of course, them is the general American. There really is no "us".) The bigger threat is the man, like myself, with a family and so on, who takes his own instability seriously. I could be, in fact, I am, the boy/girl next door. Married with children. That may worry some people.
What, then, becomes the role of the NEA in all of this?
- The easy answer is that Rep. Hoekstra does not know how to read or think. He, for example, misrepresents "On Eating Blood and On being a Girl". He says that the chapter depicts a scene in which a brother-sister team rape their younger sister. Perhaps he is confusing my book with something else he saw or read recently. I don't know. I do know my first chapter investigates the instability of Doug Rice's flesh as it is exposed in mirrors and through languages...languages that have been torn from their historical anchors and made hysterical by new desires. Does he know where the name Caddie has been stolen from? Obviously, like many Americans, Rep. Hoekstra does not know history or does not (or is unable to) think historically. In an ahistorical world where literacy is defined by whether or not someone can watch television and then shop at the mall without getting too lost, in that world perhaps some of the words exorcised from language become pornographic. What exactly is Rep. Hoekstra "looking for" when he reads. Has he read Faulkner (especially, The Sound and the Fury, Sanctuary, Wild Palms...)? Maybe he only read the Cliff Notes. Or some sort of university-induced sanitized Faulkner. Read page 152 of the Viking International edition of Faulkner's FURY. I've just photocopied that page and then added some new words that I had heard or read somewhere else. I am amazed that the corpriright (or is it copyright) police aren't knocking on my door. Bloody whores. Of course, Faulkner was not funded by the NEA.
What this Senate subcommittee action does is highlights some very odd moments in my book. It destroys the humor of the book, the pain of the book, the literary heritage embedded in the pages of the book. If anyone reads my book for prurient interests, they will be sadly disappointed. And I agree. The NEA should not fund books that are written merely for the prurient interests of people like Rep. Hoekstra, or for anyone else. I also do not respect writers who simply write for the sake of transgressing boundaries of acceptable tastes that have been arbitrarily created in the first place. Discipline and punish. You know, Susan Sontag has already spoken to this matter of "shock." Any writer who writes just in order to say something filthy or provocative or to offend the bourgoise is downright silly in a non-Monty Pythonesque way. I did not intend to offend people. Parts of MUGWUMP disturb me. One section I wrote disturbed me so much that I called my lover, B2, and read the passage to B2 in order to purge myself of it and hoping that B2 would tell me to throw it away, but B2 just listened in silence before beginning to talk about the poetry of the language and the power of the image. I know I am working, I know I am laboring, when I write something that makes me uneasy. But to isolate words or images and tear them out of their contexts...Well, we have had that discussion already, haven't we?
Continued funding of the NEA is absolutely important. The NEA has benefitted FC2 in many ways. Most importantly, without the NEA I probably would never have had the opportunity to read Ray Federman. As an undergraduate at Slippery Rock State College, I spent Saturdays in library randomly pulling novels off the shelves and reading them. I read an NEA funded Federman book and that incredible voice in the closet of Federman made me in an important way want to write (not BE a writer, but write, find a voice). Now, I read Federman to my kids. I read his books to the womb of my wife because I want my kids to sing. You find a voice more pained and beautiful than Federman's then send me email at Rice@Salem.Kent.edu. Thank you to the NEA for allowing Federman to sing. I only hope someone, somewhere hears my voice. And if someone inadvertently picks up my book instead of one by Anne Rice then just ever so gently close the book, turn the television back on, go to the mall. But close the book. Don't let the virus out. Close down the mind and charge to the mall. Breathe deeply the hum of capitalism that will protect you from the NEA.» - Interview with Violet (at http://www.altx.com/int2/rice.html)
Doug Rice, Skin Prayer (Eraserhead Press, 2002)

«Skin Prayer is a collection of short fictions and autobiographic fragments that explore a young boy's gender identities and his fantasies of sexuality in relation to his family and Catholicism. He seeks a deeper understanding of his own body that he fears slips away from him in different social, personal, and political contexts. His desires are fluid and he stutters with each encounter as he begins to learn a new way of being in the world.»

«Doug Rice is haunted-by what we can only guess. He is trapped; he goes nowhere. He is a modern day hysteric, a psychoanalyst's dream. He writes the same thing over and over, runs the same spinning track, as if somehow, through the repetition of extremes, he could eliminate the trauma, break its foul-smelling, icy-fingered spell. Only it is a spell of beauty - the beauty that comes from devastation, from the constant struggle to rise again in that roaring fire's shouldered wake. You will find no plot or answers here, only the unbearable loss of abandonment and grief. Make no mistake: Doug Rice kills us again and again and he does not want us to survive it, for he has been burned at the stake and is burning still. He is a ghost who can do nothing but plead with his bones and remind us with the choking beauty ghosts bring. Despite his pleas, you will not like him. You will not like him, and yet . . .Skin Prayer is the power of redemption in the word when life has failed us. It has no inside or outside, it is only itself. It is the self-enclosed, hermetic world of obsessive need, a space where one can't breath. And yet it is breath. In its own suffocated space, if we survive it, or are patient enough not to throw it aside, it gives us insufferable hope.»
Doug Rice, A Good CuntBoy Is Hard To Find (Jasmine Sailing, 1998)

«[T]hese short stories and poems run sexual identity through the blender-blades of a burnished dark language.» - Asimov's Science Fiction

«With his last book, a delicious obscenity called Blood of Mugwump: A Tiresian Tale of Incest, Doug Rice inadvertently became the poster-boy for writers who use dirty words; the book's publisher had received NEA funding, which prompted certain U.S. senators to decry arts funding as loudly as possible. This latest work, a collection of texts that reprise and extend the themes and techniques of Mugwump, would no doubt further enrage the pundits of morality had government money gotten anywhere near it. Instead, published by a small press on the fringes of the commercial world, it's more likely to languish in obscurity.
Which would be a shame. What has been truly obscured by the NEA controversy is the quality of Rice's writing. A Good Cuntboy Is Hard to Find is not easy reading. But neither is it shock for shock's sake. Here, as in his previous book, Rice undertakes the formidable project of re-situating literary history within a transgressive landscape, of quoting our esteemed forebears with an addled tongue. As such, his work circumscribes the boundary of postmodernism, even as it circumcises words to do it. In Mugwump Rice split the difference between Burroughs, Faulkner, and Greek tragedy, demonstrating the endless permutability of the trope of incest in their work. Here, in these scattered yet remarkably cohesive short narratives, Faulkner is again a primary presence, yet Whitman, Cervantes, and Proust are also dis(re)membered and reinvented--and though it's indeed hard to do, Rice finds them good cuntboys all.
Yet the virus Rice injects into the set of writings we call "literature" is only half the story here. In the vein of hard-hitting French theorists (Deleuze, Bataille, etc.) and American transgressive precursors (especially Burroughs and Kathy Acker, but also Raymond Federman, Clint Eastwood, and Courtney Love), Rice manipulates language to an extreme degree, as he says he will in "Teethmarks: Memory Skin": "I'm going to write. Write words everywhere, not say them but actually put them here and there. For the seeing. You see this writing? Not my tongue in your cunt speaking, but the real words--uncontrolled and raining." The signifiers of sex and autobiography are the most at risk in Rice's prose, constantly shifting, exploring the metaphysics of self through hallucinatory logic: "I believed in my mommie's cunt . . . I, an impossible virgin, her son, touched my mother's lips. Thinking thoughts of being I, her daughter, my sister to my cock" (from "The Making of Dougie's Cunt"). Such metaphysics are perhaps expressed most simply in the closing line of the book's first text, "Broken Tongue" - "I want God to see me"; the willful and sustained transformation, through writing, of "Doug Rice" into "cunt" is an attempt to satisfy this anguished desire.
The biography page at the back of the book tells us that Rice has a wife and three kids, and offers a snapshot of a bespectacled, mild-mannered English professor; it is perhaps the most transgressive moment in the whole book. While his writing may sometimes seem lost in its own, complex, incestuously sexed labyrinth, Rice always challenges the reader to keep up--to reimagine the parameters of fictive discourse. And this, after all, is one of the great tasks of literature.» - Emily Streight

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