Friday, March 12, 2010

Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk, Norton Company 2005

There are stories that I loathe the first time I experience them. But, the more I watch or read them, the more I begin to enjoy them. I hated There Will be Blood and The Big Labowski the first time I saw them, but each time I watched them, I liked them more, and now, I really enjoy both.

Then there are the stories I like initially, and my enjoyment for these stories grows with each subsequent experience. The Lord of the Rings (books or movies) fits this category.

After just have finished reading Fight Club for the first time, I realized there is another category for stories: Ones that I love initially and like less and less with more exposure.

Even though this was my first time reading the book, I have seen the movie many times, and while the book differs from the movie, the story is largely the same.

Lonely dude's life feels more empty with each attempt to fill it with material items. Lonely dude invents another personality who lives out his secret desires for him. Lonely dude figures this out and tries to thwart his hedonistic self.

Tyler Durden, who is this fictitious personality, philosopher, antagonist, protagonist and cult hero of the story believes that a person must lose everything before he can really find himself.

Sound familiar?

If you're a Christian it probably does.

Jesus said the same thing. Several times. Several different ways.
  • Jesus tells the Rich Young Ruler to sell everything and give it to the poor and then to "come, follow me." (Mk. 10:17-27, Lk. 18:18-27, Matt. 19:16-26)
  • "Beware and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions." ( Luke 12:13-15)
  • Jesus tells his disciples to go out in the world with minimal possessions. (Mark 6:6)
  • For what is a man profited, if he gain the whole world, and lose or forfeit his own self? (Luke 9:25)
Palahniuk illustrated this throughout the novel with examples of how the members of fight club and, later, Project Mayhem, had control over members of society because the former had nothing to lose while the later had everything to lose.

The thinking is here that people's sight and purpose can easily be buried or blinded beneath a pile of materialistic wealth.

Palahniuk, Durden and Jesus are minimilists -- but for very different reasons.

Duren and Palahniuk believe that such things prevent a man from pursuing his own carnal desires.

Jesus taught that such things prevent a man from pursuing God's will.

That said, Palahniuk hedges his bets and doesn't buy into what he's selling 100 percent. By having the unnamed narrator (read: "Every man") attempt to stop Durden from executing Project Mayhem, Palahniuk backs off the stance that a civilization in which its members pursue hedonistic desires is a type of Eden.

If you ignore the selfish motif and Palahniuk startling the fence, there are other seriously troubling ideas put forth in the book.

I have no problem if a bunch of guys want to "free" themselves by beating the hell out of each other. That's like Neo taking the red pill in the Matrix. Morpheus gives Neo the choice: Take the red pill and see the real world or take the blue pill and stay in a delusion.

What Durden wants to do is force the red pill down everyone's throats. Even Morpheus cautions that most minds couldn't handle being thrust into reality.

God is aware of this, too.

Seen Bruce Almighty? If not, Bruce is imbued with all of God's powers, but he still can't make his girlfriend love him. God doesn't force us to love him.

Why? Freewill.

Without freewill; without choice, there is no love, only servitude.

Durden would have us all become slaves to his ideal world.

You can see this with Project Mayhem and Durden's absurd "homework assignments," especially Raymond Hessel's story where the narrator basically forces him to realize his dream.

I tried to look for positives in this view in which men are freed from rules, restrictions and regulations.

My first thought went to Ayn Rand, The Fountain Head and Howard Roark. I'd wager that, like Rand, Palahniuk is an atheist, although, I couldn't find anything to confirm that. Still, there is something innately inspiring about Rand's greatest character, Roark.

Freed from society's and religion's constraints, Roark achieves unparalleled greatness by creating buildings that leave others inspired and awed. Rand was a firm believer in the greatness of man. That a man, through his own means, can create magnificence that can improve society.

Freed from society's and religion's constraints, Palahniuk's greatest character, Durden, achieves unparalleled greatness by destroying stuff.

Rand celebrates the greatness of man. Palahniuk celebrates the depravity of man.

Finally, there is nothing special about the story. In the afterward, Palahniuk admits as much.

Who hasn't envisioned a life without rules? What child didn't create an imaginary friend who was freed from the constraints placed on the child by parents, school and society? And Project Mayhem is basically a college fraternity.

I did, however, enjoy the pulp-fiction-type style in which Palahniuk provides out-of-order snippets of individual stories to complete a larger picture. The story flows smoothly, making this a quick read.

Thank goodness for that.
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