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What is being transgressive?

Antoine d'Agata

Everyone knows the famous statement of Clark Gable in Gone with the Wind, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn". This is the line that all of us Transgressive Fiction writers and readers say when someone shockingly asks, “but is it ok to write/read?

The DNA of such fiction is talking about things that everyone else dares not to say or even think about because the society said so or because it is not the norm so or they are taboos that count abnormal, disgusting, unnatural, sick.

In this post, I will review the meaning of Transgression in different fields. In general, I believe that Transgressive Fiction is revealing the bitter truth we all try to hide somewhere dark inside our thoughts and imaginations. It is a harsh slap right on the face of the sweet lies that we all collectively believe to be “norms”. It is freeing oneself from other people's judgments.

Transgressive Meaning and Terminology

Collins Dictionary explains Transgressive as a word that is "used to describe actions that break a moral law or a rule of behavior." It also explains that it means "going beyond acceptable boundaries of taste, convention, or the law."

Transgression defined in different subjects such as legal, religious, social, psychological, or even geological subjects referring to the process of an overstepping of a boundary. Etymologically, according to Bernhart, transgression roots from the Latin verb "transgredi" which is made of trans (the other side) and gredi (to go).

Beyond this basic definition there exist significant differences among disciplines in terms of how transgression is defined:

  • In art, it is a name given to artforms that violate perceived boundaries.

  • In Literature, it is a modern style of writing focusing on a character that doesn't fit in social norms and rebel against them in an abnormal manner.

  • In linguistics, it is a form of the verb in some languages such as Balto-Slavic languages.

  • In genetics, it is a phenotype that is more extreme than the phenotypes displayed by either of the parents (check also Transgressive segregation).

  • In Cinema, it's a film movement using shock value and humor.

In the Bible, this term means to overpass, break, or violate any rule prescribed as a law, civil or moral. So, the act of transgressing is the violation of a law or a known principle of rectitude. It is also a breach of offense, crime, and sin. In the Old Testament, Transgression is mentioned 80 times and all meaning is rebellion. In Proverbs 17:11, "An evil man seeketh only rebellion", means that the wise man contemplates an evil heart, looking for an excuse or opportunity to rebel. In the New Testament, it is used as trespass. In other Bible, Dictionaries transgression is mentioned as synonymous with "sin." We can see a similar meaning in Quran, "After this, it is you who kill one another and drive out a party of you from their homes, assist (their enemies) against them, in sin and transgression." (Al-Baqara, Chapter #2, Verse #85)

So, in summary:

  1. From a religious perspective, it is a violation of God's moral law.

  2. In legal terms, it is a crime usually created by a social or economic boundary.

  3. In social concept, it is violating a norm.

From an academic perspective, many traces of transgression can be found in any art form that is considered offensive because of its shock value. The examples can be works of French Salon des Refusés artists, Dada and Surrealism.

In phycological terms, according to Madsen, transgression is "the act of violating norms, laws, budgets, etc. is from a common societal point of view, including psychology, traditionally esteemed as an unwanted, destructive act of behavior." He adds that "in early French sociology of religion, the philosophical critique of modernity and art transgression often holds a revolutionary potential as it possibly can alter the status quo, at least for a period of time."

Putting all these definitions together, I would like to mention that

transgression constitutes our identities. It is the process of identity re-definition. Wolfreys in "Transgression: Identity, Space, Time"; mentions that her book is about "being human thus means not only to be transgressed but also to be transgressive. Subjectivity is always grounded, historically, culturally, ideologically, epistemologically, in space and time; being is always a being-in-the-world, a being-there as Martin Heidegger would have it. But equally, subjectivity is never fixed, it is semi-porous, mutable, ineluctably protean, fluctuating, and discontinuously differentiated within itself and its others. Before sin, disobedience, misbehavior or wrongdoing, transgression is always the limitless capacity of the subject to break its own limits and still remain itself."

Hence, I can say that being transgressive is owning the power to violate the normal and familiar in order to circulate a new discourse by which a new identity is reframed.

Fun Fact

Did you know D'Agata's work often uses his own life experiences as source material? As he stated that "my intimacy is linked so much to my work, and my work depends so much on my intimate experiences of the world. It's all intermingled."

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