Monday, October 5, 2009


When the catastrophe finally hits, all we’ll be left with are stories like bent signposts from the time when the roads with these signs actually led somewhere. They symbolized possibility. You could go there. You could choose not to.

The catastrophe I have in mind is plain but no less vicious in its destruction. Something to put a tremendous dent in the armor our civilization tells us is well nigh unpenetrable, or well on its way to becoming so. Something as scathing and full of entropic force as the rats that kicked the Byzantine Empire in its imperial gonads in B.C. 541.

Rats, yes. The ancient Romans had government, conquering armies galore administering the Pax Romana as they went, territories up the wazoo, philosophy, science, religion, the commode and a system of sewers, but all it took were a horde of rats to throw it all into disarray.

Named after Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian I, the Justinian Plague was a foreshadowing of the Black Death of the 14th century. Back then, Constantinople was importing massive amounts of grain from Egypt and other territories via shipping to feed its burgeoning cities. Historians theorize that the rats were spawning in these ships, nurtured by the huge granaries. With the ships came the rats. In the rats was the bubonic plague. In the bubonic plague was a painful, slow death that ran the populace right to the ground.

Encyclopedias will tell you that the plague “ravaged Italy and diminished manpower seriously,” but that’s hardly an accurate picture for 10,000 people dying daily or the plague pits overflowing with corpses. There was no cure for it. They had to wait `til the disease ran its course.

My own plague season literally came in 2003. One day I just couldn’t get up. No fever, no noticeable symptoms. I just felt like my bones were heavier than a sack of rice. I blamed it on the drinking binge a few nights previous and tried to sleep it off. No luck. To top it all off I couldn’t hold anything in for long. I kept shitting it out. Foul-smelling stuff, too.

After being misdiagnosed for five days my aunt decided to get my platelets checked. Bingo. I had dengue. The next few weeks was spent in bed with an IV stuck through my right hand. My aunt was a doctor so I was lucky I didn’t have to be confined but living with that IV and performing a complicated stunt whenever I had to piss (as well as trying to discern whether I had the strength to do it right away or take several deep breaths to muster enough of it) was as close as I ever felt to dying.
You try to get up but the disease laughingly says, “No, you will stay down.” And you just know that if it kept you down long enough you’d kick the bucket. The will to fight ebbs subtly and the effort to keep it alive is wearisome.

I hate needles but I got expert at fiddling with the IV whenever the blood would rush too far into the drip. When I came out the other side after a month in quarantine I was 15 pounds lighter and I had the strength of a kitten. The genius of the hole is: no matter how high you climb you can easily fall back down.
I imagine my catastrophe these days as rudimentary – airplanes crashing into buildings, twenty foot high waves and the cessation of global operating systems come to mind – but no less effective.

Tracking the trajectory of the falling and getting back up is the territory of transgressive fiction. For years authors like William H. Burroughs and Hunter H. Thompson with a healthy dose of substances and, I suspect, a binge on Dostoevsky’s novels, were clearing the way to a genre that was defiant, radical and humorously optimistic. More recently people like Douglas Coupland, Irvine Welsh, and Chuck Palahniuk crystallized the mind space where the previously mentioned had gone before.

The world is a cruel, flawed place and it is this mortal, imperfect nature that informs transgressive fiction. Implicit in that is a current of optimism and beauty. Anybody who’s read Palanhiuk’s Fight Club (or seen the movie) knows that it’s more than just terrorist cells and getting the shit kicked out of you every week. Still, it takes a whole different kind of reader to appreciate the beauty found in a haymaker to the face.

When the novice to the fight club smiles in the aftermath of a match and hugs his opponent, it’s because he’s finally found the kind of liberation he’s always hankered for. There’s sitting under the bodhi tree for hours and then there’s that. Which one do you think resonates more with people in the 21st century?
Beyond the mere anarchy is a revelation with the fury of a divine message. In Wilwayco’s novel Mondomanila, the protagonist finds catharsis in the murder of a hated Amboy. Lily, the heroine in my story “Lily, Faith and Disease,” crafts the perfect control method and her own deliverance by surrendering her will to her incestuous father.

Transgressive fiction is entertainment like a rude awakening. It is the fervent hope of the editors and writers in this anthology to unfetter you from the static of the mundane, the routine, the every day, the grind. That burden of mental jewelry that makes us resemble zombies in a Romero movie, something that our comfort-oriented technology, politics and social conditioning so easily shapes us into.

If it takes gratuitous violence, depiction of taboo, extreme methods of storytelling we are willing to use them. Amid the blood and gore (Marguerite Alcazaren de Leon’s “Cleanser”), drugs and debauchery (my own “Faith in Poison”), farce and mockery (Jonathan Jimena Siason’s “Penitence”) we hope you find the path to your own emancipation. Snap the fuck out of it.

Think of this book as a roadmap to possibilities you never realized. We’re telling you this not because we like you, but because we don’t want you to be like them. If, for nothing else, you can prepare for the catastrophe, before all the road signs get bent from the inevitable onslaught. Before possibility becomes just a campfire story.

JULY 2007
Novaliches, QC