Transgression, Fake and Genuine

      by Joseph S. Salemi

When Henry Harland and Aubrey Beardsley brought forth their groundbreaking periodical The Yellow Book in 1894, its very first issue contained the semi-facetious essay “In Defence of Cosmetics” by Max Beerbohm.  A delightful excursion into the resurgence of cosmetic adornment in fin de siècle Englishwomen, the essay was a singularly appropriate (if purely playful) statement in praise of the aesthetic movement of the 1890s, and its urge to take art beyond the natural, the sincere, the humdrum, the ethically righteous, and the tediously realistic.  Along with its competitor The Savoy, Harland’s The Yellow Book was the flagship publication for a new impulse in the arts towards formal perfection, rather than morality-mongering and didacticism.  It was a massive Screw you! to Victorian sensibilities.  In modern terms, it was transgressive.  Many booksellers and distributors refused to stock either magazine.

Neither The Yellow Book nor The Savoy lasted for more than a scattering of issues, since every society is controlled, in the last analysis, by bourgeois philistines and orthodox conformists.  These types simply can’t help thinking that the arts are duty-bound to satisfy bien-pensant pieties.  And the situation is no different today.  Thought control and mindless orthodoxy still rule the roost in the arts, except that now the conformism wears the sheep’s clothing of transgression and risk-taking.  It’s a very neat propaganda coup: use the language of daring rebellion to disguise the fact that one is an on-the-make careerist.  Tom Wolfe called this trick “the Boho dance,” and it is still widely practiced.

If an artist today is labeled “transgressive,” this is actually Orwellian Newspeak for saying that his work is perfectly acceptable to the critical establishment.  If he is said to “take risks,” this is a positive statement of approval.  If he “shocks complacency,” this is the prelude to his lionization.  In short, an artist who receives this sort of evaluation has his career assured.  The vast array of cultural forces embodied in academia, editorial offices, galleries, and trendy museums will trumpet—in unison—his praises.  Look at an utterly inept dauber like Jean-Michel Basquiat, whose garbage-art canvases sell for millions.  But hey—he was “transgressive” and “risk-taking,” and therefore his work is holy.  Add to this that he was black, bisexual, and died of a heroin overdose, and his critical canonization is complete.

This situation creates a dilemma for artists who are still loyal to the inherited norms of Western artistic achievement.  No one maintaining those norms will be valued, except perhaps by a few fellow workers and by a minuscule audience of appreciators.  Which is fine, to be sure—excellent art doesn’t require a large audience to be excellent.  But the hypocrisy of phony transgression must be exposed, and that can only be done by providing the genuine article.  It’s up to the traditional artists to be really transgressive.  Let the enemy know that we are perfectly willing to defile their cherished icons.

In the current context of pretentious lying and posturing deceit, the traditional artist can do two things.  He can work in accord with his inherited standards, but he can also produce artworks that are simultaneously transgressive in a genuine way, as opposed to the fraudulent and make-believe transgressiveness of establishment art.  Let him hit hard at accepted pieties and shibboleths, and let him do it with robust contempt for both them and their defenders.  Let him not just mock sacred cows; let him disembowel them.

Whenever I suggest this, middle-of-the-road types scream “The only result will be hatred and ostracism!”  Well, that will be the first result, of course.  But the long-term result will be the undermining of establishment orthodoxy by demonstrating that its pieties and strictures are not universally accepted.  And like every act of courage, it will embolden others who need to see that they are not the only ones to harbor doubts concerning the current sacred cows.  A lit match thrown into a pile of dry trash may do little at first.  But there’s a good chance something will catch, and produce a fine conflagration.

One thing to keep in mind, however—the initial negative response to truly transgressive work will not just come from the gatekeepers of the status quo.  Unfortunately it will also come—in spades—from the faux conservatives who are allegedly our allies.  These stodgy, uptight, bean-counting conservatives will cluck and tsk-tsk and nag and pester us with all sorts of admonitions about “going too far” or “alienating the general readership,” or whatever other phrase they may employ for justifying their own irrelevance.  It’s time to ignore such people totally.  These timorous aunties of play-it-safe faux conservatism, like the Republican Party, are perfectly content with their position as a disregarded but comfortable minority.  We need to stop listening to them.

The gutless fear of Public Opinion, and of the genuinely transgressive, is nearly universal.  Even The Yellow Book and The Savoy suffered from attacks of it, refusing to print Oscar Wilde and dropping Aubrey Beardsley.  I had a girlfriend who told me that when she was a child in 1955, she came home and told her parents that at school she had signed up to be pen-pals with a child in the Soviet Union.  Her mother had a hysterical panic attack and had to be sedated, so fearful was she of adverse Public Opinion.

Public Opinion is always fundamentalist, in that it attaches itself to the fixities of unquestioned dogma with all the visceral ferocity of fanatical religion and chauvinistic patriotism.  Public Opinion gets resentful and angry when those dogmatic beliefs are mocked, and it hardly matters whether Public Opinion is liberal or conservative or socialist or egalitarian or fascist or feminist.  Like every orthodoxy, it violently rejects transgression as heresy, treason, deviation, hate speech, or thought crime.

It’s quite natural for the average dork to be terrified of what the Joneses might think, and to indulge in pre-emptive self-censorship.  The great demos is a thoughtless and bovine herd, mostly complacent yet prone to stampede when threatened.  But poets are supposed to be better than that.  Our job is to say whatever we think and perceive, regardless of its reception by others.  As for that stupid scarecrow Public Opinion, remember that it has only straw for brains.  And I told you what a lit match can do to straw.



Joseph S. Salemi has published five books of poetry, and his poems, translations and scholarly articles have appeared in over one hundred publications world-wide.  He is the editor of the literary magazine TRINACRIA and writes for Expansive Poetry On-line. He teaches in the Department of Humanities at New York University and in the Department of Classical Languages at Hunter College.

NOTE TO READERS: If you enjoyed this poem or other content, please consider making a donation to the Society of Classical Poets.

The Society of Classical Poets does not endorse any views expressed in individual poems or commentary.

CODEC Stories:

39 Responses

  1. Paul Freeman

    Whenever I’m put upon for having an opinion not in synch with some more vocal SCP members’ opinions, I fall back on Orwell:

    “Being in a minority, even in a minority of one, did not make you mad. There was truth and there was untruth, and if you clung to the truth even against the whole world, you were not mad.”

    Thanks for an essay that’s very relevant today, Joseph, and says much.

    And vive la difference (of opinion).

    • Joshua C. Frank

      In the spirit of saying what we think, I’m just going to say it: Stop playing the victim. I’ve seen you write deliberately offensive comments to troll Susan Jarvis Bryant and Brian Yapko because their opinions are not in sync with the liberal party line. Now you say we attack you for having an opinion that isn’t conservative enough in the hope that someone may give you some undeserved sympathy. No, we call you out for acting like a jerk. There’s a world of difference there, one that many liberals seem not to understand. We’d be more interested if you gave cogent arguments instead of calling people names.

  2. Paul Buchheit

    Very inspirational, Joseph. Makes me want to express myself without worrying about backlash!

  3. Mike Bryant

    Dr. Salemi, this amazing essay has given me much to think about.
    The new ‘Axis Of Evil’ is comprised of Globalists, Progressives, Woke Corporations , Non-Governmental Organizations, and the Chinese Communist Party. These powers are pushing totalitarianism by taking over every institution.
    This slow motion insurrection has been fueled with so much tax money that governments worldwide are teetering on the brink of ruin. Venezuela and Brazil have been toppled and Russia is being taught a lesson in “freedom” by the new totalitarians, as woke NATO takes more territory.
    Poetry has also fallen under the post-modernism spell. Can truth and beauty exist in a Godless society? Can it exist without free speech? Is SCP the home of the new transgressives?
    It seems that the transgressives of the sixties have become the tyrants of today. Perhaps, SCP is the vanguard of a new era of truth and beauty.
    Still thinking…

  4. Evan Mantyk

    Thank you for the essay, Dr. Salemi!

    You mention “a minuscule audience of appreciators,” which sounds about right for the classical-formal-traditional poetry movement at its core, but I’d also like to give some context that may encourage people. My experience has been something like 1% of the population engages in poetry, writing their own poems and having the potential to buy poetry books and participate in a poetry reading. That’s 3 million people (speaking from the perspective of the United States for simplicity’s sake). Now of those 3 million, only about 1%, or 30,000, are the people who are antagonistic to the new writing of traditional verse and are ardent ideologues who are in controlling positions at universities and organizations. (Perhaps those very active in traditional poetry and unafraid to transgress number only 1% of the 30,000, or 300, like the Spartans at Thermopylae.) These 30,000 are actually very small and insignificant on their own, and this is why you can’t even find Poetry Magazine in a book store with all of the other niche magazines. Importantly, the vast majority of poetry-engaged people, 2.97 million really just float between ideologies and styles; they actually lean traditional and disdain the heinous ideological code that must now, as the situation arises, be transgressed. They are waiting for you, for us, for brave poets out there. And it could be many more than 2.97 million because many have become disaffected from appreciating poetry because of the leadership of those 30,000.

    Those are not exact figures obviously, but just my sense of it to illustrate what is going on.

  5. Roy Eugene Peterson

    As always, I am enamored with your essays. Why? 1.) I learn so much from your erudite presentations including historical facts (publications and dates), terms (transgressive, “the Boho Dance”), and words (“bien-pensant”). 2.) Evocative imagery and analogies like throwing a match in the trash bin and then employing it again at the end for the straw brains that populate our planet for a fantastic conclusion that drives home your points!. I share with you and Evan the mission of transgressing popular opinion and bringing order, or perhaps better said– restoring order–out of one corner of the intelligent universe. Thank you, Evan, for adding your thoughtfully considered perspective.

  6. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Joe, thank you for this clearly illustrated, insightful, instructive, and inspirational essay. As with all writings, these invite (unwittingly or not) readers to bring huge swathes of themselves to the interpretation of the text. As an inspired reader, who is bringing a huge swathe of herself to this essay, I have drawn much strength from this amazing paragraph:

    In the current context of pretentious lying and posturing deceit, the traditional artist can do two things. He can work in accord with his inherited standards, but he can also produce artworks that are simultaneously transgressive in a genuine way, as opposed to the fraudulent and make-believe transgressiveness of establishment art. Let him hit hard at accepted pieties and shibboleths, and let him do it with robust contempt for both them and their defenders. Let him not just mock sacred cows; let him disembowel them.

    Some may say that these words do not apply to poets like me, that I am as far from truth and beauty as one could possibly imagine… I say, I don’t care for hot air, I’m off to sharpen my metaphors regardless. I have many a mock sacred cow to disembowel and this essay has spurred me on.

  7. Joseph S. Salemi

    To all the commenters, I deeply appreciate your kind words.

    More specifically, to Mike Bryant and Evan Mantyk — yes, we are in the midst of a raging culture war that is very soon going to explode into open combat, or the genocidal crushing of people like us. We at the SCP are just a tiny corner of resistance with little overall effect on the situation, and our only weapons are words and sentences. But free speech really does matter. And as long as we continue to make use of that freedom by being as transgressive and offensive and contemptuous of our enemies as possible, we are contributing to the fight. Totalitarians can’t stand intellectual courage, which is why they always go after it viciously. Let’s keep the bastards enraged and infuriated.

    To Susan Bryant — my essay applies very specifically to you, because you are one of the toughest fighters here. Your poems have fought against left-liberal garbage with style, with energy, and with an excellent take-no-prisoners attitude. Keep sharpening your metaphors. It’s the best preparation for sharpening our bayonets.

    • Paul Buchheit

      I think a poet can express truth and beauty in traditional classic forms, and at the same time challenge modern poetic ‘rules,’ without regard to his/her political or religious beliefs.

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        Who said he couldn’t? Inherited poetic forms are simply tools that anyone can use if properly trained to do so. Neruda wrote odes to Stalin, and Baraka claimed that Jews bombed the World Trade Center. Idiotic, no doubt, but they are good poets.

        My basic point in the essay is not concerned with poetic forms, but with the use of transgression to fight against the choking, stifling orthodoxy known as globalist left-liberalism and wokesterism.

    • Paul Buchheit

      “to fight against the choking, stifling orthodoxy known as globalist left-liberalism”

      That sounds like a political stance to me.

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        Yes, of course it is a political stance. So what?

    • Paul Buchheit

      So you wish to condemn leftist-liberal work and embrace it at the same time? It makes no sense, but I better stop before I get censored by SCP.

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        No one is going to censor you here, but we will expect you to think more clearly. I condemn left-liberalism as a sick and poisonous ideology, but not necessarily the artistic work of individual left-liberal artists, because those artistic works do not always reflect their views, and in fact may be excellent in many other respects.

        G. Bernard Shaw was a partisan of terror and socialistic control, but his plays are brilliant dramatic creations, even when their political preachings are silly or wrong-headed. Byron was a political radical, but his poetry is absolutely delightful and witty (unlike that gasbag Shelley, who is almost always a bore).

        Is it so hard to understand that I judge all artistic works by their visible craftsmanship and intrinsic aesthetic structure, and not by the incidental viewpoints of their creators?

        Answer me this honestly: How many people on your side of the political spectrum take that kind of disinterested stance? Or do they send every poem, play, novel, and painting through the customs-check of left-liberalism and wokesterism before they issue a judgment on it?

        As for censorship, you’ve been welcome here without censorship for a long time. Ask yourself how long persons like myself or Brian Yapko or Joshua Frank or Adam Wasem or the Bryants would be allowed to post freely at the typical left-liberal poetry website.

      • Mike Bryant

        Joe, Godless left liberalism is what brought us to this sad time in history. Social justice and social economics, put forward by proud progressives, are now delivering us into global tyranny. Justice does not need any modifiers.

      • Joshua C. Frank

        Thank you, Joe. It’s nice to know that we’re noticed.

    • Paul Buchheit

      Joseph, you make some good points. Yes, it would be difficult for a right-winger to find acceptance on Salon or CommonDreams or any of the progressive sites.

      And yes, like you, I attempt to judge “artistic works by their visible craftsmanship and intrinsic aesthetic structure, and not by the incidental viewpoints of their creators.”

      But that’s pretty much the point. I came to SCP excited about the opportunity to experience beautiful poetry without the unpleasantness of personal political biases. But many SCP offerings are liberal-hating rants. A progressive like myself can only take so much.

      Perhaps my original expectations for participating on this site were naive. And I did not wish to get into a verbal battle with you. Thanks for taking the time to discuss this.

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        Paul, there is no battle between us. We simply express our viewpoints openly, and neither of us is censored. But you have to admit that at a site where many conservative and rightist poets gather, conservative and rightist opinions will be sounded, both in poems and in commentary. That’s just natural.

        If I read you correctly, you’d like a poetry website where no political biases or convictions are expressed, and where there is only beautiful (but completely apolitical) poetry. But no one can expect that today, in a world where violent disagreements and savage contestation are raging all around us. Such a website would seem ethereal, otherworldly, utterly detached, and — dare I say it? — naively out of touch.

        No hard feelings, I hope.

      • Joshua C. Frank

        Here’s how we see it

        1. You liberals can be published in every two-bit po-biz magazine in the world, because you’ve taken over the whole Western world. You think you don’t have enough power? Now you want to take the SCP away from us as well and tell us what we can and can’t say just like every other damned liberal (I’m not swearing here, I really do mean damned) is already doing to us.

        2. We don’t hate liberals, we hate liberal beliefs. Just as you hate conservative beliefs but (I hope) don’t hate conservatives. The culture only gives you one side of the debate, but try to look at it from our perspective as a good writer must do for his characters. We’re not just a bunch of dumb bigots like your liberal media insist. Our views of liberalism are the logical conclusion of what we believe.

        Example: We believe that a human being is a human being from the moment he is conceived, because a human being isn’t alive without a soul (death is defined as the separation of the soul from the body in Christian theology). Therefore, abortion (or even stem-cell research, which kills embryos) is morally equivalent to killing an already-born child or an adult. Therefore, given how many children are being killed in this way with full approval and encouragement by liberals, we see liberalism as being at least as bad as Naziism because of that one issue alone. I haven’t even touched on a whole host of other issues, such as the destruction of marriage and the family, our culture’s incessant push to overthrow God and kick Him out as if He were a despot, the neutering of manhood and womanhood, etc., as there isn’t space to do so here.

        In short: from a Christian perspective, liberalism is at least as evil as Naziism. The Catholic Church gave its approval to a book called Liberalism is a Sin; that alone speaks volumes on our perspective.

  8. Mia

    Dr Salemi thank you. Absolutely Brilliant as usual

    I wouldn’t post, please excuse my poem but it is on
    public opinion, and I am being bold as you suggest.
    Sadly I cannot reach excellence however hard I try.

    Public Opinion

    The phone call was polite
    The caller was contrite,
    Apologising profusely,
    Repeated she was truly
    So sorry for the error.
    She had indeed invited me
    To her birthday bash,
    But now there was a clash!
    She was at pains to express
    That it didn’t matter to her
    If one was vaccinated or not,
    But her friend with cancer
    Thought it too risky to mix
    With the unvaccinated,
    As she was very sick
    And thought it a risk.
    I struggled to answer her
    Being polite instead of
    Reminding her that she has
    Had covid three times
    Despite the four jabs, so
    I remained mute, not wanting
    To be rude; she ended with,
    “So you see, I am terribly sorry
    I have no choice, we will go out
    Soon, when the weather improves.”

    Later I sadly related this to
    Another friend who said kindly
    Thinking I would be consoled,
    “ Well look on the bright side,
    You might just have saved
    A life by staying at home.”

    She didn’t mean mine.

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      Mia, your poem and the experience behind it touch a very sore spot. Only recently I had the exact same thing happen when my brother and I were invited to an important family celebration. My brother is un-vaxxed, and I refuse to wear any kind of mask, either in public or in private. When we made this clear to those running the gathering, there was a good deal of back-and-forth argumentation, until I declared that I would skip the event, while the organizers decided to overlook my brother’s lack of vaccination.

      This is the problem — political ideology and bureaucratic tyranny are now interfering in the relations of family and friends. Older Germans will tell you that this is exactly what happened in the heyday of the Third Reich.

      • Mia

        Thank you for your reply but I am really sorry that it made you think about a bad experience. The situation really is unbelievably sad. Some have been made to feel as though other people are enemies and a danger to each other. It is a kind of test though. Willing myself to understand not to take it out on friends but to keep going in the same friendly way as normal has become more and more difficult for me. So I appreciate a site that brings some sanity into this madness. For me, Writing a poem, even a bad one is cathartic!

        Thank you for your poetry, your essays and for caring enough.

  9. Brian A Yapko

    I greatly enjoyed reading this essay twice, Joseph. It is observant, honest and pulls no punches. I have no patience with opportunistic transgression which, as I see it, is the creation of art (including but not limited to poetry), created for the cynical purpose of generating more sales or social media hits or to satisfy deep narcissistic tendencies. It’s the equivalent of dying your hair cotton candy pink and piercing your eyebrow to get attention — because getting attention this way is so much easier than actually earning it. It’s nothing but performance art. And it’s dishonest — something I think we both have little patience with.

    Your bringing up Basquiat is spot-on. His work appears on the Antiques Roadshow and sells for hundreds of thousands of dollars — and for what? Anyone could doodle the art he creates. Ah, but he became a commodity which makes his work valuable. At least for now. Or consider John Cage’s “musical” work “4’33” which is a pianist sitting silently at the piano for 4 minutes and 33 seconds while the audience basks in how deep and meaningful this “brilliant” work is. Performance art.

    There are literally thousands of examples of the emperor having no clothes in art, music and, yes, poetry. We are now in a cultural place where art need no longer have craft or skill. Our society now values performance art more than the real thing and opportunistic transgression seems to be a deep part of this phenomenon. The concept of “celebrity” has nothing to do with excellence and everything to do with creating a commodity that sells, even if it has no value whatsoever, objective/subjective or otherwise.

    What’s interesting to me in this “emperor’s new clothes” discussion is that you can’t get away with a lack of craft or skill in fields with practical application, like architecture or engineering. There’s too much at stake. Safety and lives are on the line. Somehow even the exhibitionists and the woke seem to understand this. Their understanding that such shenanigans won’t work when it really matters tacitly proves their hypocrisy.

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      You’re quite right about the continuing relevance of expertise and skill in fields with a real-world application. Not even liberals want to fly in an airplane designed with “creative freedom” or “anarchic structure.” Imagine a bridge built by someone without a clue as to stress points, curvature, and metal fatigue. Would one of these “let-it-all-hang-out” types want to cross it?

      The left uses “transgression” as a weapon against Western culture and arts, but it HATES any act of transgression done by us against leftist pieties and sacred cows. That’s why we need to be very obnoxious and in-your-face when writing. In fact, one of my small books is titled “In Your Face Poems.”

  10. James Sale

    A brilliant article, Joe, which I totally agree with. I mean ‘conformism’ seems a permanent state of mind of so many – never mind just the poetry, hence the mask wearing! The one word not used in your article but of which we must truly beware is: ‘unacceptable.’ When you hear that, you know you’ve touched a nerve, a shibboleth. For more on my take on that word, do check out my article on Lord of the Rings and Woke, just out on The Epoch Times: https://www.theepochtimes.com/what-the-lord-of-the-rings-teaches-us-about-being-woke_4994957.html

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      Quite right, James. Whenever anyone says that something is “unacceptable,” you know that you are dealing with a person in the grip of a Categorical Moral Imperative, even if that person claims to be an atheist or agnostic. This is why I argue that left-liberalism and wokesterism are disguised religions.

  11. Joshua C. Frank

    Joe, this essay is spot on! I agree, the establishment only likes transgression and risk-taking when it’s meant to give the finger to Christians and other conservatives. If the establishment likes it, it can’t be transgressive by definition. The real transgressive poets are conservative ones. Even a leftist poet (David Orr) admitted that there are only a few conservative poets, none of whom can show their faces at a poetry gathering without having hot tea splashed on them.

    Myself, I like to start where other conservatives stop. Even a lot of conservative Catholics not only won’t write against the things I’ve written against, but defend them with more vehemence than when they defend Scripture and Church teaching! When even they won’t touch a topic, that’s when I know I have to write about it. For example, I can count on one hand the number of writers I’ve found (other than myself) who will aim their pens at so-called “natural family planning.”

    One of my inspirations and poetic influences is the French poet/singer Georges Brassens (1921-81). He was a liberal who lived a sinful life, though many of his songs are perfectly fine for Christian sensibilities. As for the rest of them, he wrote them in a culture that found him and his words offensive, though they were tame compared to what modern culture encourages and, in some cases, requires. Some of his songs were even banned by French radio, so he had to rely on word of mouth to get those out… now he’s as well-known and loved in France as the Beatles are in the English-speaking world; one of his songs (“Le Petit Cheval,” a poem by Paul Fort he set to music, which I translated into English) is known by every French schoolchild; and everyone in France recognizes even the banned lyrics, to the point where one of those songs ended the use of a few French women’s names for baby girls as effectively as the epithet “Karen” ended the use of that name in the English-speaking world.

    Would that we conservative poets could be as influential in our countries as he was in his!

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      The French have the bad habit of sometimes banning their best writers. The most obvious cases are Celine and Maurras. The politically correct censorship exercised by the French left-liberal establishment is ferocious. With the coming of the horrid E.U., it has gotten even worse.

      Novus Ordo Catholics? Fuggedaboutit, as we say in Noo Yawk. They follow the lead of their bishops, their pastors, their parish newsletters, and the parish council loudmouths. They know which way the wind is blowing, and they trim their sails accordingly.

      Keep up what you are doing, Joshua. It bears witness, in the genuine sense of the phrase.

  12. Shaun C. Duncan

    The utterly phoney kind of transgression so popular with our artistic beliefs serves not only to undermine the foundations of family and community but is also an attack on the very idea of artistic standards. They claim to do this in the name of artistic freedom, but all it does is hand more power to the academics and critics who, in the absence of any agreed-upon criteria, are free to praise or condemn an artist’s work on the grounds of ideology, friendship, ethnicity or whatever else they’re currently preoccupied with, and this becomes laughably obvious when you observe just how narrow a artform like poetry has become over the last century. Most of the formalists out there (outside of the SCP) still write the same lyrical confessional drivel as their free verse counterparts.

    I’m quite familiar with the transgressive arts scene and spent a bit of time there when I was younger. These people are, unsurprisingly, completely puritanical in their own views. They’ll sing the praises of the Vienna Actionists or pseudo-paedophilic writers like Peter Sotos or Dennis Cooper, but read them one of Susan’s poems criticizing gender ideology and they’ll turn into a blubbering mess, wailing about the dangers her work poses to children like conservative church ladies they like to mock. Lord help them if they ever stumble across Leo Yankevich’s work.

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      Shaun, what you say about transgression (it’s allowed to the Left, but forbidden to the Right) can be paralleled in the current controversy over free speech. The Left will scream bloody murder if anyone tries to censor what they say, but they have no problem at all with the Right being silenced in the name of alleged “disinformation” or “offensiveness.”

      I remember back in the 1990s, when that left-liberal jackass J. Hillis Miller wrote his article “There’s No Free Speech, and That’s A Good Thing Too,” defending the suppression of certain “unacceptable” ideas. Of course, none of the “unacceptable” ideas were the ones held by him and other academic poseurs. It’s significant that Miller later directed his attention to the study of law and lawmaking — a clear indication that the American leftists were quite aware that their real aim was to establish a left-liberal public orthodoxy by means of legal enactments and strictures.

      And yes — there’s far too much sentiment-soaked confessional drivel in New Formalist poetry. I’m glad somebody said it.

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        Actually, I remember now that it was Stanley Fish, not J. Hillis Miller, who wrote that piece. But it hardly matters, since both of them were academic leftist culture warriors with the same agenda.

  13. Sally Cook

    The thing that offends me is the clear diminishing, both left and right, of the individual. Everything new and unique in the world has inevitably sparked from an individual. Granted, an influenced individual, but still, one strong enough to withstand undue influence.

    When I see tugs of war between liberals and conservatives, I say to myself yes, but what about the individual idea, the individual point of view?

    What lasts down the ages; is truly great?

    Battles must be won between here and there, but I think that many times we are very shortsighted.

  14. Joshua C. Frank

    Someone told me that there’s actually a genre of literature called transgressive literature, where the author goes completely off the rails with regard to social norms, seeking to shatter them. But they usually go in directions that even a lot of liberals, let alone we, find repugnant, such as pedophilia, hard drugs, or suicide (though whatever I can name, there’s a movement seeking to legitimize it). We, on the other hand, come at it from the opposite direction: where they’re being blatantly radical, we’re being blatantly traditional. My poems against birth control, smartphones, and disobedience to parents are as shocking to modern liberal sensibilities as a poem praising pedophilia would be to us. (I don’t count abortion because they’re used to pro-life people.) I write short stories along similar lines and am having a hard time finding a market for them…

    I’m not sure what the name for this genre is. Would we be considered a subgenre of transgressive literature, analogous to military science fiction or those Christmas romance movies my mother loves? Or are we a genre in ourselves, the way musical historians see Beethoven as his own musical period (a bridge between Classical and Romantic)?

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      Joshua, I’ve never heard of this “transgressive” genre of literature before, but I don’t doubt that it exists. Left-liberals are especially concerned with causing trouble and dismay for those few of us who are loyal to traditional standards of behavior and artistic work. It’s part of their ongoing and unending project of demoralizing the opposition and degrading inherited social norms.

      Drag queens brought in to lecture to grade school children? Sex-change mutilation being promoted among these minors, and protected by legal fiat that cancels parental authority? Repulsive trannies in high governmental positions? In a world where this kind of raw sewage is considered proper and normal, one would have to expect that literature would also be polluted with the kind of stuff you mention.

      Yes, you can also expect that you will have a hard time publishing material that goes against the grain of this trendy perversion. The left has wide and pervasive influence.

      But keep this in mind: transgressive works of art only make sense when they are directed against a real and powerful authority that is well established and widely accepted by the public. Right now, nearly everywhere in the West, the religion of left-liberalism is the de facto cultural and moral authority, taught universally in public schools and defended ferociously in the major cultural venues of academia, journalism, churches, and broadcast media. Because of this, “transgressive” works by left-liberals no longer have the kind of bite that they would have had back in 1910. Garbage artists like Basquiat and Haring and Banksy are nothing but careerist money-makers who fit in perfectly with the world around them. Left-liberal “transgressive” artists are not transgressive at all, in the wider social context of what we have today. They are just reflecting the society we all live in, and which they approve of.

      Here is our opportunity. We conservative and rightists artists are now perfectly positioned to be savagely transgressive, because we are the irritant in the clamshell of left-liberal orthodoxy. We can mock and ridicule and deride all the sacred cows and pretentious pieties that now govern our stupid society.

      But it will take courage, and nerve, and don’t-give-a-damn insouciance, and utter contempt for those play-it-safe faux “conservatives” in our ranks who are always whining about how we need to be nice and kind and polite and forgiving. This is the real source of my anger towards many religionists in our movement. They tend to pull their punches.

      • Shaun C. Duncan

        Transgressive literature has its roots in the work of the Marquis de Sade and is influenced by the post-Freudian reading of his works by the surrealists’, whereby any indulgence in psychopathic fantasy was seen as “liberating” the unconscious and therefore charged with revolutionary potential. The high priest of modern transgressive literature was William S. Burroughs, who is one of the sacred cows of the current literary establishment, despite (or more likely because of his) being a drug addict and child molester who murdered his wife.

        His successors have tended to be worse because transgression has nowhere to go further and further. Peter Sotos has written sexual fantasies about the murder of Jon-Benet Ramsay and was the first person in America to be charged with the possession of child pornography. His case was promoted as a civil rights issue by the literati of the day. Dennis Cooper is probably the most famous transgressive writer today and he is firmly of the literary establishment. His work is openly paedophilic with elements of necrophilia and satanism thrown in but I imagine he’s also written a few opinion pieces for respectable journals hyperventilating about the evil Orange Man and his deranged supporters. I imagine there are far worse writers out there these days than I am familiar with.

        And Joshua is quite right – there’s nothing these people loathe more than a Catholic and they would undoubtedly view you both as dangerous extremists. In fact, they’d probably support the SCP being deplatformed completely – they’re an extremely thin-skinned bunch. Joseph makes an excellent point though when he says that modern conservatives are too polite. Most of them have no idea how bad this stuff gets and are incapable of responding accordingly. Things will continue to get worse while conservatives are too scared to use invective against guys like Cooper.

        While we’re on the subject, it might also be worth noting here that Allen Ginsburg, whose work was maybe more transgressive in form than content, was a proud member of the North American Man-Boy Love Association (NAMBLA), a paedophile rights group. Funny how this stuff invariably ends up in the same place. I’m sure Whitman would’ve been a member too if they’d been around in his day.

  15. Joseph S. Salemi

    By the way, let me report a serendipitous incident that just occurred, and that shows clearly that what we are talking about here is actually percolating in the larger community.

    Last night, on the “Gutfeld Show,” the guests were speaking about the absurd and idiotic “Grammys” award presentations, where several left-liberal buffoons attempted to be “transgressively anti-Christian,” with some kind of stupid satanic dance ritual. The whole thing was a flop, and Gutfeld’s guests agreed that the left is desperately trying to be transgressive but can’t pull it off anymore, because what they are doing is now so predictable and hackneyed that it is downright boring. Everyone saw the dance performance as just a laughable pose, and the choreographer was dismissed as a silly jackass.

    But the really interesting thing was this: Gutfeld’s guests also added that the REALLY transgressive people today are conservatives and rightists who speak out forcefully against the current politically correct crap, and who articulately defend conservative and traditional positions. WE ARE THE ONES who are shocking the conformists, and sending them into apoplexy.

    Exactly what we have been saying in this thread.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.