I first met Doug Rice, author of Blood of Mugwump: A Tiresian Tale of Incest, 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.
Violet: Why did you write Blood of Mugwump?
Rice: 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.
Violet: What exactly do you mean by that?
Rice: 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.
Violet: A plunge into language?
Rice: 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.
Violet: Who has influenced you?
Rice: James Joyce. Homer. William Faulkner. Marcel Duchamp. T.S. Eliot. The voice of William Burroughs. Cronenberg.
Violet: All men?
Rice: 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.
Violet: 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?
Rice: I've already done that. I used to be a woman or so I have been told.
Violet: Oh, that's right. I do remember sleeping with you that one time when you were a woman. Do you remember me?
Rice: 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.
Violet: What, then, becomes the role of the NEA in all of this?
Rice: 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.