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Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk: English 110 Intro

Scott J. Wilson, University of Regina

Scott J. Wilson

on 24 March 2016

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Transcript of Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk: English 110 Intro

The narrator resents good looking men. While jealousy is the obvious motivation you may look to, it seems it is based more in a disdain for perfection and what “perfect” men should look and act like:
“Walter from Microsoft catches my eye. He’s a young guy with perfect teeth and clear skin and the kind of job you bother to write the alumni magazine about getting. You know he was too young to fight in any wars, and if his parents weren’t divorced, his father was never home, and here he’s looking at me with half my face clean shaved and half a leering bruise hidden in the dark. Blood shining on my lips. And maybe Walter’s thinking about a meatless, pain-free potluck he went to last weekend or the ozone or the Earth’s desperate need to stop cruel product testing on animals, but probably he’s not” (55).

Perfect Looks
American consumerism, essentially American Culture, makes people want “things” they wouldn’t otherwise need or want.
This is not to say IKEA is evil, or that it isn’t worth buying; there are many students in this room and IKEA sells cheap, reliable furniture.
However, the narrator doesn’t seem to particularly care about the “stuff” he admires in the IKEA catalogue. Instead, it reads like a checklist filled with names without meaning (43).

An IKEA-Centric Existence
He continues to say:

“The giant hand was perfect for one minute, and for one perfect minute Tyler had sat in the palm of a perfection he’d created himself…’one minute was enough’, Tyler said, a person had to work hard for it, but a minute of perfection was worth the effort” (33).

“Tyler Durden, the great, who was perfect for one moment, and who said that a moment is the most you could ever expect from perfection” (201).

Perfection: Even Less So Now
Like Palahniuk’s sentiment in the previous quote, his narrator pleads to Tyler Durden for a similar return to community:

“Deliver me, Tyler, from being perfect and complete” (46).

Later, he explains how he doesn’t want to look perfect:

“I just don’t want to die without a few scars…It’s nothing anymore to have a beautiful stock body…what a waste” (48).
is not
Tyler Durden
As with many Palahniuk novels, it seems he is suggesting that we need to question societal norms and expectations, but to do so in moderation as to not replicate consumer society.

Regardless of what you believe the narrator’s “cancer” is, societal expectations of perfection seem to be a root cause, one that takes us away from other people and relationships.
A Healthier Approach

Self-destructive behaviour
Ridding oneself of consumer goods/materialism
Questioning authority
Vandalism (leads to Terrorism)
Physical contact (violence and/or sex)
Release (through violence, sex, and not performing)
Finding community and acceptance
New perspective/education
Direction: Ideology to follow; a cause to support.

Remedies and Solutions:
American Consumerism
Power Dynamics (Political/Economic)
Changes in Gender Roles
Increasingly Violent/Bloodthirsty Society
Daddy/Mommy Issues
Changes to the “Nature of Work”
Increasingly Secular Society
Technological Concerns
Denial of Mortality

Support Groups and The Abject
Fighting in
Fight Club
Masculinity and Patriarchy
Female Characters (or lack of) in
Fight Club

Next Class and Beyond
Angel Face, one of the Space Monkeys, makes the narrator jealous because he feels Durden is paying more attention to him.

The narrator fights him and does excessive damage:

“I was in the mood to destroy something beautiful…Tyler told me later he’d never seen me destroy something so completely…I wanted to destroy everything beautiful I’d never have” (123)

Breaking Beauty
The troubling aspect here is the change in priorities (in terms of “desire” and “taboo”). The narrator makes the claim that:

“The people I know who used to sit in the bathroom with pornography, now sit in the bathroom with their IKEA furniture catalogue” (43).

Speaking of troubling priorities:

“I could clean my condominium or detail my car. Someday I’d be dead without a scar and there would be a really nice condo and car” (49).

Seriously, I’m sick of Allen keys
“Njurunda coffee tables in the shape of a lime green yin and an orange yang that fit together to make a circle” (43).

“My Haparanda sofa group with the orange slop covers, design by Erika Pekkari” (43).

“Johanneshov armchair in the Strinne green stripe pattern…the Rislampa/Har paper lamps…Alle cutlery service…Vild hall clock made of galvanized steel, oh, I had to have that…the Klipsk shelving unit…Helming hat boxes…the Mommala quilt-cover set. Design by Tomas Harila” (43-4).

Some assembly required…
The narrator’s ideal life is found in IKEA catalogues.

There, he hopes to find the perfect couch, the perfect dining set, cutlery, coffee table, even the “perfect bed” (44).

The doorman at his newly exploded condo says:
“young people, they think they want the whole world” (46).

He begins to recite Tyler Durden’s rhetoric:
“May I never be complete.
May I never be content.
May I never be perfect” (46).
Perfection and Modern Consumerism
The issue with achieving any sort of perfection is that it is always temporary. For example, in terms of looks, the fact we are aging means we cannot maintain “perfect” beauty. (Sorry, Hollywood; it’s just not possible.)

We see this idea of temporary perfection when the narrator meets Durden on a nude beach (32):

“The shadow of a giant hand…only now the fingers were Nosferatu-long and the thumb was too short, but [Tyler] said how at exactly 4:30 the hand was perfect” (33).

Perfection: Not Permanent
He explains:
“[the goal] is to achieve isolation…once we’ve achieved that penthouse or castle or that fantastically beautiful face, [we realize] this is unapproachable so we find ourselves lonely and miserable and we create the circumstances that return us to community” (Hardtalk).

The Universal Human Dream?
In interviews, Palahniuk constantly refers to the American Dream as
“The Universal Human Dream.”

This dream is to achieve perfection in a few key areas: looks, wealth, status, power, and intellect.

However, he is quick to explain that perfection is a fallacy, that we chase the pinnacle of each of these categories even though they are always out of reach.

American society, which is consumerist and capitalistic, is based on a “never-enough” model where no matter our success, there is another level to achieve.

Perfection in Fight Club
Each of the before-mentioned remedies seems to provide satisfaction, but only in moderation.

Some of Tyler Durden’s ideas about the world are helpful advice.

However, in
Fight Club
, his rhetoric and ideology simply mimic the very society he hopes to destroy.

Therefore, be sure if you're arguing that a solution works that you prove that it does throughout the novel.

The Problem(s) with these Remedies

Unfulfilling lives/jobs
Addiction to consumer goods
Multiple personality disorders
Need for violence
Quest for perfection
Fear of female sexuality
Performing societal expectations
Lack of political or religious ideology
Chasing a “hypermasculine” ideal

Your interpretation of
Fight Club
will rest upon your understanding of
what troubles the narrator
so much.

He states:

“The cancer I don’t have is everywhere now” (159).

What do you believe “the cancer” is? What causes it? Why can't he sleep?

Getting Started: Diagnosing Social Malaise
English 110 : Scott J. Wilson

Fight Club—Chuck Palahniuk:
An Introduction

American author.
Son of Ukranian immigrants.
Violent family history often influences his work: his grandfather murdered his grandmother and then himself while Palahniuk's father watched. Later, Palahniuk's father was murdered by the ex-husband of his girlfriend.
It's "Paula-Nick"
An Introduction

His first attempts at fiction,
If You Lived Here, You'd Be Home Already

, were deemed too dark and shocking for mainstream publishing.

Twenty years later, he has published 15 novels, one travel book, a non-fiction collection, a short story collection, a graphic novel, and numerous short story publications and essays on writing.
An Unexpected Success
Big Break:
Fight Club
As a response to the publishers who wouldn't give him a chance, Palahniuk wrote an even darker, more shocking book:
Fight Club

and, with the help of a new agent, convinced Norton to publish the novel.

Initially, the novel didn't sell well; however, Fox developed a film adaptation that did terrible in theatres, but became a cult success on DVD.

In fact,
Fight Club
became Fox's best-selling DVD release of 1999, which increased book sales dramatically.
Because of this success, Palahniuk was given creative control of his projects and he has put out a book nearly every year since.

, which had been turned down before

Fight Club
, was reworked (retitled

Invisible Monsters
), made darker and became another success. Other titles include






and most recently


Real-World Fight Clubs

"Only after destruction can we be resurrected" (70).

"Maybe self-improvement isn't the answer. Tyler never knew his father. Maybe self-destruction is the answer" (49).

"You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake" (134).

"I felt trapped. I was too complete. I was too perfect. I wanted a way out of my life" (173).

"I had to pull the trigger. This was better than real life. And your perfect moment won't last forever" (206).

Breaking Beauty
Full transcript