Keith Ebsary

Keith Ebsary

DHP: What is your definition of transgressive?


KE: I’m not sure that any current art or literature can be called transgressive since there’s not really anything left to transgress against. All idols and standards have been so thoroughly machine-gunned that the final refuge of the transgressive is now vulgar shock. And I don’t find that particularly artistic because the central conceit is always dull, like an idiot sitcom blasted through Marshall stacks.  


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?


KE: Probably the Bible since it seemed so utterly antithetical to how I understood the world.


When I was a child, I also had an anthology of myths from around the world. I lost it years ago (and how I wish I could find it) but I still remember how very twisted some of the stories were, particularly the nihilistic Norse ones. They started me on the road to moral flexibility and outright amorality, which are themes that continue to interest me.

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.


KE: Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Super Masochist.

Lord Jesus that’s a crazy movie. I remember watching it in a packed movie theatre and everyone wincing in unison during the famous scene where he nails his dick to a board while some light and friendly song plays. The violence and self-torture are transgressive enough (you don’t usually expect to watch and enjoy a man torturing his terminally ill body), but the movie truly succeeds as a transgressive work by wrapping the degradation in transcendence. To me, transcendence is the very essence of art. Flanagan’s performance of self-debasement is deeply artistic because it is connected to a larger aesthetic purpose, that of a dying man trying to rise above his own impending death.


I’d like to clarify that I haven’t seen the movie in ages. No, that’s not true. I watch it with my children every Friday and we laugh and high-five before Daddy cries in the sunshine.    

DHP: Name a historical transgressive role model & tell us a bit about this person.


I can’t really think of one since I don’t try to pattern myself after anybody.

DHP: List a few transgressive fictional works from your personal library.


KE: Camille Paglia, Sexual Personae (and other works by Paglia)

Most people don’t understand that Paglia is an aesthetic fascist, which is something I sympathize with. I enjoy how she sometimes applies rigidly classical standards of art and beauty to high art, low art and everything in between. It takes courage to assert that there are specific, universal aesthetic standards in this endlessly mediocre age of the endlessly mediocre Me and Voice.


Glenn Duncan, I, Lucifer


This is simply vivid, funny, intensely focused writing that has eons more meaning and appeal than Leonard Cohen’s entire corpus of rectum gazing. It’s transgressive by being so good.


Jorge Luis Borges, Fictions


His writings bent reality to the point that I’m not sure it ever snapped back.

DHP: In what ways are you trying to create or publish work that is transgressive according to your definition?


KE: Within the context of Canadian literature, I actually find my writing anti-transgressive. So much CanLit is so mind-numbingly awful, so obviously socially engineered and so thoroughly deluded about its own value that it transgresses against any real standard of art or beauty.


To be honest, I couldn’t name a single Canadian writer that I like or admire. I don’t read the journals or follow the contests because every time I do, I see yet another self-indulgent rumination on identity (as though being mixed-race, aboriginal, part-donkey, whatever, automatically makes your musings worthwhile) or else some cobbled-together, pseudo-magic-realism nonsense that no one other than fellow creative writing grads cares about.


So my writing is a response to all that. I like to think that I’m transgressing against bad art or the devitalized shit that passes for CanLit these days. I write for myself, in the way I want to write, guided by the classics.