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Transgressive Fiction

Page history last edited by monica 11 years ago

Transgressive Fiction



Transgressive fiction is a genre of fiction in which characters feel limited by the expectations and norms of society. The protagonists seek ways to break from those boundaries past the limit of social acceptability, which often leads to them appearing mentally ill, anti-social, or nihilistic. Most books of the genre explore taboo subjects such as drugs, violence, sex, incest, crime, pedophilia, or highly dysfunctional family relationships. As such, it is very controversial, with some authors such as William S. Borroughs involved in obscenity trials.


Authors in this genre share qualities with those who write noir, erotic, or splatterpunk fiction, by portraying what is forbidden and shocking. But while the characters engage in taboo behaviors, they do so as a means to improve themselves and their surroundings. Most of of the genre 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 transgressive fiction is capable of sharp social commentary.


Key Elements:


  •  More emphasis on internal reflection than elaborate plots; plots tend to take a second place to the characters' internal struggle.
  • Writing style tends to be simple, matter-of-fact.
  • The inner workings of the characters' minds frame the stories. The writers offer readers an alternative perspective on life, presenting common situations and events in a new light.
  • The protagonist are  generally misfits or antiheroes. They tend to be very flawed and not always sympathetic.
  • Pacing can be slow. 




Additional Search Terms


Other search terms for the genre may include contemporary, thriller, existential satire, postmodern, cult, dark, psychological, social commentary, counter-culture, subversive, speculative, and illicit. The categories can be very subjective, however, so it is necessary to point out that while a transgressive fiction could be classified as postmodern, most postmodern novels are not also transgressive.


Good Reads:


Cooper, D. (1991). Frisk. New York, NY: Grove Weidenfeld.


Coupland, D. (1991). Generation x: tales for an accelerated culture. New York, NY: St. Martin's Press.


Palaniuk, C. (1999). Survivor. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company.


Thompson, H.S. (1971). Fear and loathing in las vegas: a savage journey to the heart of the american dream. New York, NY: Vintage Books.


Welsh, I. (1993). Trainspotting. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company.


Other Popular Titles With Links to MCFLS holdings:


American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

Choke by Chuck Palahniuk

The Contortionist's Handbook by Craig Clevenger

Crash by J.G. Ballard

The Dice Man by Luke Rhinehart

Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

Junkie by William S. Burroughs

Kiss Me, Judas by Will Christopher Baer

Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby Jr.

Lunar Park by Bret Easton Ellis

Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs

Requiem for a Dream by Hubert Selby Jr.

Shampoo Planet by Douglas Coupland

Story of the Eye by Georges Bataille

The Lazy Boys by Carl Shuker

The Toy Collector by James Gunn

Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller

The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey





Chun, R. (1995, April 23). Naked breakfast, lunch, and dinner. New York Times, p. 49.


Kavadlo, J. (2005). Chuck Palahniuk, closet moralist. The International Journal of Existential Literature, 2 (2), 3-25.

Retrieved from http://www.stirrings-still.org/ss22.pdf


Lainsbury, G.P. (1996). Generation x and the end of history. Essays on Canadian Writing, Spring96(58), 229-241.


Neeper, L. (2008) On teaching transgressive literature. The CEA Forum/ Summer/Fall 2008: 37.2

Retrieved from http://www2.widener.edu/~cea/372neeper.htm


Silverblatt, M. (1993, August 1st). Shock appeal/who are these writers and why do they want to hurt us?. Los Angeles Times,                                       Retrieved from     http://articles.latimes.com/1993-08-01/books/bk-21466_1_young-writers


Related Websites



An online forum discussing the genre



A short description of the genre



A list of other titles that could be considered Transgressive Fiction



A short article with description of the genre and examples of books within.



Description of genre with history, list of authors, and books.



"Transgressive fiction beyond Palahniuk, Burroughs and Bukowski." - A book list



Online forum for discussing Chuck Palahniuk's books






Created October 2010 by Monica Rynders

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