Monday, October 5, 2009

A New Demise

Transgressive fiction is dying. But it isn’t because the desire of today’s writers to put forth as much sex and violence and whatever other form of depravity they can scrape off of our rank, tired cities in the name of catharsis has dwindled. No. It is the opposite. We’re choking on this shit. Those smelly little gems of pure adulterated Wrong that we had had to unearth from a few particular writers—Chuck Palahniuk’s blood and guts and shame floating to swimming pool surfaces, say, or Irvine Welsh’s nasty, creamy brown toilet stalls, or Hubert Selby Jr.’s gangrenous, holey heroin’d arms—have become so profuse in today’s literature that they have somewhat lost their luster. Throw some ultra-mega-extra-hardcore pumping into your fiction (or a beheading, curbing, double-penetration, whatever), and realize that to see this scene register, to see it elicit shock and revulsion and maybe some of the more vomitrocious reactions from its readers, now takes a bit more wishful thinking. Life’s a bitch.

It can be argued that most, if not all, fiction is transgressive. It is. In varying degrees, fiction misbehaves. Reading a good story or novel can leave you shaken or furious or mournful. Yes, it can extract more positive sentiments, but whatever these moods may be—hope regained, beauty discovered, the idea that everything is hilarious or filled with adventure—they can’t help but be tinged with a certain somberness, an understanding that whatever bliss we get out of life is found in a world that can’t help but bear grit and sin and complacence. Good fiction is a stimulating slap on the face, a steel head-brace with pincers prying your eyelids open, keeping your gaze bared to the truth. The Marquis de Sade is transgressive, natch. But then so is Charles Dickens, Dave Eggers, Salman Rushdie, Virginia Woolf, Michael Chabon, Kurt Vonnegut, JM Barrie.

All fiction, then, is transgressive in that regard. But when a piece is considered transgressive in the course of history is the factor that I think makes this genre—or marketing term or, yes, obscurists’ handy, pretense-laden tag—a more feasible one. The most obvious time that a fiction piece reaches its ‘transgressive peak’ is when it is first put out there and dares to say something that is true but hardly articulated at that time. But it can also don a more transgressive shade years, decades or whole centuries after its first publication. It all depends on how the social standards of any given time relate to the work’s content. Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange is even more apt now, and deliciously so, what with media mind control burgeoning with our technology (aloha, Facebook). In contrast, Douglas Coupland’s Generation X, read in our present time and its flagging sympathy for smart, aimless slacker types, just sounds fucking whiny.

So yes, transgressive fiction is dying. With such fitting morbid-ness, it is dying a good and bloody death all the time. But every time it does, a new version of itself—all naked and shivering and pissed—also writhes out of whatever fetid grave society digs next for itself.

This anthology (which, with your future short fic contributions, will become the regularized, online story orgy we’ve been drooling for) yearns to be testament to the fact that transgressive fiction is dynamic, that it will continue to live on despite the countless deaths our society and its ever-morphing standards will hurl at it. There will always be something out there that will cause us grave offense, that will goad our gonads to go nuts, that will get us all ticked and scared and sick and, most importantly, that will exhort us to think hard about who or what we’ve become, and how we can all get the hell away from and beyond that crap. How to transgress. To sin for our own sakes.

I am writing this introduction on the 18th floor of a corporate complex in lieu of my ‘occupational tasks.’ Maybe you are reading this from your own business district hidey hole, or from your studio-type room-for-rent, or from your most esteemed university. It doesn’t matter. What does, however, is how you want to fare after reading these stories. What do you do now? There has been a gun to your head all along. And if there is anything these stories would have beaten into you by now, it is that you do not like this sting of steel on temple. It is that you want to live.

~ Marguerite Alcazaren de Leon, July 2008