Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Five Books That Just Might Change Your Life - No.4

Fight Club - (my single-serving, throw away review)

Almost everyone has been exposed to Fight Club through the watered down Hollywood Blockbuster version of the book. Amazing as the film may be, it is nothing compared to the novel. Why? Well, films rarely live up to their written counterparts. It is one of those strange laws which just exist, and vary rarely is there an exception.

Tyler Durden, an imaginary personality our estranged narrator creates, is the answer to a question. Or, at least, Tyler is a schizophrenic’s answer to a life filled with Swedish furniture, condiments, duvets, self-improvement and other “shit we don’t need”. The real question this novel puts forth is, “how do you define yourself?” When we examine this question a multitude of others arise, all related to one another. It is all a bit philosophical, but then Tyler is a somewhat like an antithesis of Socrates for the modern age. Coming back to the question, our narrator seeks to know what he is. How do we understand this? Usually, we define ourselves by our jobs, belongings, emotional connections and a multitude of other things. It’s natural after all. We quantify our lives through our achievements.

By now you are probably rolling your eyes thinking, “I am Jack’s complete lack of surprise”. It is common knowledge, yet most of us are guilty of this way of thinking.  Tyler teaches our narrator that he is not how much money he has in the bank, not the car he drives, or his problems. In fact, none of us are the beautiful and unique snowflakes we thought we were. Recognising this is, for Tyler, the first step towards redemption. Here is where we lose cabin pressure.
“What you have to consider is the possibility that God doesn’t like you. Could be, God hates us. This is not the worst thing that can happen.” Tyler Durden’s words form the basis of his weird theology.  Getting God’s attention by being bad is better than getting no attention at all. God’s hate is better than his indifference. Our world view, all our possessions and material goods have made us “God’s middle children”, as Tyler puts it. Essentially, our mediocrity makes us unavailable to a relationship with God (be that a relationship of hate or love). If we fail to get God’s attention then we have no hope of redemption or salvation, “which is worse, hell or nothing?”

Is it true? Are we simply mediocre beings, unworthy of even damnation? Here is where I underwent a radical change in thought. I hear Christians, Jews and Muslims saying “God will do X” and “God wants X” But how does anyone know what God is thinking? Truth be told, we don’t. It is all meaningless assertions based on circular logic. If we are to be totally honest, we have to consider the possibility God hates us. Tyler does not see this as something bad. In order for us to be saved, we must first be caught and punished. When we hit bottom we open ourselves to salvation. Realising this, I began to wonder whether that is the point of religious non-attachment.

While contemplating the above, it was another Tyler-ism which struck home hard. “If the prodigal son had never left home the fattened calf would still be alive.” This really made me think. How does it relate to Tyler’s idea of hitting bottom? The prodigal son really knew what it was to anger God. He threw himself into all kinds of sinful acts with a zest to rival that of George Michael’s. Yet, his sinfulness brought him to his father’s attention. I consider the “fatted calf” to be Tyler’s idea of society. Our reward will be freedom from material existence, which is ultimately meaningless. It is the fatted calf awaiting the slaughter. All we have to do is cut its throat, and we cut all our ties to an empty, mediocre existence. This will be our redemption. And without redemption we are all just, as Tyler puts it, polishing the brass on the titanic... it’s all going down.

Fight Club provided me with a new way of thinking. It helped me realign my priorities. It gave a new meaning to why I practice martial arts and meditation. There are so many ways of interpreting this book, which is a large part to why I have listed it here. You take away from it what you want. I have to say though, Palahniuk created a character which answers all of humanities questions. Many of the questions we do not have the ability to ask. All I hope is that you try to see things from Tyler’s perspective; imagine stalking elk past department store windows. Imagine wearing leather clothes that will last you the rest of your life. Imagine climbing up through the dripping forest canopy and breathing clean air in the middle of a city.

[This review has many imperfections, which are all proof that it was written by the honest, hard working, indigenous people of...wherever.]


  1. I've been meaning to read Fight Club but I haven't found the time :(

  2. Smashing review. I just saw the film the other night after a long time. While the movie does point at a lot of things you mention in your review, I do want to read the book as well. Especially if it helps me realign my priorities as much as you say it does.

  3. I never knew Fight Club was a book. I thought it was just a movie. Great review btw. I'll add Fight Club to the list of to-read books now :)

  4. I only saw the movie, but your review is making me want to read it too.