My original essay on this subject started off as an unbiased look at a genre that I used to consider my favorite. My initial appreciation for "transgressional fiction" started with my first reading of Choke by Chuck Palahniuk. This lead me to read all of his works up to that point, along with healthy doses of Bret Easton Ellis. As I read and grew more as a reader, I still retained a staunch admiration for the genre, even in the face of Palahniuk's declining skills as a satirist and the mild scorn I received from old college classmates who viewed transgressional fiction as a "low art."
However, the only definitions of the genre were more or less the same: it deals with sex, drugs, violence, debauchery, and unconventional ways of ultimately finding the right track. These themes can be found in virtually every style of fiction, dating back hundreds of years. For example, I found the sex and violence in Emile Zola's Therese Raquin extremely ahead of the novel's 1867 publication, yet I'd have a difficult time classifying the work as transgressional. Perhaps the problem comes about when certain works are defined only to fit specific labels. The Bible contains transgressional themes, to take this idea to an extreme. Therefore, in my mind, I've almost totally disregarded the term from my vocabulary, at least in the literary sense. It's too broad to define a handful of literary works.
This is not to say that extreme works should not get the attention they deserve. As the sign on my high school English teacher's desk read, "I read banned books." Ellis' American Psycho will always be a queasy, perfect metaphor for consumeristic excesses. Catcher In the Rye will continue to stand alone above cheap, horrible imitations (that is another topic--I cringe whenever a book or film comes out, and a character under the age of 20 is inevitably compared to Holden Caulfield). But transgressional fiction will remain to describe works that have no overt metaphors, stories and novels aimed to stir up raw emotions. In my mind, there is no better example than the works of Charles Bukowski.
"I drank until closing time. Cass the most beautiful of 5 sisters, the most beautiful in town. I managed to drive to my place and I kept thinking, I should have insisted she stay with me instead of accepting that 'no.' Everything about her had indicated that she had cared. I had simply been too offhand about it, lazy, too unconcerned. I deserved my death and hers. I was a dog. No, why blame the dogs? I got up and found a bottle of wine and drank from it heavily. Cass the most beautiful girl in town was dead at 20 (Bukowski 7)."
This is a tame example of the nature of Bukowski's works. It defies heavy analysis, unafraid to hit bottom. When I think transgressional, I think of him. No topic is off limits, and nothing is hidden. What Bukowski manages to do besides deal in taboo subject matters is the heart of the genre: The more depraved and unsympathetic his characters are, the more sympathetic they become.
Bukowski, Charles. The Most Beautiful Woman in Town. Copyright 1983 by Charles Bukowski.
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