According to my iMac widget dictionary (reliable source? who knows…), the verb ‘transgress’ means:
to infringe or go beyond the bounds of (a moral principle or other established standard of behavior)
I’m putting together an abstract for a conference on transgressions in literature, even though my initial reaction to this conference’s CFP was ‘none of this applies to me – I don’t do any sort of transgression.’ I create stories. Okay, sure, I’m trying to create them in various media, which is sort of new. But it’s not infringing. Perhaps it can be seen as crossing boundaries…and I guess that’s where it enters the realm of transgression.
But as I brainstorm the paper, I keep thinking my colleague SH is correct: How can there possibly be transgressions in literature, in art? Isn’t the entire purpose of creating something worthwhile to transgress what has come before?
Note I say ‘something worthwhile’. I’m a PhD student: we get it drilled into our shrunken skulls that our final output must deliver new and/or unique knowledge to the field in which we study. That means we can’t write another Dan Brown or Danielle Steele novel and expect it to be considered worthy of an advanced degree. We’re intended to transgress. And as that intention is there, how can what we do be termed transgression?
It can’t, of course, but we enjoy the wordplay all the same. To me, however, this so-called transgression is simply art. It’s creation. It’s experimentation, maybe, but I don’t even like applying the word ‘experimental’ to it, because in my mind experimental=no one wants to read it.
Even when I sit down to write a ‘traditional’ short story or novel, I’m experimenting. I’m starting with a set of known values (a character, maybe, or an idea of a plot), I’m putting them through a process of testing (letting the story unfold on paper), and examining the results (the story that emerges). Every piece of writing is an experiment. Every piece of art is a transgression…and if it’s all transgression, then none of it is.
That’s the argument SH will be making in his 3rd of our proposed panel. I’ll be talking about what I call ‘invited transgressions’ in work, and how digital technology makes it possible for the creator and the participants to approach art the way we approach life – as a collaborative, networked, potentially messy endeavor with no real way to know how it will turn out. It opens that experimental process of creation to people beyond the original author, invests the participants in the project, and offers something worthwhile to those participants as well as other readers.
Is it transgression if it’s invited? If it’s intended? And do we care, if the result is something worthwhile?