Congressional Target Will "Turn Into A Woman" At UB This Month

Release Date: April 9, 1997 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Doug Rice, author of some of the most daring and playful fiction in contemporary American literature, will present a reading and multi-video performance of his work -- in which he says he "will turn into a woman" on-stage -- at the University at Buffalo this month.

His performance, which incorporates a reading and presentations on three video screens, will be titled "On Eating Blood: And Becoming Flesh." It will take place at 4 p.m. on Thursday, April 17, in the Screening Room of the Center for the Arts on the North (Amherst) Campus.

The event, which is free and open to the public, will be sponsored by Sub-Board I, Inc.; the Melodia Jones Chair in Modern Languages and Literatures (Raymond Federman), and the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures.

Rice, an assistant professor at Kent State University, has become the recent target of congressional criticism because of allegations that his work, an exploration of gender-shifting through language, is funded by the National Endowment for the Arts and offers proof that funding should be ended for the NEA. The Black Ice Collective, which publishes his work, denies claims that Rice's lively, controversial publications are funded thought its NEA grant.

A married father of two young children with another on the way, Rice, the Ohio family man, seems an unlikely subject of congressional outrage. Nevertheless, his situation underscores how artists -- who by definition work the cultural margins -- pose a danger to mainstream conceptions of reality.

The whole thing is nuts, Rice said. "We need the NEA. Without the NEA I'd never have read Ray Federman."

Raymond Federman, SUNY Distinguished Professor of English and Melodia Jones Chair in French at UB, is widely regarded as one of America's leading writers of experimental fiction.

Although he's spent years in the academic trenches, Rice is a relatively new published writer whose recent novel, a gender-bender titled "Blood of Mugwump: A Tiresian Tale of Incest," has been described as an "incestuous smear of genderlessness and hormonal confusion."

Rice agrees. "God forced me to write this book.," he said. "And I say this without any sort of hip postmodern, avant pop, ironic pose." As a matter of fact, Rice said he almost became a Catholic priest.

"Mugwump" offers a witty narrative, fluid in form and engaging to read considering that the author tends to liken human activity to the movement of sludge or the flow of mucous. Things and people flow in and out of one another and morph playfully, weirdly, dangerously, in a lyrical and carefully observed dance that sometimes turns cryptic, sometimes poetic, sometimes into a high-modern raunch romp.

In his Mugwump world, boys have female genitalia and girls have male genitalia and characters seem to be universally caught up in a wide variety of physical and mental abuse. If misery, giggling, self-examination and utter queerness describe the human condition, they have come to full flower in Rice's prose. It brings Joycean style together with Duchamps' Dadaist sensibilities for a giddy ride into the fun house of the gendered self.

Rice describes his own work as "words on top of flesh on top of words until you end up writing the anti-logos." Instead of being an act that produces "meaning," reading becomes a creative act as your own meanings, references, memory-links kick in, set off by the author's references.

His work, he explains, operates against the notion of "reason" as the controlling principal of the universe. "Reason-as-order," born of the Greek Platonism and with us ever since, is held by Rice to be one of Western culture's most fondly-held conceits.

"My book is written in language that speaks not out of "reason" but out of the silence of desire," he said. "I don't know how anyone can say 'I am male' or 'I am female' without acknowledging the flux we all experience between these two culturally defined poles -- that is, if we aren't completely denying our erotic and physical desires."

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