"Fight Club"
by Charles Palahniuk

"'Fight Club's' audacious, strenuously trendy exterior is part of its point because at heart this is really a horror movie about consumerist discontent. It's about what happens when a world defines you by a nothing job, when advertising turns you into a slave bowing at a mountain of things that make you uneasy about your lack of physical perfection and how much money you don't have and how famous you aren't. It's about what happens when you're hit by the fact that your life lacks uniqueness; a uniqueness that we're constantly told we have (by parents, by school, by the media). 'Fight Club' rages against the hypocrisy of a society that continually promises us the impossible: fame, beauty, wealth, immortality, life without pain. Now it all comes together with 'Fight Club,' a relentless, dizzying tale on the male fear of losing power that's a wild, orgiastic pop masterpiece."
Bret Easton Ellis, GEAR MAGAZINE

"What is happiness? The feeling that power increases, the feeling that resistance is overcome."
Frederick Nietzsche
The Antichrist


      F or weeks I made regular visits to my local bookstore to see if the new edition of Charles Palahniuk's "Fight Club" had arrived yet. After having heard so much about this novel of the underground calling for violent resistance to the status quo, my interest was whetted. One Sunday it finally arrived, and I had bought and finished the novel by the next afternoon. I regret neither the $13 I shelled out for this book nor the three hours it took me to read it. The dialogue is vibrant and the ideas presented illustrate minor truths about contemporary American society that rang true with me. Almost every American man over 25-years of age is going to inevitably see some of himself in this book: the frustration, the confusion, the anger at living in a culture where the old rules have broken down and one makes his way with so many fewer cultural cues and guideposts. In trying to live a life worth living, all too many of us are flying by the seat of our pants without much support -- therein was this book a painful but worthwhile read.

      That being said, I would say a few words to any reader about to pick up and read this novel: life is hard everywhere -- always has been, always will be. But if you wake up one day and find you hate your empty life, if you feel loathing when you see your face in the mirror every morning, if you despair for the future and see no way out and then blame all this on television and "consumerist society" -- then you are the biggest sucker of all! Whoever told you the secret to being happy lies in buying a bigger TV or faster car? (And what does it say about you if someone told you that and you believed them!?!) It is incumbent upon you and not "society" to make yourself happy! It is of course easier to give up the hard work it takes to make yourself happy and just say, "Fuck it all!" and start blowing everything up including yourself. But that is the ultimate in adolescence! What a bunch of whiners! It is the Columbine high school shooting all over again! The characters in this book sound like a bunch of boys, not men.

      Any knucklehead can bring about his death, but not every person can live well and make themselves worthy of happiness (and maybe even become happy) -- one should not confuse the two feats. Nobody in the book is really living; rather, they are merely enacting their deaths in slow motion. If you want to die, then get to it. If you want to live before you one day die, then you will want to follow a different path than this book recommends. I don't for one minute buy Palahniuk's legions of young men "happy" with their punched out faces finding contentment in pain. (My brothers! Is pain all we have left to give to each other!?!) Palahniuk tells us violence is a sort of gestalt therapy that enables you to bond with your peers and feel better about yourself; having seen violence in my life, I would argue otherwise. Why you are fighting makes all the difference in the world! There are causes worth killing and dying for and causes not worth one iota of your energy or attention. Men fight and die every day for causes not worth the sacrifice; and so too are men killed for no damn good reason at all, every day! In the first few pages of the book a reader might very well ask, "Why are desks being randomly thrown out of a tall building onto the crowds below to maim and kill passerby's in the street?" The answer lies in the callousness, and, more importantly, in the vanity of the main characters -- an observation that will be duly noted by the astute reader. Tyler Durden says he wants to destroy others and finds rationalizations to justify it, but please note, esteemed reader, how most of all he wants to destroy himself. He who holds his own life to be but a paltry thing will hardly respect other's lives.

      "Fight Club" is a thought provoking novel and Tyler Durden is a bracing figure whose ideas deserve to be taken seriously, but I can point out dozens if not hundreds of books and persons from across the centuries whose messages will live longer and hold much more merit: those of Socrates, Jesus, Cicero, Plutarch, Boethius, Erasmus, Montaigne, Emerson and many others -- all of them arguing that life is good and happiness attainable through our actions and beliefs, that hope (that precious elixir!) in our species is not dead! But rather than rolling up your sleeves and engaging in this historical conversation with the accumulated wisdom of our ancestors, it is easier to just say, "Fuck it! I am going to blow it all up and let the future sort it out! I'm lost! I'm angry!" I suspect such violent anarchism lends itself to na´ve Americans who have never lived in a land where everything is being blown up -- where in all corners of the land life is nasty, brutish, and short. Grow up! And be careful what you ask for, you might just get it.

      Until now we have seen only isolated losers go on killing sprees in public places. Without warning they take a gun and then start shooting strangers before more often than not they shoot themselves. In "Fight Club," these types learn to associate and wreak violence collectively. Let us hope such a day never comes to pass. If men in American were actually in the miserable condition that Palahniuk portrays them to be in his novel, I would be ashamed for myself and my country. I see the reality to be otherwise.

      You will hear often the distinctive voice of Tyler Durden opining throughout the plot. His theme will be nihilism, his cure widespread mayhem. A typical Tyler aphorism: "The goal [of violence] was to teach each man in the project that he had the power to control history. We, each of us, can take control of the world." My esteemed reader, let me plant the seed of another voice in your mind as you embark upon this novel. Take, for example, Tyler Durden menacing a museum he is about to blows up: "This is our world, now, our world, and those ancient people are dead." My response: Wrong, Tyler. Those "ancient people" live on and are in fact immortal -- whether you blow up their works or not. As if you could destroy a man's message by blowing up him or his work! It is not nearly so easy! Even if your campaign of violent anarchism were to destroy every library and museum and bring about a new Dark Ages, where one or more gather together who remember what went before them there learning will not be erased from the earth. As T.S. Eliot explains, "The communication of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living." Tyler Durden laments that we are the "slaves of history" and thereby impotent today and tomorrow. Wrong, Tyler. To understand the past is to free yourself from the tyranny of the present so as to be able to move successfully into the future. As Goethe claims: "He who cannot draw on 3,000 years of learning lives hand to mouth." But you are too self-absorbed to see that and so live starved of spiritual sustenance. Hence you wander in the wilderness and despair of finding your way. "We wanted to blast the world free of history," Wrong, Tyler. You want to blast the world free of human weakness and human need. Through violence you want to liberate yourself from this burden of being human. You want to blast the world free of humanity itself. "I want the world to hit rock bottom." No kidding.

      Finally sayeth the voice of Tyler Durden: "We don't have a great war in our generation, or a great depression, but we do, we have a great war of the spirit. We have a great revolution against the culture. The great depression is our lives. We have a spiritual depression." Perhaps, but this spiritual "war" against depression is fought at all times and in all places -- not only your own. And this fight is fought and won by many who have much less going for them in their lives than you do. Continues the Voice of Durden: "Maybe self-improvement is not the answer... maybe self-destruction is the answer." Tyler, maybe self-improvement really IS the answer! He continues: "You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You are the same decaying organic matter as everyone else, and we are all part of the same compost pile... Our culture has made us all the same. No one is truly white or black or rich, anymore. We all want the same. Individually, we are nothing." Tyler, speak for yourself.

      I do not mean to set up Tyler Durden as a straw man to pull down. Neither do I wish to set myself up as a paragon of virtue or wisdom. I'm just another guy on the street who works a job, rents an apartment, and tries to stay out of trouble. I try to learn as much as I can with the mind God has given me, and I keep my heart open to life's lessons. I get lost sometimes and often find myself discouraged, but I never give up and lose faith in my path. Often frustrated and occasionally angry, I never convert my anger or frustration into a weapon and then blame others for it -- and I live in the same society as does Tyler Durden and am roughly the same age. I know happiness is attainable, and I know living the right way is the best way to becoming happy. To live well and to die well are neither easy nor childish tasks, but ideally they are our defining duties and our crowning glories. Let my last comments then come from the last paragraph in Baruch Spinoza's Ethics, a book I read three months before "Fight Club." There Spinoza concludes:

"Thus I have completed all I wished to show concerning the power of the mind over emotions, or the freedom of the mind. From which it is clear how much a wise man is in front of and how stronger he is than an ignorant one, who is guided by lust alone. For an ignorant man, besides being agitated in many ways by external causes, never enjoys one true satisfaction of the mind: he lives, moreover, almost unconscious of himself, God, and things, and as soon as he ceases to be passive, ceases to be. On the contrary the wise man, in so far as he is considered as such, is scarcely moved in spirit; he is conscious of himself, of God, and things by a certain external necessity; he never ceases to be, and always enjoys satisfaction of mind. If the road I have shown to lead to this is very difficult, it can yet be discovered. And clearly it must be very hard when it is so seldom found. For how could it be that it is neglected practically by all, if salvation were close at hand and could be found without difficulty? But all excellent things are as difficult as they are rare."