“The New Satiric Tradition”

Apuleius’s novel The Golden Ass was one of the only Ancient-Roman novel’s in Latin to survive its entirety, making it one of the oldest novels ever written. The novel is based on transgression so even though the term “transgressive fiction” is quite new to the literary world, storytelling has been rooted in the idea of rebellion for centuries. In 1993, Michael Silverblatt of the Los Angeles Time came up with the term “transgressive fiction”. Silverblatt had recognized the upcoming of literature that would be titled under pernicious. This genre of literature focuses on characters who feel confined by the norms and expectations of society. Those characters push the boundaries by defying in unusual or illicit ways; they can be seen as mentally ill, anti-social, or nihilistic, due to their actions.

The plot for transgressive fiction is often the main character, who is usually a misfit or antihero, trying different methods to comfort themselves while searching for self-identity, inner-peace or personal freedom. The plot differs to what kinds of issues the author plans on having the character take on. However, it is common while reading to feel uncomfortable or astonished at the issues the character comes on upon. The pacing of the novel can be slow and have a simplistic writing style; the use of short sentences and surrealism is normal. With most transgressive novels the reader ponders and divulges themselves into the plot, due to either connecting or sympathizing with the characters.

Vladimir Nabokov, a Russian author, is known for his controversial novels; Lolita being his most famous work. Taboo and erotic transgression are major factors in Lolita. It is here where we see how “Nabokov portrays erotic transgression as a form of destructive self-indulgence”(Donahue). In this quote it can be seen, “my moaning mouth, gentlemen of the jury, almost reached her bare neck, while I crushed out against her left buttock the last throb of the longest ecstasy man or monster had ever known” (Nabokov, 61). Due to some passages in the novel containing that type of matter, many critics described the novel as pornographic; in many countries, the novel was banned. Nabokov himself always denied it being pornographic or erotic, in both structure and style. The tone of the novel is never close to vulgar or choppy, it is extremely poetic. “The poetic quality of Nabokov’s prose in his rendering of transgressive erotic experience is certainly crucial in assessing his achievement”(Lodge). For Nabokov, there was never a question in how he was going to portray the sexual acts to a limited amount. His specific style of writing, with creative metaphors and knowledge of other rhetorical devices, was often looked at with admiration by the reader and other authors.

Many transgressive fiction writers write about their own experiences and feelings, Charles Bukowski is one of those. Much of his work is based upon his life in Los Angeles, California. Bukowski writes of disillusionment, violence, alcohol consumption, women, a loathing of authority and the dehumanizing nature of low-level work. All of those aspects are presented in his unique writing style, of him portraying his ‘personality’ through his work. Like all transgressive authors, Bukowski has been criticized for his writing, calling it offensive. However, others such as Ken Tucker from the Village Voice, in New York, stated, “The subject matter of this world is drinking, sex, gambling, and music; the Bukowski style, however, is “a crisp, hard voice; an excellent ear and eye for measuring out the lengths of lines; and an avoidance of metaphor where a lively anecdote will do the same dramatic work.” With the many different reviews, Bukowski was never fazed and continued to publish novels and books of poetry; he is most commonly known for his novel Post Office.

In recent years, the author Chuck Palahniuk, who has written popular novels such as Fight Club and Choke, is known for his variety of novels under transgressive fiction. In an interview with The Guardian, it was stated, “Transgressive fiction authors write stories some are afraid to tell. Stories with taboo subjects, unique voices, shocking images – nothing safe or dry. These stories run the gamut from horrific and fantastic to humorous and touching, but each leaves a lasting impression. Some may say even a scar”(Flood). Palahniuk’s writing is nothing of the ordinary; in this excerpt from Fight Club he uses aspects of unique voices and shocking images, “Me, with my punched-out eyes and dried blood in big black crusty stains on my pants, I’m saying HELLO to everybody at work. HELLO! Look at me. HELLO! I am so ZEN. This is BLOOD. This is NOTHING. Hello. Everything is nothing, and it’s so cool to be ENLIGHTENED. Like me. Sigh. Look. Outside the window. A bird. My boss asked if it the blood was my blood. The bird flies downward. I’m writing a little haiku in my head”(Palahniuk, 64). People have referred to Palahniuk as a nihilist, due to his disturbing novels, but he has corrected them and said he is a romantic, just misunderstood by the way he presents his ideas in his stories.

The genre of transgressive fiction has been on a rising swing since the late 20th century, with no reason for stopping. As that happens the audience associated with this genre continues to grow, especially in the modern age. This is mainly due to many transgressive fiction novels being turned into cult classic movies, such as American Psycho, Fight Club, Lolita, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, etc. As media grows, these smaller and newer genres grow, more people come into contact with transgressive fiction stories. The idea of rebellion and being the outsider is quite common, especially in young adults. Transgressive fiction is a genre that has been around for a long time, even if the name was merely discovered 40 years ago, and it will continue to grow through the ages.



Donahue, Christina. “CU Scholar.” Site. 2011. Web. 10 Feb. 2016.

Flood, Alison. “Fight Club Author Chuck Palahniuk to Co-edit Transgressive Fiction

Anthology.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 10 Apr. 2014. Web. 08 Feb. 2016.

Lodge, David. “The Secret of Nabokov’s Sexual Style.” The Guardian. Guardian News and

Media, 07 June 2014. Web. 10 Feb. 2016.


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