Transgressive, or just lazy?

This post was written by Friday blogger Annie Reid.

It’s been up for a while, but if you haven’t read Jonathan Dee’s excellent criticism (really “takedown” is less polite but more accurate) of so-called transgressive fiction over at Harper’s, you should run over and do so. In effect, Dee calls the bluff of a certain kind of contemporary writing, in which motiveless “ordinary” people commit atrocities or at least affect shocking eccentricities, for no apparent reason. Dee levels a charge of lazy writing at authors such as Neil LaBute for taking easy way out by avoiding characterization and more importantly, motivation.

For me, here’s the money shot:

Since a reader’s final judgment of a character represents the terminal point of that character’s development, the writer is well advised to delay the reader’s ability–indeed, the reader’s human instinct, as Kundera calls it– to arrive at that point. The method for frustrating that inclination is not simply to ignore everything associated with morality altogether but actively to complicate it, to provide multiple judgments, multiple moral viewpoints, within the work of fiction itself. Moral judgment is not ignored or banished or declared moot but suspended, in the way that, say, a bridge is suspended: via tension between opposites, a tension that, at least for the term of the story itself, holds at bay our impatience to make up our minds.

Even if you don’t agree, read it. It’s made for some, ahem, lively discussion around our house.


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