Remember way back in 2003 when George Bush Jr, not to be outdone by Bushy Sr, invaded Iraq with a bunch of trumped-up lies to get the 'Murican public salivating and flag-waving in support of "our boys?" And then we patriotically bombed a lot of civilians, and a few actual soldiers, while looting the country of its wealth and antiquities, before destroying everything in sight and leaving rubble, chaos and hatred of America in our wake? And then for even more fun we threw in a side gig over in Afghanistan, just to make sure the chaos and instability would be good and widespread, and lasting (absolutely FAB for industrial-criminal-military-kleptocratic business don't you know)?
Of course you remember! After all it's still going on today, stronger than ever. For your reading pleasure, or perhaps for your despair at how little things change, is a piece written by Jody during the 2nd Iraq war.
Oh, and to all you good, god-fearin', flag-wavin', muslim-hatin' citizens, a word of advice: Whenever you go to war with some country, a decade later there will be scads of folks from there coming here, so never, ever go to war against someone you don't want moving in next door.
We're all very scared about the persistent threat of Anthrax in our little town of Shoreline, WA., and today I went down to be fitted for my very first gas mask. It was quite difficult; my right hand is in a cast from over-enthusiastic flag waving but I finally managed to try on a mask that fits (see picture) and also brought a nice one home for my neighbor, Miranda Nussbaum (pronounced noose-bomb).
Was she grateful? Not hardly! She right away began croaking about things I don't want to hear, like, "Don't these dummies know that George I killed one million Iraqi children and now George II is going for two mil?"
"Now, Miranda," I said soothingly. I brought her her CARE dinner and we were dining together on her tiny balcony that overlooks the Shoreline Courthouse Building. We were watching the Mayor and his staff going in and out with petitions to escalate the war in Afghanistan in hopes of ending the depression in the U.S. (oops! I didn't mean to say the D-word; it just slipped out).
But Miranda wouldn't be soothed. She gulped her chicken soup greedily, saying, "Don't they know that when you kill innocent people, no matter how sweetly your government presents it to you, you are still subject to the laws of karma?"
"Now, Miranda!" I reproved, "what would you know about the laws of karma, you're a Jewish lady!" Then I laughed brightly to take the sting off my words.
"And another thing," she growled. "They interviewed a lot of psychiatrists on TV and most of them said: 'The men who destroyed those buildings were NOT psychotic.' Are those shrinks nuts? What is their definition of the word 'psychotic'? Mine is, any person who wants to do harm to others chronically. But those dolts--they can't define the words they use and they have no technology for curing anything at all; their cure ratio is exactly the same as for witch doctors, did you know that, Smarty-Pants?" (That's what Miranda calls me when I seem to be calmer and wiser than she is, which she hates.) "And they can haul you away and give you shock treatments or a lobotomy and destroy your brain in a heartbeat and the Government licenses them to do this--and they don't know a psycho from a turnip farmer, were you aware of that? I'm with Sam Goldwyn! Sam said 'Anyone who goes to a psychiatrist should have his head examined.' What's for dessert?"
"No dessert till you finish your haddock cutlets," I reproved, chewing.
We ate in silence for a few minutes. Then Miranda said, "And they brag about how much they pray. Do you have any idea what God REALLY thinks of such hypocrites? Why, she told me--"
"Ready for your blueberry compote?" I called gaily on my way to the tiny kitchen. It's Miranda's favorite and serving it is the surest way I know to shut her big, blabbering mouth. We went to high school together you know, and the last thing she said before I left was:
"This war stinks, do they think they are 'punishing' the men who blew up those buildings and who are safely dead, by raining bombs day and night upon innocent women and children and animals and pets? Think they give a fuck how many women we kill? Why those Fundamentalist goons hate and despise women, they are not only misogynists (like most people in this country when you scratch their surface) but are absolute gynophobes! Gynophobes? Look it up in your Funk & Wagnalls. It means they LOATHE women. They WANT women dead. We're doing them a favor by bombing women-- Oh, you're leaving now? Thanks for the dinner, sweetie, see you tomorrow, this war stinks but I'm forced to agree with you that from my perspective up here on my tiny balcony, high school was worse."
Transgressive Fiction is "a genre of literature that focuses on characters that feel confined by the norms and expectations of society and who break free of those confines in unusual or illicit ways. Because they are rebelling against the basic norms of society, protagonists of Transgressive Fiction may seem mentally ill, anti-social or nihilistic." (Wikipedia)
From this definition, we understand that author's such as Burroughs, Shelby, Genet, Miller, Ginsberg belong to the genre, and inculcated as we all are from birth, it is understandable that what we easily recognize as "transgressive" is a kind of game of whack-a-mole, wherein our hero rebels poke their rebellious heads up only to, sooner or later, have them whacked back down by society. It's a game the house always wins because it sets the parameters. But what if we step beyond easy recognition? What might we find there to inform us about literature and about life?
Last month I reviewed Never Anyone But You (discovered on the terrific site transgressivefiction) and concluded, "It is an interesting choice to include in the "transgressive fiction" tent. It contains little of the usual canon; this is not a story of rebellion via drugs, criminality, nihilism or self-destructive decadence. Claude and Marcel defy oppressive norms by creating a happy and long life together, by not internalizing the normative paradigm but designing and defining their own."
I think we take too narrow a view of transgression when we see only "drugs, sexual activity, violence, incest, pedophilia, and crime," to quote goodreads. Not that there's anything wrong with those things in fiction of course, but what I mean is this: if the bloated center of a bell curve represents society ("everywhere in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members," as Emerson tells us), then transgression extends in many directions.
It is these heretofore unrecognized directions, and the fiction that explores them, that is the subject of this month's Censorable Ideas.
From The Atlantic Monthly: "Transgressional fiction shares similarities with splatterpunk, noir and erotic fiction in its willingness to portray forbidden behaviors and shock readers. But it differs in that protagonists often pursue means to better themselves and their surroundings—albeit unusual and extreme ones. Much transgressional fiction deals with searches for self-identity, inner peace and/or personal freedom. Unbound by usual restrictions of taste and literary convention, its proponents claim that transgressional fiction is capable of pungent social commentary."
This description begins to take us somewhere interesting. Can fiction be transgressive in a positive direction?
I offer in the affirmative the following examples:
Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes,
The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino,
The Benaroya Chronicles trilogy by Jody Scott,
Headhunters from Outer Space by Bret McCormick
Never Anyone But You by Rupert Thomson
The characters in these novels subvert & disobey the imperatives of their society, not in the easily recognized transgressional fiction modality, but critically, to my point here, for the same reasons. These protagonists SEE the normative paradigm, with all the banal hypocrisies and suppressions thereof, but reject it by flourishing in a paradigm of their own making.
"Resistance is futile," warn the species-gobbling Borg in Star Trek, and we've all heard the truism, "what you resist, persists," so perhaps they make a good point. Perhaps it's a problem with our understanding of transgression as synonymous with rebellion.
When we look to the dictionary definition of rebellion ("An act of violent or open resistance to an established government or ruler. The action or process of resisting authority, control, or convention"), we begin to see how the game of whack-a-mole rebellion cedes society victory from the start. Maybe what's needed is a broader concept of transgression, something that doesn't accede that society's paradigm is the benchmark, against which we can only rebel.
Like Claude and Marcel in Never, Scott's characters Benaroya and Sterling O'Blivion, Calvino's protagonist in Baron, McCormick's Headhunters and Don Quixote are examples of "transgressors" who defy societal norms by the more evolutionary and difficult task of not internalizing the dominant paradigm. Easier said than done (but not impossible) in life, of course, but these are fictional heroes who transcend the "games condition" of poking their heads up for society to take a whack at.
As imagined by these and other authors, characters "who feel confined by the norms and expectations of society and who break free of those confines" in positive directions can and do make critical points about society, may "portray forbidden behaviors and shock readers," but most importantly these protagonists "pursue means to better themselves and their surroundings." They give us permission and inspiration to imagine better, bigger, richer, freer than the world would have us believe is possible. And what is more transgressive than that?
This month's titles come courtesy of transgressivefiction.info,
a great place to discover new and interesting authors.
THE EXIT MAN by Greg Levin
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