images (1)You are not your job, you’re not how much money you have in the bank. You are not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You are not your fucking khakis. You are all singing, all dancing crap of the world.

A very good friend of mine told me I can’t possibly understand Fight Club. He turned and twisted, and made up stories out of his mind but it all came down to one thing: You can’t understand Fight Club because you don’t have a penis.

Several minutes later, while I was contemplating what he said and thinking about ways to strike back, another friend of mine told me a story. After a club we went to on Friday he left and decided to walk back home. On the street, he met a guy and he beat the crap out of him. When I asked the most expected question (i.e Why?!), he looked at me as if I was a retard. It was not “why”, it was “how”, “when”, but not “why”. Guys don’t ask each other why the fight. It’s just in their nature, it’s something they do, and maybe no matter how hard I try, I would never fully grasp it. As determined and focused I am on my goals, growing a penis isn’t one of them at the moment.

Fight Club, probably the most famous Chuck Palahniuk novel and the one that inspired the ever so famous Brad Pitt movie, follows an unnamed narrator fighting insomnia. When his doctor tells him that his “sickness” is not real suffering and he should meet people with actual problems, the protagonist starts visiting support groups for patients with terminal illnesses, pretending to be one of them.

This is why I loved the support groups so much, if people thought you were dying, they gave you their full attention. If this might be the last time they saw you, they really saw you. Everything else about their checkbook balance and radio songs and messy hair went out the window. You had their full attention. People listened instead of just waiting for their turn to speak. And when they spoke, they weren’t telling you a story. When the two of you talked, you were building something, and afterward you were both different than before. 

In one of those support group he meets another impostor – the troubled Marla Singer. Her presence and her knowledge of his deceit ruin the pleasure the narrator is deriving from crying on the shoulder of dying men. His subsequent encounter with the mysterious Tyler Durden inspires the two of them to form a new form of psychotherapy, a fight club, subjected to strict rules:

  1. You don’t talk about fight club.
  2. You don’t talk about fight club.
  3. When someone says stop, or goes limp, the fight is over.
  4. Only two guys to a fight.
  5. One fight at a time.
  6. They fight without shirts or shoes.
  7. The fights go on as long as they have to.
  8. If this is your first night at fight club, you have to fight

As the fight club gathers national prominence and more and more lawyers, accountants, bar tenders, businessmen, workers, etc. appear with swollen noses and disfigured faces, the duo extends their organisation to project Mayheim: a cult army of individuals opposed to consumerism, that organizes acts of violence to bring down modern civilization:

  1. You don’t ask questions.
  2. You don’t ask questions.
  3. No excuses.
  4. No lies.
  5. You have to trust Tyler.

The narrator in Fight Club feels trapped in a job he hates, in a body he despises, in a life he feels purposeless. Creating Fight Club and later Project Mayheim together with Tyler, he seeks to escape his ordinary existence, to challenge his masculinity, to openly oppose the consumerism and shallowness of contemporary society. His constant desire for destruction and chaos and his infatuation with anarchy is a form of a painful discontent with the self, a strong longing for something else that will give meaning and purpose:

If you wake up at a different time, in a different place, could you wake up as a different person?

In Fight Club it doesn’t matter who you are, how beautiful and fit you look, how much money you make, or where your condo is located. You are two nameless fists, two nameless legs, one nameless face. Your opponent can be anyone – a wealthy businessman or the boy that wipes your shoes – it doesn’t matter either. On the ring the two of you collapse to mere instruments. Fight Club can serve any purpose you might want it – to alleviate pain or to cause more of it, to feel stronger or to feel weak, to beat or to be beaten. In any case, men fight the feeling of dissatisfaction with their masculinity – in a world where they are raised by their mothers, they desperately seek for ways to revive their masculinity and to escape a society that places possessions and social status on the top of the pyramid: 

“I’m breaking my attachment to physical power and possessions,” Tyler whispered, “because only through destroying myself can I discover the greater power of my spirit.”

It has been extremely difficult for me to review the book. But my friend was wrong – I do get it and I definitely liked it…I just can’t find the right words to describe it. It’s about fight – more against yourself than against anyone else. It’s about a million or so ways of making soap…and explosives. It’s about the unbearable urge to destroy and corrupt. Among many things, Fight Club is one big quotation, with every other page offering yet another memorable sentence. Probably my most favorite one comes from the only female character, Marla, depicting the desire for self-destruction is evident not only in men, but in women alike:

“When you’re twenty-four,” Marla says, “you have now idea how far you can really fall, but I was a fast learner.”

I am nearly 24 and I am a very fast learner…in falling daily.

More from Chuck Palahniuk:

Invisible Monsters