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Transgressive Fiction Overview

How to describe Transsgressive Fiction?

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907) by Pablo Picasso

Well, first of all, I should mention that it's not for everyone as I mentioned in my previous article. According to the Atlantic Magazine, It is “a literary genre that graphically explores topics such as incest and other aberrant sexual practices, mutilation, the sprouting of sexual organs in various places on the human body, urban violence and violence against women, drug use, and highly dysfunctional family relationships, and that is based on the premises that knowledge is to be found at the edge of experience and that the body is the site for gaining knowledge.

I use Chun's (1995) words to explain more. In a New York Times article “Naked Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner”, Chun stated perfectly that Transgressive Fiction is defined “by Subversive, avant-garde, bleak, pornographic -- and these are compliments. Such words are used to describe transgressive fiction, books pitched to young adults.” I should mention that this genre often dismissed as sensationalist, but simply, it's not. Mookerjee(2013) in his book “Transgressive Fiction: The New Satiric Tradition” mentions that it “is a sophisticated movement with roots in Menippean satire and the Rabelaisian carnal folk sensibility praised by Bakhtin.

This genre is mostly focused on the character's thoughts and emotions who because they are rebellious and against social norms, normally count as “mentally ill, anti-social or nihilistic.” (Wikipedia) However, not everyone really knows what this genre is but normally if you ask people whether they know books and movies such as American Psycho, Fight Club, Lolita, The Man in the High Castle, In the Misu Soup, and so on, they would definitely say "yes".

Transgressive fiction also shares similarities with splatterpunk

which according to Westfahl's "Schow, David J." 1998 is identified by "its graphic, often gory, depiction of violence, countercultural alignment" and also "hyperintensive horror with no limits.". This genre also have similarities with noir that includes darkness in theme and subject featuring a disturbing mixture of sex and violence. Another similar genre can be erotic fiction that naturally demonstrates forbidden behaviors and shock factors.

Now you may ask so what's the difference between Transgressive Fiction and the other 3 genres?

The difference is that the main character in Transgressive Fiction often try to improve themselves and their condition however they take an extreme unusual way to do it. We can see in more Transgressive Fiction such as Fight Club, the main character is trying to find self-identity, personal freedom and inner peace. As Silverblatt(August 1, 1993)in "SHOCK APPEAL" states that the writers of transgressive fiction believe that this genre is capable of incisive social commentary.

The last but not least similar genre can be literary minimalisms we can see that many transgressive writers use short sentences and simplistic style. A good example can be seen in Palahniuk works and he shares his love of minimalist fiction after a Tom Spanbauer’s workshop by saying that "when you study minimalism in Tom Spanbauer’s workshop, the first story you read is Amy Hempel’s The Harvest. Next you read Mark Richard’s story Strays. After that, you’re ruined. If you love books, if you love to read, this is a line you may not want to cross. I’m not kidding. You go beyond this point, and almost every book you’ll ever read will suck. All those thick, third-person, plot-driven books torn from the pages of today’s news, well, after Amy Hempel, you’ll save yourself a lot of time and money."

It is no wonder that the genre has been the subject of controversy, (recently Facebook blocked my book advertisement because it counted as sensitive and offensive). As the language and perspective is absolutely free from any limitations of social accepted norms, hence, many pioneers of transgressive fiction have been the subjects of obscenity trials. Such as "Lady Chatterley's Lover" by D.H. Lawrence, Naked Lunch by William Burroughs, "The God of Small Things" (1996) by Arundhati Roy, "Madame Bovary" by Gustave Flaubert, and many more.

Such convictions are not a forgotten story from the past. Transgressive fiction is still condemn by the normal society. But do we care really as readers and writers of such genre? This idea of limiting the scope of fiction is absurd as it refuses to accept anything ugly. This means that the mass normal refuse to accept that the ugly is part of their life and that’s often what transgressive books show us. It’s like they really think some kid will pick up "Last Exit to Brooklyn" (1964) by Hubert Selby Jr. and start to murder, gang rape, and fall into grinding poverty of the sex trade and Brooklyn's underground gay community.

To conclude, I personally define the genre in terms of taboo subject matters, repulsive scenes and characters, antisocial behaviors, dark and depressive storylines, abnormal settings and what that the normal don't appreciate. Well, welcome aboard not NORMALS ... Let it be our new normal ;)

Fun Fact

Did you know that when Les Demoiselles d’Avignon was first exhibited in July 1916, it shocked and enraged audiences because it was an honest representation of female nudity?

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