How to Destroy the Body (Transgressive Fiction Topic)

Shannon Waite
6 min readJul 6, 2023

PREFACE: If this is your first trip to my blog, I write a lot of transgressive fiction and my blog posts are resources for other transgressive writers. I offer book reviews, transgressive topics for inspiration, research on social change, and creative writing techniques. The article below is meant to support writers looking for information and/or ideas. Welcome!

This past Wednesday, I made a post about Bodies and Permissions: Breaking Rules & Conduct. In that post, I introduce the use/abuse of the body in transgressive fiction and why it makes sense. In this post, I briefly talk more about how bodies can be used to break boundaries and create social commentary in transgressive fiction, and provide some specific plot points and statistics that could be used in creating a story that uses the body as a tool.

Coco D’Hont (2020) discusses Chuck Palahniuk’s deviation from the term transgressive fiction, and his comment on how it is no longer received well or exists post America’s 9/11. D’Hont thinks transgressive fiction is still alive though and she critically explores transgression “As a philosophical concept, moving beyond simplistic definitions of the concept as an umbrella term for any type of shocking or socially unacceptable behaviour, or fictional renderings of this. Instead, transgression is explored as a mechanism which (re)develops central social ideologies” (D’Hont, 2020, p. 8).

I agree that transgressive fiction isn’t, or shouldn’t be, shocking for pure shock value. I suppose someone could write those stories, but I believe they’re way stronger when they have purpose behind them. What message is the author trying to send to a reader through this imagery?

And that’s where craft comes in. D’Hont (2020) explores a variety of craft choices that five transgressive novels employ. One that she discusses frequently is seen across the five texts: the use of the body. Like, she specifically calls out the body as a craft choice. As I mentioned earlier this week, body violation is common in transgressive literature — but it makes sense; it is one of the only things that we will permanently own during our lifetime and the act of violating our body disrupts that. This act can symbolize multiple forms of loss that are relevant to a variety of American ideals making it a strong example of transgression.

The interesting thing, though, is that even the other craft choices she identifies in transgressive fiction still revolve around the body.

She also explores constructed hierarchies through the use of an “other”.
In the novel Hogg, for example, she describes the character Hogg who is portrayed as physically filthy and running a rape business (which relates back to what I discussed in my post on Wednesday regarding the IBM layout of hierarchy).

Then, she discusses the ways in which the novels explore societal complexities.
This includes Beloved’s redevelopment of the perception of race and gender.

The body keeps coming up. It’s used to create pictures, meaning, and messages.

(Side note: D’Hont argues that these three craft choices demonstrate transgression’s role in shaping society, and how it calls attention to situations by creating exaggerated, aesthetic systems where the authors reveal, destruct, interrogate, and reform “the ideological structures of their extra-textual content” (p. 16) but that it doesn’t create change. The research I do considers how to use techniques like these three in combination with others to write stories that can create/impact social change. I haven’t yet discussed it on my blog — I will soon!)

In the meantime, here are some ideas for destroying/harming the body to get you started writing a transgressive story. As I offer plot points and statistics below, I do it in hopes that you may incorporate them into a broader discussion, rather than just a dark story for dark story’s sake. BUT I also recognize you’re your own author and can do whatever you’d like.

So here you go. Just a *few* examples of ways the body can be damaged or crossed to demonstrate transgression.

Examples/Plot Points

  • Self-immolation or ‘necklacing’ — placing a petrol-soaked tire around a victim and setting it alight — (the individual is fully conscious and gas inhalation does not decrease the level of consciousness)
  • Getting skinned alive (and then sell the skin on Ebay?!)
  • A body being ripped in half by a rope
  • ‘Sitting in the tub’ — laying a person in a wooden tub with only their head sticking out. Their faces would be painted with milk and honey and soon flies would begin to feed on them. Historically, the victim was also fed regularly and would end up swimming in their excrement. After a few days, maggots and worms would devour their body as they decayed alive
  • Dissolved with sulfuric acid
  • A woman filming herself in sexual videos with her infant daughter on her cellphone and sharing the videos online
  • Cold aerosol burns (‘frosties’) are self-inflicted or peer-inflicted injuries sustained from the spraying of aerosol onto the skin. A frostbite injury occurs because of subsequent freezing of the tissues, commencing at approximately –2˚C to –10˚C and despite short exposure periods, these injuries are often severe. Cluster injuries occur as the result of a mutual ‘test of courage’.

Some Relevant Statistics

from RAINN:

  • Every 68 seconds another American is sexually assaulted.
  • 1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime (14.8% completed, 2.8% attempted).
  • About 3% of American men — or 1 in 33 — have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime.
  • From 2009–2013, Child Protective Services agencies substantiated, or found strong evidence to indicate that, 63,000 children a year were victims of sexual abuse.
  • A majority of child victims are 12–17. Of victims under the age of 18: 34% of victims of sexual assault and rape are under age 12, and 66% of victims of sexual assault and rape are age 12–17.
  • 48% were sleeping, or performing another activity at home
  • 29% were traveling to and from work or school, or traveling to shop or run errands
  • 12% were working
  • 7% were attending school
  • 5% were doing an unknown or other activity

(Visit the site for more statistics)

From NCADV:

  • On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. During one year, this equates to more than 10 million women and men.1
  • 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men experience severe intimate partner physical violence, intimate partner contact sexual violence, and/or intimate partner stalking with impacts such as injury, fearfulness, post-traumatic stress disorder, use of victim services, contraction of sexually transmitted diseases, etc.2
  • 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner. This includes a range of behaviors (e.g. slapping, shoving, pushing) and in some cases might not be considered “domestic violence.” 1
  • 1 in 7 women and 1 in 25 men have been injured by an intimate partner.1
  • 1 in 10 women have been raped by an intimate partner. Data is unavailable on male victims.1
  • 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men have been victims of severe physical violence (e.g. beating, burning, strangling) by an intimate partner in their lifetime.1
  • 1 in 7 women and 1 in 18 men have been stalked by an intimate partner during their lifetime to the point in which they felt very fearful or believed that they or someone close to them would be harmed or killed.1
  • On a typical day, there are more than 20,000 phone calls placed to domestic violence hotlines nationwide.9
  • The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of homicide by 500%.10
  • Intimate partner violence accounts for 15% of all violent crime.2
  • Women between the ages of 18–24 are most commonly abused by an intimate partner.2
  • 19% of domestic violence involves a weapon.2
  • Domestic victimization is correlated with a higher rate of depression and suicidal behavior.2
  • Only 34% of people who are injured by intimate partners receive medical care for their injuries.2
  • A study of intimate partner homicides found that 20% of victims were not the intimate partners themselves, but family members, friends, neighbors, persons who intervened, law enforcement responders, or bystanders.3
  • 72% of all murder-suicides involve an intimate partner; 94% of the victims of these murder suicides are female.8
  • 1 in 15 children are exposed to intimate partner violence each year, and 90% of these children are eyewitnesses to this violence.5
  • The cost of intimate partner violence exceeds $8.3 billion per year.6
  • Between 21–60% of victims of intimate partner violence lose their jobs due to reasons stemming from the abuse.6
  • Between 2003 and 2008, 142 women were murdered in their workplace by their abuser, 78% of women killed in the workplace during this timeframe.4
  • Women abused by their intimate partners are more vulnerable to contracting HIV or other STI’s due to forced intercourse or prolonged exposure to stress.7

(Visit the site for more statistics)

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Shannon Waite

Shannon Waite is an author focused on transgression and social change and, largely, how to combine the two. www.shannonwaiteauthor.com