Yann Martel: ‘Transgression is central to art’

Yann Martel: ‘Transgression is central to art’

I think transgression is central to art. In art you cross borders and I’ve done that
constantly in my fiction. So, for example, my first book was a collection
of short stories and in it were the main stories about two students, one of whom as a result
of a blood transfusion gets AIDS and he slowly spirals towards death. And the two encounter each other. His friend visits him every week in the hospital
and they start telling themselves a story set in Finland about this Italian family in
Finland. And to give it backbone they say that each
episode in the story of that family must resemble one historical episode of the twentieth century. So in the first episode of this family, the
Helsinki’s of Roccamatios it has to imitate 1901. And in 1901 Queen Victoria died. So in the family, in the Helsinki family Roccamatios
the patriarch dies. So it creates this parallel. And so right away you have a setting here. Here I’m a Canadian writer and I’m writing
about a fictitious Italian family in Finland and they’re using historical parallels that
come from all over the world. Right away I’m exploring realities that
are different from mine. It’s even more obvious with my next book
which is my first novel called Self. In Self you have a boy who’s traveling,
he’s backpacking, he’s 17. He’s starting very young. And on his eighteenth birthday he wakes up
and he’s a girl, he’s a young woman. And he’s a young woman for seven years. And then he becomes a man again. And his gender orientation starts to vary
too. Initially when he’s a young woman he’s
thinking as a heterosexual male so he’s attracted to women. So sorry, she’s attracted to women. And then slowly her orientation starts to
shift and she’s attracted rather uncomfortably to young men. And the first time she kisses a young man
the first thought that pops into her head is I’m gay. Because in her mind, in her thinking she’s
still a male and she’s kissing a male therefore she’s gay. But in fact she has the body of a woman. So conventionally she’s heterosexual. And then when she switches back to a man again
once again the slide takes place. And so there I was very obviously exploring
a front, a border that I haven’t crossed myself. With my mind I went somewhere else. I was interested in exploring what it means
to be a man, what it means to be a woman, where does sexual orientation come from. I was exploring the idea that the body is
an environment to which we adapt. Just as people adapt to hot climates to cold
climates we adapt to our bodies. So there’s a very obvious example of transgression. I went with my mind where I couldn’t with
my own body. And the point of that is that with the empathetic
imagination we can go where nothing else can go. And therefore we can bring back truths that
you can’t actually bring back factually. And I’ve continued that with my other books. Life of Pi of course is a story of an Indian
boy in a lifeboat with a tiger in the Pacific. None of those are true to me. I’m neither Indian. I’ve never been a castaway. I’ve never been in close proximity to a
cat, to a big cat, to a tiger. The High Mountains of Portugal set in Portugal
in the twentieth century featuring people that I am not. I think most art is a kind of transgression
where we explore the other to find out what it means to be the other so that ultimately
we find out what it means to be ourselves. Because we are who we are in relation to others. But the key thing is the empathetic imagination
and the empathetic imagination is the great traveler. And travel doesn’t necessarily cross borders. And not only do they have to but it’s a
thrill to do so. It’s a thrill encountering the other.


  • i love beans says:


  • 1wizful says:

    Your postmodernist perspective is garbage and your novels are trash

  • Justin Thompson says:

    This is rediculous. You dont have to transcend to stupid to be a true artist. I blow glass I have friends who are painters.we Express ourselves without looking through others eyes but our own.

  • Armin Rau - Changing Founders Into Leaders says:

    Transgression also means crossing borders and pioneering also pioneering new ground. The key here is courage and calm. Central topic for entrepreneurs. Good inspiration for new content on my channel

  • 4G12 says:

    In short, transgression in art enables one to explore "what if" scenarios that would be impossible in physical reality.

  • Sebastian Elytron says:

    I'm pro LGBTQ but this "gender fluid" BS is too far imo.

  • Adrian1018 says:

    (Peter) pansexual Lives Matter

  • Donza Thompson says:

    One could substitute trans gression with corruption, and say that Art must continuously corrupt the truth to make room for its own expansion. The truth is something that is already complete, and so doesn’t need an enhancement

  • Josue Callejero says:

    Transformation is central to art.

  • Roughneck8 says:

    This channel likes the smell of it's own farts.

  • Demasiadamente Studios says:

    'Art is a diverse range of human activities in creating visual, auditory or performing artifacts (artworks), expressing the author's imaginative, conceptual ideas, or technical skill, intended to be appreciated for their beauty or emotional power.'
    There's nothing central there about transgression. Transgression is only central in art when it is central to the author. He's free to explore his own inner thoughs and repressed desires in his work, but he can't define art just because transgression is central to HIS art.

  • Curious World says:

    Art should elicit a strong response. Great books, art, poetry, music, should be more than just 'popular' or some sort of background noise to life. Art should deeply touch or even offend some people in some way. Look at how Expressionism in art and music received the opprobrium of Hitler and the Nazis.

  • Don Jabra says:


  • Aria says:

    Wallahi you’re gay

  • Self Elements says:

    Didn't quite like the gender example here since you must respect biology first and foremost, nature. But I like the idea of art as a means to transcendence, the most elevated and higher Self. Never will I forget the words of renowned English writer Zadie Smith about why she likes fiction so much, and that is because it's arguably the only place where you can be your best selves, or at least the best version of who you are. And that is also a kind of transgression too, perhaps the most relevant type there is. Because the aim here is the Self, and that in and of itself serves a greater purpose, human evolution. Both individually and collectively as well.

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