This post isn’t really about how to shock readers.
We discussed a disgusting book in class some months ago. The Room by Hubert Selby Jr, which describes the vilest fantasies of a convicted criminal as he sits in his cell. It uses profanity, pornographic and sadistic imagery to shock and make readers feel uncomfortable.
I don’t see any merit in such a piece of work.
Because it’s easy to do. Write down the absolutely worst and most sickening scenarios you can come up with. Present it to readers and make them wonder WTF is going on in your mind.
That’s not hard to do. You don’t have to worry about building tension, creating atmosphere. You don’t have to worry much about word-choice, either. Just use the worst fucking words you can think of. I’m not against grit and violence in novels, but The Room is an example of a book that seems to consist of the most primative and basic violence. No style.
Selby shocks readers not because characters do the unexpected. He shocks readers because he describes digusting fantasies in detail.
Is that art? Nowadays, people tend to be very democratic and insist every single personal expression may be a piece of art. I don’t think so.
Consider this quote:
“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’”
― Isaac Asimov