Interviews

April 15, 2011      

An Interview With Doug Rice by David Hoenigman

Doug Rice

Doug Rice’s newest work is Between Appear and Disappear, a hybrid text of photographs, poetry, fiction, memoir and philosophy being published by Jaded Ibis Productions (February 2012). Dream Memoirs of a Fabulist, another hybrid text of memoir, gender theory, aphorisms and photographs, is being published by Copilot Press (July 2011). His first novel, Blood of Mugwump: A Tiresian Tale of Incest, was published by Fiction Collective 2 and was selected as runner-up for the FC2 First Novel Award, judged by Kathy Acker. He has also published two collections of short fictions A Good Cuntboy is Hard to Find and Skin Prayer: fragments of abject memory. He was one of the co-editors for Federman: A to X-X-X-X. His work has been translated into Polish, French and Spanish. He is founder and director of Nobodaddies Press.

His work has also appeared in numerous anthologies and journals including Discourse, Avant-Pop: Fiction for a Daydream Nation, Gargoyle, Zyzzyva, Kiss the Sky, Alice Redux, Fiction International, Journal of Experimental Literature and Plazm.

He has just been awarded an arts residency at Akademie Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart. He teaches literary and film theory and history and creative writing at Sacramento State University.

What projects are you currently working on?

I am writing a new novel, a traditional novel. My old teacher John Gardner will finally be proud of me. These are stories from the streets and steel mills of Pittsburgh, my home, my flesh. I am writing this book because one day I simply saw an image of two men standing on my grandmother’s porch, drinking beer and talking. A nervous woman pacing around in the house. And a child, a missing child. So I am writing this novel in order to find out what happened to that child. And each characters’ voice is filled with so much history, so much Pittsburgh. I am writing this book in Pittsburgh, not English.

And I am working on a grammar handbook for rivers. I am trying to understand something about time (fueled by the Sufi philosophies and the flow of the South Fork of the American River) and the sentence as written in water. So I am playing with the grammar and syntax of rivers.

And desire. Longing and stillness. My partner and I are working on this through photography and texts. She is cutting into time with her camera. We are mingling our perceptions. I am not sure where this may go.

When and why did you begin writing?

You mean putting a pen on a piece of paper or do you mean listening? I mean really listening the way a child tends to his playing. I listened to my maternal grandma ever since I was a young boy. Her stories fascinated me because they just wandered around, ignoring all sense of the sentence and of stopping. That beautiful woman taught me more about exploding sentences and narratives than Faulkner did. She just did it in the telling. So I guess I started remembering when she started telling me these stories and that started me writing. And I just kept getting them all wrong. So I started young because I was painfully bored by what capitalism offered up by ways of storytelling and my grandma could tell a story in ways that fascinated me.

Later, Kathy Acker and I used to talk about why we started telling stories and it always came down to the simple desire to entertain ourselves.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

I never considered myself a writer and I do not consider myself a writer. That is a noun, a finished persona. I write. So when I am writing a sentence, I guess I am a writer. This may sound silly but it matters to me. There are bunches walking around with all kinds of certificates and degrees that certify they are writers. They go to universities and someone bestows the label “writer” on them. Maybe instead of diplomas that say they are writers, we should give them tattoos when they complete their programming. That way any time they are in a coffeehouse they can always roll up their sleeves (if they know how to do this) and say: “See, I’m a writer.” Remember that scene in Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch when William Lee is crossing the border and the border patrol asks him his profession and he says: “I’m a writer.” And he reaches in his pocket and pulls out a pen and says: “See. I have a writing utensil.” They ask him to prove it. “Write something.” That makes sense to me.

What inspired you to write your first book?

Confusion. Uncertainty. Unknowing. Fear. More than anything what inspires me to write anything is the fear that if I do not write these stories they will not be written, they will simply disappear. People will be erased. Springsteen discusses this when he talks about writing all those stories about people from Jersey. All those working class people. When I submitted my writing to my undergraduate creative writing teachers, I was told: “Why are you writing about these kinds of people? No one cares about them.” I told my teachers I cared and that that was enough. Back then I was writing the stories that would form the heart of Blood of Mugwump. There were stories of gender confusion and sexualities that were more complex than the categories we have available. So I was exploring bodies and characters with desires that unnerved language and narrative. It was in part out of my own confusion about sexual identity and memory. The relationship between memory and body.

But also think of this notion of being inspired. I work so I really do not have time to be inspired in some sort of Romantic way.

Who or what has influenced your writing?

What doesn’t? Who doesn’t? Growing up storytelling on the very local level—in the family. I think the dinner table is where most writers are deeply influenced in terms of narrative structure and rhythms. So much has influenced me that this list would be long, very long. Those influences that are most central to my writing I am unaware of. Others have pointed them out to me and once they are pointed out I think oh, I see that now but I did not see or experience the influence while I was writing. Still whatever we put into ourselves is bound to influence. Certainly Faulkner, Irigaray, Cixous, Wideman, Springsteen, Derrida, Toufic, Godard, Sally Potter, Derek Jarman, Francesca Woodman, Lorna Simpson, Nancy Spero, Cha, Djuna Barnes, Maso, Trinh T. Minh-ha, Deleuze, Severo Sarduy

How has your environment/upbringing colored your writing?

I am Pittsburgh. Translators have commented on that because of the difficulty of translating the syntax and the diction. So the city and people of Pittsburgh are all through my writing. I think I suffer from this intense longing to be home and Pittsburgh is always home. You carry that city with you. And rivers. One of the reasons I thought I could move to Sacramento was because Sacramento, like Pittsburgh, has rivers around it. Different rivers and these rivers here, especially the south fork of the American River, has influenced the rhythms of my sentences. In Pittsburgh I rode buses everywhere because I did not have a license to drive. I only started driving a few years ago. So the shape and movement of my sentences were different when I was mostly a bus rider and a city streetwalker. Now I drive and I hike. Different movements. Different breath. From Benjamin’s/Baudelaire’s modernist flaneur to some sort of Muir/Lopez hiker.

Do you have a specific writing style?

As Deleuze has said, style emerges from the writing. And as Gass says there are no experimental writers, only writers pushed to some edge, to some precipice or up against a wall and given the alternative to be silent or to find a way to speak. So I do not have an intentional style. Everyone says I am Faulknerian but that is to simplify it and to not see Irigaray’s deep influence. So stylistically my sentences are governed by breath and sound not by grammar. I am more of a poet than a prose writer.

What genre are you most comfortable writing?

I find genres despicable in many ways—every genre from historical romance to the genre of MFA induced writing to what passes as experimental writing or hybrid writing. Any writing with that kind of intention from the outset bores me. I write with an intensity, not an intention. Joyce told Proust he writes writing. So maybe that is what I do. I know I am a prose writer. Pound told me that. I mean I do write to the margin, so I’m no poet.

My two newest books coming out soon are examples of this. Dream Memoirs of a Fabulist is being published by copilot press. In large part I did not even know it was a book. And it is not really being published, it is being collaborated. The publisher and designer, Stephanie Sauer, has infused this book with more layers of meaning by her page design. So I feel she “collaborated” the book, not published it. The book itself has words, mostly written into sentences, and photographs, mostly of dreams. None of the photographs are real. All of them reveal secrets that hide other secrets. And each sentence is a disturbance on the page. A mark. A trace. Forgotten. The writing unnerves itself. The writing wonders, wanders. Letters become litters after all. But the narrative desires to tell this true story.

The other book, Between Appear and Disappear, being published by Jaded Ibis, is not a book. It never was nor was meant to be. It is a gift. I simply started writing a gift. I did not see it as something that would be published so much as simply something that would be given as a forgetting. (I had turned and continue to turn away from publishing because of all that is going on in publishing….) But finding a publisher and a designer such as Debra Di Blasi changed that because again I see this more as a collaboration not a publication. The intimacy that Debra and Stephanie bring to my work, because I know their hands are touching my writing, I trust them. Because as much as anything else, books should be caressed while being read. Because the night…this moment of intimate perception and touch. A book should do that while whispering. Skin. Saliva. Lips. The strong tongue moving. Wanting. If a book becomes longing. I feel Debra and Stephanie make such books into desires.

So a book is a physical object in our hands and we should feel this, experience the book. Words have weight. Weigh on our tongues. A book should be experienced in more than one way and the reading experience should be visceral.

Is there a message in your work that you want readers to grasp?

You tell me. I mean my work speaks back to me, sometimes against me. I listen. I follow. The following is writing. (And all that that tries to mean.) But I do not so much know the meaning of my work. I am only seeing when I write. So readers need to learn how to see. Why do we, as a culture, think that seeing is natural, that we all know how to see? And I think my writing forces readers to slow down and learn patience. Perhaps my writing is a secret about a secret. Writers, artists, see things that others often overlook. If you see what I mean. If there is any message it is to find new ways of perception.

What book are you reading now?

I just finished re-reading Junot Diaz and some of John Gardner. Carole Maso’s Aureole and looking at Patti Smith’s photos and books of Ana Mendieta. And Gertrude Stein’s How to Write.

Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?

Peter Grandbois. His new book Nahoonkara is wonderful. I just read Rachel Gontijo Araujo’s Pornapocalipse vol. 1 and was astonished by the language, the shapes of the sentences. Renee Gladman (ok, I know she may not be new but every time I read her she is new.) Anna Joy Springer just kicks my ass. Jalal Toufic (but again probably not so much new).

Any memories of particular works: the writing of, feedback, the thought behind…etc.

I remember seeing Bunuel’s Belle de Jour and thinking he knows things the rest of us cannot even dream. I remember throwing a copy of Faulkner’s Sound and the Fury against the wall of my basement because I was too young to know that each sentence takes patience. I remember John Gardner pointing to a sentence in a story I had written and saying: “That must have been an easy sentence to write.” I remember reading Anne Carson’s Nox and thinking, thank you. I remember once (maybe twice) in the middle of writing a sentence thinking there must be some way out of here. I remember once listening to a David Lynch film (I can’t remember which one, they all appear to sound the same) then writing a poem that only a few could understand. (I was not among the few.) I remember a nun taking a special interest in me. I remember my last conversation with Kathy Acker and both of us agreeing to write happy books because we wanted to put an end once and for all to trauma. I remember one of my college creative writing professors telling me to do anything with my life but promise not to write poetry. I remember this one book that I cannot read. I remember Ron Sukenick saying to me that I could not start a novel that way. I remember thinking, “Well, that changes everything,” but I can’t remember what book I was reading, what film I was watching, what song I was listening to, or what sentence I was writing. I remember standing beside Raymond Federman in his backyard in Buffalo in the snow, stoned and pissing, and Federman saying: “This is the end of the I.” And so it goes. Take it or leave it.

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