Fight Club’s dark fantasies have become an even darker reality

When posterity tries to explain the chaos of 2016, much of the attention will fall on the influential figures who drove political events, namely Donald Trump and Nigel Farage. But Id like to suggest to historians of the future that they should read Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk. Startlingly relevant today, 20 years since it was published, Fight Club offers an explanation for some of the vocabulary of the neo-Nazis and rightwing hate merchants who call themselves the alt-right. If, like me, youve been confused at being called a special snowflake when debating with people about issues like Dumbkirk( read: Brexit ), appear no further than chapter 17 of Palahniuks 1996 novel, when a character reads a note written by the fictions chief provocateur, Tyler Durden:

If, meanwhile, you followed the Gamergate problems a few years ago, considered those message boards develop into nodes of far-right agitation, or had the calamity to hear the likes of Milo Yiannopolous, you will find many of Fight Clubs ideas about carving out a niche for men eerily familiar; frighteningly so, given the wider context of the book and the violence at its core. Rereading the novel in 2016 is chilling. Researching the book online, I determined myself falling down a dark wormhole of fascistic websites that quote big chunks of David Finchers film adaptation as parts of their credo; even though parts are almost verbatim from the book, alt-right kinds tend to quote the cinema because they either dont agree with the overall message of Palahniuks book or they havent bothered to read it. Im not going to give those sites the benefit of a connection, but if you want to construct yourself feel ill, you are able to Google radixjournal and Generation alt-right where youll find an article by Hannibal Bateman quoting( cinema) Tylers notion that:

Were the middle children of history, human. No intent or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great Wars a spiritual war our Great Depression is our lives. Weve all been raised on television to believe that one day wed all be millionaires, and movie deities, and rock starrings. But we wont. And were slowly learning that fact. And were very, very pissed off.

Plenty want to use Fight Club as an inspiration and guide. Perhaps the best reaction is: more fool them. If you find Fight Club as a guide to life and justification for your opinions, your reading of the book is partial at best. Tyler Durden isnt a hero and he isnt constructing a better world. He is never shown to be right; rather, he is portrayed as a lunatic living in a fever dream. The things he does are clearly more than transgressive: they are abhorrent. His actions leave the narrator and moral centre of the book feeling awful, desperate, trapped. He is proves with a rubber band literally and metaphorically stiffening around his gonads, pearls, testes, huevos. And he depicts unhappines: Ive been behaving miserably, he tells in one scene. This is not really a volume about self-actualisation, unless you want yourself to be physically and mentally screwed up. So the tragedy is one of misunderstanding, isnt it? Youre just wrong to see it as any kind of guide to anything. Fight Club volume and cinema are satires. The whole thing is absurd. Isnt it? Thats what Id have thought when I first came across Fight Club around the turn of the millennium. The truth is that back then, I didnt make much of Palahniuks ideas at all. I liked and admired some of them. The run was sometimes dark and violent, but I also determined it very funny. The narrative premise of men opposing out their insecurities was the ultimate reductio ad absurdum of the therapy mindset. It all struck me as a gleeful, naughty fiction. The material about atomisation, estrangement and the corrosive impact of consumer capitalism even felt old hat. I surely didnt see it as any kind of revolutionary manifesto. But other people did. You could even argue that Palahniuk encouraged the idea that his volume should have concrete impact. A good story should change the way you find the world, he said in a Wired podcast in 2011. In an excellent essay about Fight Club, Monkey Think, Monkey Do, he also noted: Every hour we find whats possible, we make it happen Whats coming is a million new reasons to go ahead. Could he have realised that what was coming was, in communities with little sense of irony or empathy, his visions of ultra-violent masculinity would be seen as validation rather than irony? Here in the eye of the cyclone, Brexit and Trump surely feel like they could be the conclusion of Tyler Durdens Project Mayhem. But I also suspect my current reaction is more emotional than rational. In spite of what Palahniuk may have said, Id be loath to hold him responsible for anything. Theres no knowing how a volume will be read, used and misinterpreted 20 years after its creation. Writers shouldnt always be held responsible for the reactions of their readers – and unless they are , nobody would dare write. Yet theres no phase denying that reading Fight Club this year felt different and darker. More prophetic and, yes, more revolutionary. The terms was different, but theyd taken on new meaning. A good story may, as Palahniuk tells, change the world. But the world can also change a good story. Read more: www.theguardian.com

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