While I simply adore transgression as a theme in novel, I hear people label it as very limiting in terms of what can be revealed in a novel, however, I oppose such a claim. I feel like transgression reveals a different perspective to the viewers through a more personal, uncensored account rather than though a basic omnipresent narration or a basic first person narrative. You're thoughts?
Transgressive allows a writer to explore another way of living. It doesn't always have to be drugs and sex and crime. It can be any way or as outrageous as the writer wants it to be. That's what I like about the genre. Seeing creative ways people can come up with living outside the norms.
I like them if they are based on a surrealistic sensibility and not just shock value for shock value's sake. I think some people use lazy writing as a means of saying they are 'transgressive'. You can shape your book like a shark (raw shark texts), write in circles (House of Leaves), disguise it as an ancient manuscript from the dead sea scrolls but if it doesn't read well then it's all for nought. For example, Kurt Vonnegut created absurdist novels with drawings and pictures just thrown in out of nowhere but he actually had a storyline. Read "Zombie" By Joyce Carol Oates. I think that is a very transgressive, creepy surreal book about a pedophile serial killer from inside his mind. She writes him as an almost mentally handicapped man who is deeply psychotic but everyone else sees him as harmless. Like if Forrest Gump liked young boys and raped and killed them.
"Zombie" was pretty damn good. It's one of my favourites by Joyce. I remember reading it when I was seventeen; I was sickened but I kept on reading anyway. There's something about being inside the head of somebody so psychotic. That's what I like about these characters, is being frightened but entralled by them at the same time.
Yeah, I have to agree that that's what draws my attention towards most transgressive novels. It puts you inside the head of a very unorthodox character and allows you to open your eyes to different ways they see or handle certain circumstances.
I like some transgressive novels, but I think if one sets out to write a transgressive piece of fiction it probably won't be that good. That means you're working backwards - looking for ideas fit for the transgressive label rather than just coming up with original ideas that happen to be a bit darker. The author has to have something to say. Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell is a good example of a book with all the style and flourish of any other transgressive novel but has absolutely nothing to say. It's just a hodgepodge of black humor and gross outs.
In film, noir has this problem. When one decides to write a noir first and come up with ideas that fit the genre after this decision, they tend to limit themselves to noir cliches that have been done to death.
In both cases, the 'genrefication,' if you will, is their great demise. People look for patterns that can create formulas and that just leads to canned plots:
Noir: A woman gets a man involved in a potentially violent situation which is over his head.
Transgressive: A maladjusted protagonist's cynicism is justified by the cruelty of the world.
So, accordingly, Great Expectations is a transgressive noir. Ugh.
The point is, genre can be limiting. I'd prefer it if this idea of 'transgression' as a genre didn't exist at all lest the publishing industry starts churning out me-too after me-too until they ruin once original ideas similar to what Hollywood did with noir. Beat the Reaper is an indication that they're already trying.
Sometimes I feel like transgressive is just another popular buzzword for fiction. It's when I talk to my non-Cult/Velvet/LitReactor people that I have to explain what it is because they're ignorant to the term.
They bore me to tears.
I've yet to actually read one for myself. Very tempted to grab Transubstantiate - Richard Thomas.
I'm skeptical of the label. There's very little to transgress that can't be appropriated by the cool kids. Edginess does not make uniqueness.
Transubstantiate is more sci-fi/noir than transgressive. You should still get it though.
I'm really into Dennis Cooper's books. There are probably a lot of other books that others would consider transgressive that I've enjoyed, but I wouldn't classify most of them under that category (except for Matthew Stokoe's first two novels). Although I may be forgetting other books that I would classify as such.
Because I am new here, I am taking pleasure stumbling through these newly hallowed halls (and the dank basement beneath them) to discover what is on the minds of other writers. I find this thread stimulating because I am in the process of writing a novel in which many of the characters and a stream of consciousness narration fit the label "transgressive" as you folks are using it, though I never thought to so label it. Even the title, Concentric Circles fits with the definition. I was calling it a psychological mystery.
My own claim to some indiginous title for my writing escapes me, but early in my career, I managed to mis-lable what I wrote and still found a source for its publication. I started with a screenplay and it ended up getting published as a self-help book with massive editing and reformatting. Encouraged by the quick success---I had just sold my first ever ms to the first ever editor to whom I sent it---I decided to write another self-help book. Don't you know it not only sold as a textbook but was fortunate to become a part of a series so that every library who ordered the series, automatically got my book. Skill? Luck? Who cares?
I do not expect my first dip into book-length fiction will be as fortuitous in its outcome. They say, "write what you know," and my serious nonfiction work emerged out of a long career in which I have acknowledged skills. I never had even a single writing course. I learned to write by writing. I always carry peanuts in my pocket in case I run across a gerund and have to feed it. So, we shall see what happens.
Can one of my secondary characters who gorges herself beyond all believability because she has "a hollow soul" and a virgin stripper accused of murder, who wants to live on the dark side but wants to remain pure while she is doing it, carry the reader? I don't know. But I am here to see if writers will buy into it as a part of a whole cloth that steps off the edge into realms that I have visited in my real professional life and come away with scars that caused me to use the following opening line in a self-help book for abused women: "Sometimes I hear voices." Twenty-three years after publication, you can still find used copies floating around Amazon.com though they sell for as little as an ego-fracturing 99 cents. Last year, one was for sale for $49.00 for a $13.95 used trade paperback. When I called the seller, she told me that it had been autographed by the writer. When I asked to whom it had been autographed, she told me. I remembered the person well. She was a former client but I wouldn't pay $49 for a weekend with me let alone for my signature!
I even write posts as a stream of consciousness. Let me stop before I reveal something that is better left buried.
I agree that attempting to tailor one's natural voice to fit any genre can be self defeating but do find the lable 'transgressive' useful. To me it suggests as much about the author as the story. There has to be some identification with them, even if it is through their characters. You can't fake being an outsider to society, and why would you want to?
I've been adopting the genre label recently. The circumstances of my birth made me an outsider and I have moved among feaks, addicts, queers and street mystics most of my life. I don't easily identify with books full of straights and squares.