DHP: What is your definition of transgressive?
MC: Well, I guess I'd have to say that 'transgressive' to me means anything – particularly in the arts – that pushes the boundaries of what is normally accepted. The problem – if it's a problem – is that what pushes one century (or decade, or year or even day) won't have much of an affect once it's been generally accepted. At the same time, some things always seem to be transgressive and may never be accepted (and, just because I had lunch, cannibalism springs immediately to mind).
I guess it all depends on what it being said, and when it's being said – I know that might sound slippery or even evasive but I really feel that transgression in art will always be stepping just ahead of us ... while, at the same time, staying right here with us.
DHP: What was the first text you read that made you question accepted societal tenets or values or the way in which the world works?
MC: Hum ... tough call. Dovetailing with what I just said, I think what pushed me at one age was simply accepted at another. I remember being blown away by William S. Burroughs in High School, JG Ballard in college, Theodore Sturgeon when I first read Venus Plus X, Alan Moore's Watchmen (and V for Vendetta), Greenaway's The Falls – pretty much anything that made me think. But, importantly, just didn't make me grimace. Lots of folks, alas, think that just being outrageous for outrageous-es sake is transgressive. I always feel that if you throw up and just feel queasy afterward all you did was have bad oysters but if you throw up and it changes the way you look at the shellfish, or the ocean, then that's changed you in some deeply profound manner. Not that nausea should always be a gauge – but it is a rather (ahem) transgressive symbol.
DHP: Give an example of a transgressive work & explain why you felt it was transgressive? The work could be literature, film, visual art, theatre, graphic novels or something else.
MC: One of my favprites is the already mentioned Venus Plus X by Ted Sturgeon. Definitely pick it up if you haven't. The damned book was written in 1960 – back when SF was still mostly considered a sub-par genre. Now, Sturgeon was – and always will be – seen as a bit of a transgressive SF writer but Venus really pushed pretty much every boundary you could think of – and, for me, it changed the way I thought about the future, about sex, about gender, about Ends Justifying The Means ... but this is all just clumsy fumbling on my part: no matter what I write here I really can't do it justice.
DHP: Name a historical transgressive role model & tell us a bit about this person.
MC: Hahaha – the weird is wide open on that one: mainly because I love to collect odd, eccentric, and brilliant historical figures. I'd really be hard pressed to think of a single one, but what I can do is give you a quick list of folks that you can have a lot of fun looking up later:
• Felix Von Luckner, the Benevolent Sea Eagle (the WWI German pirate who fought with remarkable honor and ... well, maybe even a bit of whimsy)
• Brian G. Hughes (the cardboard box magnate who dedicated his life to playing practical jokes New York City)
• Joseph Cornell (the sculptor and filmaker who transformed art for three different creative movements -- simply because he liked making art)
• Richard Feynman (the brilliant scientist who brought a beautiful and wonderous humor and childish amazement to physics ... and pretty much everything else in his life)
• Hokusai (the Edo-period Japanese artist whose statement about art and his life to this day has become my personal ... well, it's me: "From around the age of six, I had the habit of sketching from life. I became an artist, and from fifty on began producing works that won some reputation, but nothing I did before the age of seventy was worthy of attention. At seventy-three, I began to grasp the structures of birds and beasts, insects and fish, and of the way plants grow. If I go on trying, I will surely understand them still better by the time I am eighty-six, so that by ninety I will have penetrated to their essential nature. At one hundred, I may well have a positively divine understanding of them, while at one hundred and thirty, forty, or more I will have reached the stage where every dot and every stroke I paint will be alive. May Heaven, that grants long life, give me the chance to prove that this is no lie."
DHP: List a few transgressive fictional works from your personal library.
MC: That's kind of hard to say, mainly because once I read (or watch or listen, etc) to them they are just part of me, my physical and mental library, and so I don't really consider them transgressive per se: they just become part of ME. If I had to pull some things from my shelf that had a huge affect on me I'd have to say they'd be the (look them up and have you mind blown) Andrew Goldsworthy, Philip Glass, John Cage, Theo Jansen, Alan Moore, Jack Kirby, Theodore Sturgeon, Phil Dick, Kipling, Steranko, Jan Saudek, JG Ballard, Adam Warren (the comic writer and artist), Angela Carter, Alexander Jablokov, Nigel Kneale, John Frankenheimer, Wim Wenders, Peter Greenaway, Alfred Bester, Jody Scott ... and, well, that should give you a start, at least.
DHP: In what ways are you trying to create or publish work that is transgressive according to your definition?
MC: I really don't try to be transgressive just to be outrageous – but, at the same time, I think art should try and SAY SOMETHING. A work that is simply mental masturbation can be a lot of fun (and I spend a lot of time jerking off to all kinds of things) but as a writer I really would like to reach out and affect my readers – hopefully for the better. When I finished my novel Me2 I really though 'caught the bug' so to speak and have been pushing myself more and more to do works that are fascinating to write and, hopefully, to read as well. I guess you could say that my own work (like my recent Finger's Breadth and my Bachelor Machine collection ... oh, and Dirty Words, of course) is all about pushing myself (creatively, emotionally, creatively) more and more than intentionally trying to self-consciously be transgressive to the reader.
In the end, my dream has not to write a book or a story that twitches the reader but one that they will stop reading and look out at the world for a moment and think to themselves WOW...