Cyber-Psychos AOD ($5)
by Emily Streight
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.
Rain Taxi Online Edition, Spring 1999 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 1999