Transgressive fiction is nothing new. In fact, although I coin myself a transgressive writer, it's kinda like saying punk rock after the 1980s. To be a true trangressive writer, many would argue you must've been a published pen between the late 1800s and early 1900s. However, many writers of the new and sorta new can be found quite easily today, such as Amy Hempel and Chuck Palahniuk. Oh yeah, James Joyce - you know Ulysses - is a pretty common gem. While we're name dropping: Bret Easton Ellis, Anthony Burgess, Elizabeth Young.
Trangressive fiction started with prose that was often banned or chastised for being too obscene, too vulgar, or just too close to home. These stories brought the social struggles of their times into an honest - admittedly sometimes dark - portrayal. Some people go to the extreme, while others might just rip on consumerism.
The thing about transgressive fiction is that's it's about what's right. Here are 3 points to consider if you ever find yourself bored in a Barnes & Noble and want to count the trangressive writers throughout the entire store.
3. Ahead of the Times.
One of the easiest way to tell if a book is of the transgressive variety is to consider when it was published and what the book is about. Any book that dealt with possible issues in the future or brought issues of the times to light could be transgressive fiction.
On most occasions you'll figure out the book was banned because it dealt with pressing issues such as domestic violence, job employment, death, hierarchy, etc. Allen Ginsberg is a great exemplar of being ahead of the times. In his poem Howl, he describes his distaste for mainstream culture and emphasized counterculture. Of course, this poem was threatened by just as many obscenity charges and scowled at for explicit content.
2. Inappropriate . . . but in a good way.
There's a particular reason I mentioned Ulysses earlier on. The serialized version of the book was still available while the physical book was banned. What caused so much grief was the the fact, that, The Little Review published a segment from the book in which the protagonist masturbates Although the book was already "ahead of the times" in terms of content, the book felt the wrath of potential legal repercussions accusing the serialization of obscenity. Eventually the claim fell through and the USA became the first country to legally and freely produce Ulysses.
One thing to look for in a book to see if it can fall under the umbrella term of transgressive fiction is anything deemed immoral, obscene, or inappropriate. If you're holding a winner in your hands, it was probably a trendsetter, by which I mean the book held content that pushed the limits of mainstream America and changed what could be written. Or it's a book that is changing what can be written.
Sometimes we don't like to face the truth. Transgressive fiction can be that asshole that likes to rub your face in it, but at least it's for the sake of enlightenment, and it might provoke some people to take action on a pressing social matter.
Another note here: Transgressive fiction can often fall into the genre of absurdist fiction. The emphasis of a transgressive piece is to open people's minds or call into question what we deem acceptable. Occasionally some of these stories go to the extremes and enter into a land of confusion, but you know the point is clear.
1. Status Quo.
This might be the easiest trapping of transgressive fiction to spot. In recent thoughts is Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club. While this book is now about as mainstream as the media he destroyed through fiction, Fight Club is a good example of a book denying anything status quo.
Besides his sometimes gross descriptions of bodily decration, Palahniuk is sometimes given the high-nose because his stories focus on the social paradoxes of popular culture and consumerism. His characters are always those who rise above common thoughts and trends, and they see any overbearing empire as something which must be destroyed.
I would argue anything with at least 2 of the 3 traits would be a piece of transgressive fiction. I might also add trangressive pieces are based more on reality today - things we'd say are too soon or too close to home.
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