Thursday, November 17, 2005


Since half of my visitors come from internet searches for Mugwump (the other half from searches for Jeff Fahey) I feel a few words on the subject are in order.

From the outset I will disregard the old meaning of mugwump, that which concerns the slang term for Republicans who deserted their party to vote for the opposition; it’s an obsolete term, one never used, and certainly has no relevance in this context.

The mugwump to which I refer is the creature brought into existence by William S. Burroughs in his amazing novel Naked Lunch. The following is an excerpt from the novel (stolen from elsewhere for convenience):

Mugwumps have no liver and nourish themselves exclusively on sweets. Thin, purple-blue lips cover a razor sharp beak of black bone with which they frequently tear each other to shreds in fights over clients. These creatures secrete an addictive fluid though their erect penises which prolongs life by slowing metabolism. (In fact all longevity agents have proved addicting in exact ratio to their effectiveness in prolonging life.)

These were given physical form through David Cronenberg’s adaptation, or rather translation, of Naked Lunch. The above picture is how they appeared to Peter Weller and is how I have come to visualise them.

What a magnificent creature they are. Rendered tangible they are grotesqueries of the highest order. Had Frank Oz placed a bunch of them in Labyrinth it would have been greatly enhanced as a piece of cinema. They secrete milk/jissom from their head-teats, smoke, and have a voice rather akin to Mr Burroughs himself (i.e. as creaky as a warehouse full of rusted doors). It must be said that in the film they have a much more cuddly and endearing character, unlike Burroughs’ description of a vicious, belligerent fiend.

I hope to attain one as a pet some day. It can sleep under my bed, emerging every now and again, preferably when I’m thirsty for mugwump jissom.


Blogger midnitcafe said...

Now comes the time for secret confessions: Part II. I've never read Naked Lunch. Or rather, I've never read it all. It sat by my night stand for ages. Pages were read, and devoured. But for reasons I can only blame on my wife, I never got through it all.

Holding my head in shame.

-mat brewster

2:27 am  
Blogger Aaron Fleming said...

Sacrilege Mr Brewster! Not even that you haven't read it all, but that you have it and have not done the necessary.

Change this now, you need that mad prose poetry in your skull, everyone does!

3:59 pm  
Anonymous Duke De Mondo said...

as fine an explanation of the wonders of the Mugwump as anyone ever etched, aside from Burroughs himself, and what dose he know, not enough to stay alive, thats for sure. Wonderful!

6:58 pm  
Blogger midnitcafe said...

I will try to find that copy. I actually borrowed it from someone, and think I returned it. That, or it is buried somewhere in the myriad of boxes of books piled up at my in-laws.

If it helps, I'm catching up on some Hunter S Thompson I have missed over the years.

4:07 am  
Blogger Aaron Fleming said...

It does indeed help, but still, break out the old Burroughs I'd recommend.

12:03 pm  
Blogger Miss Templeton said...

Was reading A Pen Warmed Up In Hell, a collection of Mark Twain's more enjoyable writing. Came across a reference to the older variant of 'mugwump' that you describe above. May sit down and type it up in the interests of you being the compleat mugwump authority.

8:44 pm  
Blogger Aaron Fleming said...

I look forward to your thoughts on the topic. Dunno if I'd call myself the complete authority, but what I do know is that there are a lot of people searching for mugwump on the internet, a surprising amount indeed.

11:35 am  
Blogger Miss Templeton said...

Upon looking at that picture and with the upcoming holiday on my mind (see Addams Family Values - the pageant at Camp Chippawa for cultural reference), I am struck at its resemblance to a common American turkey.

I believe that will take care of my desire to partake in the flesh course of tomorrow's repast.

Will type up the Twain soon.

5:51 pm  
Blogger Aaron Fleming said...

Haha, I think I can see what you mean.

Incidentally I had turkey earlier tonight for dinner, nothing to do with Thanksgiving mind.

7:38 pm  
Blogger Miss Templeton said...

Okay. The minute someone says that something is "an obsolete term, one never used, and certainly has no relevance in this context," my interest levels rise. I love the obsolete and irrelevant. And then, as I said, I was reading Mark Twain and up popped that older reference to Mugwump -- it's an Algonquin tribal word, you should know that. And you should make associations with Dorothy Parker when I say Algonquin -- but the thing is that I've kinda got in pretty deep with my research on the more obsolete side of this, so instead of typing anything up, I'm cheating and doing a cut-n-paste from my favorite Mark Twain site:

I was a mugwump. We, the mugwumps, a little company made up of the unenslaved of both parties, the very best men to be found in the two great parties--that was our idea of it--voted sixty thousand strong for Mr. Cleveland in New York and elected him. Our principles were high, and very definite. We were not a party; we had no candidates; we had no axes to grind. Our vote laid upon the man we cast it for no obligation of any kind. By our rule we could not ask for office; we could not accept office. When voting, it was our duty to vote for the best man, regardless of his party name. We had no other creed. Vote for the best man--that was creed enough.

I'll might do more with the American mugwump thing in a later posting on my own part of the world.

But isn't it interesting, then, that Burroughs would pull this term into the 20th century. Do you know if he was a fan of Twain's?

7:26 pm  
Blogger Aaron Fleming said...

Well kudos to you on the research front!

Certainly it's interesting, and if I've sparked off any revival of the word then I'm happy to do so.

I dunno if Burroughs was a fan of Twain, as far as my memory serves I haven't read anything that would suggest it, but he may well have been a fan of the man.

Keep up the good work.

12:52 am  
Blogger chris coltrane said...

There is a cheif Mugwump in harry Potter. Maybe this is in homage to Burroughs

11:54 am  
Anonymous Doc Mugwump said...

I've chosen my blog name "Doc Mugwump" for its original Native American meaning. From "World Wide": (not my blog) - This archetypal American word derives from the Algonquian dialect of Native Americans in Massachusetts. In their language, it meant “war leader”. The Puritan missionary John Eliot used it in his translation of the Bible into their language in 1663 to convey the English words duke, officer and captain.Mugwump was brought into English in the early nineteenth century as a humorous term for a boss, bigwig, grand panjandrum, or other person in authority, although often one of a minor and inconsequential sort. This example comes from a story in an 1867 issue of Atlantic Monthly: “I’ve got one of your gang in irons "the Great Mugwump" himself, I reckon strongly guarded by men armed to the teeth; so you just ride up here and surrender”.

9:47 pm  
Anonymous malachitely said...

characterized by often poignant difference or incongruity between what might be expected & what actually transpires (if set in motion & left to proliferate), between estranged aspects of its seminal self & other pursuant, ill-sorted inchoatives, your friendly drawling mugwump will furnish, to your instantaneous distatste, generating strange disquiet & morbid unease, as finely wrought in irony, an antic explication of the wonders of the distorted & unnatural in figuration/scale/cast/ timbre: flagitious & abnormally delineated, ill-shapen, warpt, garbl'd, & fascinatingly hideous as any scribe ever has etcht. what a magnificent creature they are - render'd tangible they personify compleat grotesqueries of the highest order; the grand panjandrum of eldritch (literary nightmares often inadvertently created in Gothyck by having insufficient dexterities onboard; that is - trying to fantasticate in drab ordinaire)! every home should have one . . .

3:58 pm  
Blogger growltigerkat said...

Wonderful discussion. A favourite word of mine though I never quite knew how to use it. Now it can be applied to Boris himself and all our leaders, male and female like T-May the successor to M-T (hatcher) and T-Rex her predecessor in a primordial age of bone-crushing reptiles. No allusion to the odious beliefs of David Icke intended.

4:41 pm  

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