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Rated: 13+ · Other · Research · #1974695
The Unorthodox Romanticism of Chuck Palahniuk's 'Fight Club'
Chuck Palahniuk’s 1996 novel Fight Club is often misread as a text that promotes violence and anti-social behavior as methods to escape the realities of twentieth century life. It is a fast-paced and gritty story told in a nonlinear fashion, which contributes to a sense of shock among readers and possibly to the negative reception it was given by many critics. The 1999 film adapted from the novel by director David Fincher was given negative reviews as well, possibly because the fights were illustrated so explicitly on the screen. Roger Ebert call the film, “a celebration of violence in which the heroes write themselves a license to drink, smoke, screw and beat one another up” (par. 1). A follow-up to Ebert’s review, written by Jim Emerson, lists some other notable negative reviews the film earned, including one published in the Hollywood Reporter which sparked much discussion. Anita M. Busch wrote, “’Fight Club’ will, no doubt, become Washington’s poster child for what’s wrong with Hollywood. And Washington, for once, will be right. The film is exactly the kind of product that lawmakers should target for being socially irresponsible in a nation that has deteriorated to the point of Columbine” (qtd. by Emerson par. 10).

Many critics of the novel, however, were not distracted by the violence and saw a deeper message in the story. The reviews offered in the front pages of the 2005 Norton paperback edition reflect positive receptions of Palahniuk’s story and presentation: “Palahniuk’s utterly original creation will make even the most jaded reader sit up and take notice”; “A visionary novel of beautiful violence and creepy intensity”; “It’s dangerous because it’s so compelling”; “Amazing and artful disturbance” (Palahniuk). In these ways, Palahniuk offers a philosophy which states that one should strive for a life separate from the stressors of modern life. Rather than advocate violence for the sake of violence, I would argue that Palahniuk’s urging to re-examine the direction modern civilization is taking is exactly the cue that Busch’s “deteriorating society” needs. In fact, the message of Fight Club is reminiscent of the Romanticist movement. Through his anonymous Narrator and the revolutionary Tyler Durden, Palahniuk delivers a narrative informed by Romanticist values, supported by his rhetorical strategies, with which he provides the reader an alternative to the mind-numbing realities of modern life.

Romanticism, generally placed from 1785 to 1830, followed the Enlightenment period and is difficult to define because it was “not a shared doctrine or literary quality, but a pervasive intellectual and imaginative climate, which some of them [Romanticist writers] called ‘the spirit of the age’” (Abrams 4). There was no single group of writers who called themselves Romanticists, but contemporary critics have placed a few literary schools under the umbrella of the Romanticist movement: the “Lake School,” including William Wordsworth, Robert Southey and Samuel Taylor Coleridge; the “Satanic School” of Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley; and the “Cockney School,” which included John Keats, Leigh Hunt and William Hazlitt.

Shelley described “the spirit of the age” as “an accompaniment of political and social revolution” (Abrams 4). Following the French and American Revolutions, the Romantic era saw the rise of industrialization and mechanization, threats, according to Romantic thinkers, to individual autonomy. In fact, “by midcentury… masculinity was increasingly threatened by the twin forces of industrialization and the spread of political democracy” (Kimmel 138). The effects of this shift in civilization influenced the major themes of Romantic literature, among which were anti-materialism (Abrams 10), a return to man’s primitive state (6), “the glory of the imperfect” (11) and “individual apocalypse” (13). Wordsworth, Shelley and Blake all wrote essays giving some insight into their own goals.

In his 1804 preface to Lyrical Ballads, originally published in 1798, Wordsworth wrote that his aim was “to shatter the lethargy of custom so as to refresh our sense of wonder – indeed, of divinity – to the everyday, the commonplace, the trivial, and the lowly” (qtd. in Abrams 7). Those of the “Satanic School”, or what we might now call the “Gothic School”, such as Shelley, explored “the dark, irrational side of human nature—the savage egoism, the perverse impulses, and the nightmarish terrors that lie beneath the controlled and ordered surface of the conscious mind” (15). The strategies employed by writers like Shelley and Wordsworth in order to explore these issues add another unique dimension to Romanticism.

Because the movement was a “spirit” rather than “a shared doctrine,” characteristics of Romantic writing are just as difficult to define as the movement itself, but Kathleen Morner lists three hallmark characteristics of Romanticism: Imagination, emotion and freedom (Morner par. 2).

Fight Club
Fight Club opens like a thriller, with Tyler holding a gun in the Narrator’s mouth, telling him that death is not the end, they won’t truly die. Nitroglycerin, napalm, Project Mayhem, a murder-suicide atop the Parker-Morris Building—it sounds like a recipe for domestic terrorism. But is that really it? The Narrator signals that there is more to the story. “On a long enough timeline,” he says, “the survival rate for everyone will drop to zero” (17). With that Palahniuk launches the reader into a story about the fate of humankind.

Prior to meeting Tyler, the Narrator had been struggling with the realities of modern civilization. His white-collar job as a recall campaign coordinator had him traveling frequently so he had no personal connections, only “single-serving friends” (31), and his lack of sleep made everything a blur. He says, “Everything is so far away, a copy of a copy of a copy. The insomnia distance of everything, you can’t touch anything and nothing can touch you” (21). He sees the world through tunnel-vision and as if from a distance. The Narrator is already out of touch with the world; he has no social life, no connections, he comes home from his corporate job to safely ensconce himself in his IKEA-furnished condo. But the insomnia adds another layer to his disconnection; he is no longer connected even to his own life, his own mind. That’s where Tyler comes in.

Tyler Durden is a classic protagonist of the Romanticist era. In the novel, Tyler and the Narrator first meet on a beach when the Narrator wakes up to see Tyler erecting logs in the sand. When asked what he is doing, Tyler explains that the five logs form a sort of sundial which, for just one minute when the sun reaches a certain point, will project the perfect shadow of an open hand (Palahniuk 33). After the Narrator returns home from a business trip to find his condo destroyed, he moves in with Tyler, in the abandoned house he made his own, and finds out that there is much more to the mysterious man’s eccentricity. In fact, Tyler fits the description of Romantic hero quite well: “A solitary protagonist who is separated from society because he has rejected it, or because it has rejected him… [Or who fits] the theme of exile, of the disinherited mind that cannot find a spiritual home in its native land and society or anywhere in the modern world” (Abrams 12). Immediately upon taking him in, Tyler begins imparting to the Narrator his reasons for rejecting society and his philosophy for a revolution. What begins as friendly advice quickly spirals into a life-changing philosophical doctrine. Tyler’s revolution is very similar to some of the values of the Romanticist era.

Before meeting Durden, the Narrator lived the epitome of a consumerist lifestyle. He found happiness and even completion in his possessions:
You buy furniture. You tell yourself, this is the last sofa I will ever need in my life. Buy the sofa, then for a couple years you’re satisfied that no matter what goes wrong, at least you’ve got your sofa issue handled. Then the right set of dishes. Then the perfect bed. The drapes. The rugs. (44)
The Narrator even thinks of his condo as a part of his identity: “That condo was my life, okay?” he tells Tyler after his place exploded. “I loved every stick of furniture in that place. That was not just a bunch of stuff that got destroyed, it was ME!” (Fincher, Fight Club). Tyler sees this in his fight club recruits: “You have a class of young strong men and women, and they want to give their lives to something. Advertising has these people chasing cars and clothes they don’t need. Generations have been working in jobs they hate, just so they can buy what they don’t really need” (Palahniuk 49). These men define their identities not by their occupation or success within society, but by their success in achieving the advertised ideals. We know the Narrator is at least somewhat conscious of this coping mechanism, even before he began listening to Tyler preach against this lifestyle. The Narrator says, “Then you’re trapped in your lovely nest, and the things you used to own, now they own you” (44). This lifestyle is similar to one which Friedrich von Schiller described as corrosive.

In 1795, von Schiller wrote in his On the Aesthetic Education of Man that, “At the present time material needs reign supreme and bend a degraded humanity beneath their tyrannical yoke. Utility is the great idol of our age, to which all powers are in thrall and to which all talent must pay homage” (483). The Narrator meets Tyler when that “tyrannical yoke” of a machine-like and materialist civilization has the strongest hold on him. Throughout the novel, Tyler teaches the Narrator and his peers how to shrug the yoke.

Enlightenment philosophes and figures like Rousseau expound on the effects of civilization and the “yokes” society places on men. Many of their arguments can be applied to Palahniuk’s world of Fight Club. The Romanticists and Tyler favored the “savage man” of primitive times, what we might sometimes call the man’s man, to the “effeminate man” of modern society. Rousseau wrote:
As [man] becomes sociable and a slave, he grows weak, timid and servile; his effeminate way of life totally enervates his strength and courage… It is in fact easy to see that many of the differences which distinguish men are merely the effect of habit and the different methods of life men adopt in society. Thus a robust or delicate constitution, and the strength or weakness attaching to it, are more frequently the effects of a hardy or effeminate method of education than of the original endowment of the body. (pars. 18 and 54)
Tyler sought man’s return to a primitive state. He wanted to see highways being used as hunting grounds and men wearing leather garments that would last a lifetime, their identities shaped more by natural instinct than by their external factors. This reflects a similar movement that took place in England in the 1890s and early 1900s in response to the increasing growth of urbanization and industrialization.

Frank Trentmann writes in his analysis of “English Neo-Romanticism and the Transformation of Anti-Modernism”:
The rise of [the ramblers’ movement and folk revival] was accompanied by the emergence of smaller, fundamentalist groups committed to a comprehensive break with modern urban-commercial society… These bodies shared a common culture of anti-modernism which centred on a new emphasis on community, the unconscious and pantheism. (584)
Trentmann, too, connects man’s need to return to nature, or, as in Tyler’s case, “a primitive state,” with “the increasingly harsh contrast between representations of the pure and English ‘country’ and the corrupt, alien city” (585). Similarly, R.P. Adams summarizes the Romanticist shift away from this corruption as “a shift away from thinking of the universe as a static mechanism, like a clock, to thinking of it as a dynamic organism, like a growing tree… [by which] the values of static mechanism – reason, order, permanence, and the like – are replaced by their counterparts in an organic universe – instinct or intuition, freedom, and change” (419-20). It is natural that the Narrator and his peers would come together because of the catalyst of a corrupt society. Tyler tells his recruits,
We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our great war is a spiritual war. Our great depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars, but we won’t. We’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off. (Fincher, Fight Club)

This effect is describe by Zygmunt Bauman in Collateral Damage: Social Inequalities in a Global Age, “Occupying the bottom end of the inequality ladder, and becoming a ‘collateral victim’ of a human action or a natural disaster, interact the way the opposite poles of magnets do: they tend to gravitate towards each other” (5). Tyler’s goal is to form a brotherhood of men united by a common cause – the desire for individual growth and the betterment of society. His recruits come from different backgrounds and careers, but they all have one thing in common: they have all been beaten down by corporate society.

Tyler fears the course of modern society, believing that it is becoming more and more corrupt. Romanticist Percy Bysshe Shelley would agree. He writes, “For the end of social corruption is to destroy all sensibility to pleasure; and therefore it is corruption. It begins at the intellect as at the core, and distributes itself thence as paralyzing venom, through the affections into the very appetites, until all become a torpid mass in which sense hardly survives” (601). Tyler is right to fear this corruption; after all, the Narrator embodies the effects of the force Shelley calls a “paralyzing venom.”

Tyler’s underground Fight Club is an arena where “the original endowment of the body” (Rousseau par. 54) is the focus. The Narrator comments, “You see a guy come to fight club for the first time, and his ass is a loaf of white bread. You see this same guy here six months later, and he looks carved out of wood” (51). Friedrich von Schiller found the values of his society at fault for destroying the original body of man and wrote that, “It was civilization itself which inflicted this wound [of physical disadvantage] upon modern man” (486). Fight club is a place where, through beating their opponents, the men are really fighting against the ways society beats them down. When the Narrator takes on Tyler for the first time outside the bar, he says:
Instead of Tyler, I felt finally I could get my hands on everything in the world that didn’t work, my cleaning that came back with the collar buttons broken, the bank that says I’m hundreds of dollars overdrawn. My job where my boss got on my computer and fiddle with my DOS execute commands. And Marla Singer, who stole the support groups from me. (53)

The men there are afraid to fight against their oppressors, but gain the courage to do so in fight club (54). Ironically though, the very catalyst which sets Tyler, the Narrator and their “space monkeys” on the track of social dissidence is also responsible for increasingly labeling such acts as irresponsible and even illegal. Giroux argues,
As the laws of the market take precedence over the laws of the state as guardians of the public good [and] as the state is hollowed out, forced to abandon its social functions, its dominant concerns support the exercise of police power concerned primarily with surveillance, containment, repression, and control as it increasingly criminalizes social antagonisms. (2)

With industrialization came a rise in “the laws of the market,” where materials were placed ahead of the real needs of men. This is what Romanticism seeks to avoid. The Narrator seeks out his new mentor to help him end this lifestyle: “Oh, Tyler, please rescue me […]. May I never be complete. May I never be content. May I never be perfect. Deliver me, Tyler, from being perfect and complete” (46). Tyler isn’t necessarily anti-perfection, but he understands its limitations. He sees modern man striving for a state of perfection defined by the media, a state he believes to be destructive. He curses society’s preoccupation with perfection because it is pointless and commonly defined by material things rather than some other human quality: “Fuck Martha Stewart. Martha’s polishing the brass on the Titanic; it’s all going down man,” Tyler tells the Narrator (Fincher, Fight Club). Material things do not last so they should not be the focus of one’s life. The utopia Tyler wants to create shrugs off those impositions from society and redefines perfection as achieving self-awareness, a sense of enlightenment. He tells the Narrator, “A moment was the most you could ever expect from perfection” (33).

Tyler himself does find some pleasure in achieving perfection, but he does not seek it in order to define his life as the Narrator did: “One minute was enough, Tyler said, a person had to work hard for it, but a minute of perfection was worth the effort. A moment was the most you could ever expect from perfection” (33). Before meeting Tyler, the Narrator found a sense of completion and perfection in accumulating things, but it was always short-lived so he had to keep repeating the cycle. Tyler understands the pleasure that one could gain from this achievement, but teaches that one should not live his life as a quest for personal perfection, nor for the perfection of society as both endanger his individual identity. Matthew Arnold writes about such quests,
[Culture] is a study of perfection… Perfection, as culture conceives it, is not possible while the individual remains isolated. The individual is required, under pain of being stunted and enfeebled in his own development if he disobeys, to carry others along with him in his march towards perfection, to be continually doing all he can to enlarge and increase the volume of the human stream sweeping thitherward. (715, 717).

Tyler rebels against a society that values the perfection of a culture over the “development” of the individual. Arnold calls this value system “culture,” but Tyler disagrees. He prefers achieving chaos to achieving perfection. Instead he said, “Fuck off with your sofa units and strine green stripe patterns. I say never be complete, I say stop being perfect, I say let's evolve, let the chips fall where they may” (Fincher, Fight Club). Tyler would agree, however, with Arnold’s goal for culture.

According to Leitch,
Arnold stated in Culture and Anarchy that he wanted culture to heighten among the English ‘the impulse to the development of the whole man, to connecting and harmonizing all parts of him, perfecting all, leaving none to take their chance.’ Though these sentiments were presented as possessing a timeless validity, Arnold voiced them at a moment in English history when ‘anarchy’ – social unrest and rioting – had erupted in the streets and revolution seemed a real possibility. (“Matthew Arnold” 692).
Though Tyler is against the social definition of perfection (that is, the advertised ideal), he does support the pursuit of one’s maximum human potential, in Arnold’s words, “the development of the whole man, to connecting and harmonizing all parts of him.” Tyler believes that modern society does not allow men to reach this ideal. The Narrator found a role model in Tyler, a representation of the ideal man which society would not let him become himself. Society had shaped him into an effeminate, dull, corporate drone; a consumer, a victim of marketing ploys. His insomnia drove him to visit support groups – for diseases he didn’t have – where he found a safe place to cry. Only after these sessions could he sleep and find focus. At the support groups, the Narrator found freedom by losing hope (24).

With Tyler, he found freedom through rebellion and in the pain and destruction of the self and of society. Romantic social theorizing is summarized by Lauren M.E. Goodlad: “The Enlightenment valorized the classical ideal of man as a public citizen, while Romantic liberals theorized a more sociable man who throve in civil society… For many Romantics, ‘self-development, self-expression, and artistic creation’ were predicated on a radical detachment ‘from mundane existence’” (111-112). Palahniuk’s Narrator fits neither of these ideals, though he is closest to the latter. Through his alter-ego he achieves a “radical detachment.” With Tyler’s help, the Narrator’s nonconformity helps him to survive day-to-day within society even while isolating him in a world apart. The fight club members and Project Mayhem recruits flock to Tyler to regain their freedom and are urged to break the mold, to not see the advertised ideals as something to strive for but as something to avoid. These characters fit the Romantic archetype. According to Abrams, Romantic subjects were often “solitary figures engaged in a long, and sometimes infinitely elusive, quest; often they were also social nonconformists or outcasts” (Abrams 240). At the beginning of the story, the Narrator is isolated and is searching for inner peace and balance and for a purpose in his life. He finds that he can achieve this by separating from society and he and Tyler teach many of his peers to find freedom the same way.

Their fights offer a primitive communal moment, recalling the days before society redefined the concept of masculinity. As the Narrator says, “What you see at fight club is a generation of men raised by women” (Palahniuk 50). To this, Tyler adds, “I’m wondering if another woman is really the answer we need” (Fincher Fight Club). Pamela Church Gibson argues that, “The film works as an attack on an image-obsessed society dominated by a desire for possessions and controlled by faceless corporations… However, the film is far more complex, and arguably has more to do with notions of masculinity than with an assault on global capitalism” (185). Tyler seems to be arguing that what a man really needs is a brotherhood of men, to escape a society which has redefined their purpose in such a way that each man’s focus is on himself and on an outward image.

This self-centered focus is not for the good of the individual, but rather for the good of the corporate world, which society has convinced men is their own identity. Tyler argues against this kind of self-focus, that this is not a true identity. He is an illustration for his followers of what could be called the natural self – that is, not the self created by external factors – leads to the discovery of one’s true identity. After all, “How much can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight?” (Fincher, Fight Club).

The Narrator says, “Most guys are at fight club because of something they’re too scared to fight. After a few fights, you’re afraid a lot less” (54). He compares the outcome to that of attending a church service, “When you wake up Sunday afternoon you feel saved” (51). He sees fighting as a route to catharsis: “Instead of Tyler, I felt finally I could get my hands on everything in the world that didn’t work […]. Nothing was solved when the fight was over, but nothing mattered” (53). He made a similar statement earlier in the novel regarding the support groups: “Walking home after a support group, I felt more alive than I’d ever felt […]. Every evening, I died, and every evening, I was born. Resurrected” (22). The fight club, however, is more mutually cathartic than church services or support groups because the men are so involved in helping one another to reach their true selves. There is as much release in the pain received as in the punch delivered. The grappling could even be seen as a conversation between the men, with each fighter helping his opponent to release the pent-up emotions so he can then peacefully move through life, coexisting with, though not understanding, his un-enlightened white-collar brethren. This formation of a self-aware brotherhood is a step away from the society which constrains them. While the English ramblers were able to escape the “corrupt, alien city” by venturing into the countryside (Trentmann 585), Tyler and his men have to go to more extreme measures to escape their own corrupt society and can only find relief by working together. Some argue, however, that these men do not peacefully coexist, but unleash terroristic behavior on the society around them when the club escalates to Project Mayhem.

Project Mayhem was the next phase of Tyler’s plan for enlightenment, encouraging its members to undermine society. The Narrator himself says, “The space monkeys in the Mischief Committee of Project Mayhem are running wild, destroying every scrap of history” (12). In this context it is understandable that the actions of this underground organization could cause fear. I would argue, however, that the history they want to destroy is that which is behind the problems of civilization; that they seek not to wreak havoc on society itself so much as on what it represents. In The Spaces of Violence, James R. Giles investigates contemporary American novels in which violence is prevalent and finds, as reviewed by Marco Abel:
Because capitalist culture is ‘inherently hierarchical, with lasting power and authority not only unobtainable for virtually everyone but essentially invisible as well’ (95), the male psyche is haunted by a ‘profound insecurity’ (95), which, in turn, males compensate for (in life and these novels) by ‘becoming the enforcer of culturally sanctioned violence and repression.’{(126)

The Narrator and his fellow space monkeys are forced by their repression to do the same to those who enforced it on them; they seek to make their capitalist superiors feel as small as they have made their workers feel and to upset the capitalist world as theirs has been disrupted. According to Giles, this is a perfectly natural reaction. Abel summarizes: “Violence, that is, often erupts precisely because the rationalizing force that work is supposed to exert on human beings (especially males) is necessarily weakened by capitalism’s inherent insufficiencies” (125). Tyler, like the Romanticists, sought to overcome the weaknesses caused by capitalism. For Tyler, violence was the best solution.

Some of the text regarding Project Mayhem is a little scary, especially the Narrator’s articulation of the group’s goal:
Don't think of this as extinction. Think of this as downsizing. For thousands of years, human beings had screwed up and trashed and crapped on this planet, and now history expected me to clean up after everyone. I have to wash out and flatten my soup cans. And account for every drop of used motor oil… It's Project Mayhem that's going to save the world. A cultural ice age. A prematurely induced dark age. Project Mayhem will break up civilization so we can make something better out of the world.{(124-125)
The thought of the ‘downsizing’ of humanity is concerning and the use of the phrases ‘cultural ice age’ and ‘prematurely induced dark age’ especially so. While the language of this passage may have contributed to the misreading of the novel, Tyler’s goal is nobler. He wants to improve society by breaking it down and rebuilding it from its simplest form. By ridding society of its history, Tyler believes civilization can change directions and rebuild society into a system that values man over the market, an improvement the Romanticists advocated. Tyler hopes to accomplish this goal by causing physical destruction and disrupting the corporate world, effectively turning society upside down.

But here is the catch in Tyler’s roles as mentor and revolutionary leader: Tyler and the Narrator are the same person. Tyler arises from the Narrator’s chaotic subconscious as a man who can and will do everything society tells the Narrator is not okay. This alternate personality even allows the Narrator to have a sexual relationship with Marla Singer, a relationship he believes does not fit his lifestyle and which he tells Tyler repeatedly he is not interested in. Ultimately it is Marla who helps the Narrator to realize that Tyler is him and with this realization comes another: If he is Tyler, then he invented fight club and Project Mayhem and Tyler’s philosophy is his own.

The Narrator consciously believes everything that modern society tells him to, that he needs all the items in the latest catalog, that having friends who last only as long as a business flight and being bored at work is crucial to the success of modern society. But subconsciously he harbors Romantic notions of man’s primal instincts, that if the modern world as we know it were to disappear civilization could go back to a primitive state where men are allowed to feel and the individual is prized. Tyler embodies these subconscious thoughts. And while Tyler preaches about erasing history and inducing “a cultural ice age [and] a prematurely induced dark age” (125) that would allow man to live for himself, the main message here is not death and destruction. The message is, “This is your life, and it’s ending one minute at a time” (29). Palahniuk, through his anonymous Narrator and Tyler, through his powerful, inciting language, asks the reader, ‘What are you going to do about it?’

Palahniuk’s Own Rebellion
Palahniuk’s philosophical language is successful at imparting several issues dealt with by the Romanticists. In fact, it is his writing strategies which solidify the novel’s place in the Romantic genre. Palahniuk frequently repeats certain phrases or sentence structures. Because his stories are rarely told chronologically, this method helps to weave the disjointed pieces of the story together. But the repetition serves another larger purpose: to help the reader understand each narrator’s mindset and experience his or her emotions at that particular point in the story, allowing a close connection to be made between reader and character, as well as between the reader and the situation.

The Narrator’s insomnia is central to the storyline of Fight Club and Palahniuk’s repetition keeps this in the picture. The way the Narrator perceives the world—everything “a copy of a copy of a copy” (21)—the blur in which life moves around him, is illustrated by recurring comments modeled after his traveling lifestyle, interspersed among the text of the plot: “You wake up at Air Harbor International[…]. You wake up at O’Hare. You wake up at LaGuardia. You wake up at Logan […]. You wake up at SeaTac […]. You wake up, and you’re at Willow Run […]. You wake up at SeaTac, again” (chapter 3). His life is composed of a multitude of identical stops, everything—faces, places, events—blurring together. Palahniuk uses this method to place the reader in the midst of the Narrator’s situation, getting wrenched around constantly just as he is. It matches his mindset; like real-life, it’s not neat and orderly. Palahniuk’s use of ‘you’ adds to the impact, more effectively reflecting the Narrator’s perspective on the reader.

The Narrator also repeats statements he found in issues of Reader’s Digest at Tyler’s house. Early in the novel, he just reads them—“In the oldest magazines, there’s a series of articles where organs in the human body talk about themselves in the first person: I am Jane’s Uterus. I am Joe’s Prostate” (58). He later illustrates his own feelings using that model: “I am Joe’s Grinding Teeth. I am Joe’s Inflamed Flaring Nostrils” (59) and “I am Joe’s Cold Sweat […]. I am the Pit of Joe’s Stomach” (185). These phrases signal his anxiety in a unique tone. Additionally, Palahniuk’s utilization of the method of repetition reinforces the aim of Romanticism.

Whether he intended it or not, Palahniuk’s repetitive language signals a need or wish to return to the past, one of the main goals of Romanticism. Just as Tyler wants civilization to return to a primitive state, Palahniuk, through the Narrator, wants to return to his overriding thoughts or the most prominent points in his story. This applies to many of his novels, especially Invisible Monsters in which the main character, a former fashion model, continuously refers back to the instructions she was given by photographers. She does this because she had built her identity around that lifestyle. In Fight Club, the Narrator frequently comments on his insomnia, his job and his perfectly furnished condo, all major factors in his identity.

The Narrator’s insomnia is central to the story because if not for his exhaustion and the psychological torment it and his environment caused, he would not have developed his second identity as Tyler Durden. His insomnia is a catalyst for everything that happens in the novel. While it is not a “primitive state” in the sense of the changes Tyler was after, it is a prominent factor in the Narrator’s life and serves as an explanation for all of his actions, the one common denominator in his life and which is greatly affected by the values of the society in which he lives. Repeated references to both his job and the condo, which he admits to Tyler is a part of his identity, signal that these also hold a prominent place in his daily life; like insomnia, they are factors produced by a corrupt society.
In his preface to Lyrical Ballads, William Wordsworth wrote, “All good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: but Poems to which any value can be attached, were never produced on any variety of subjects but by a man, who being possessed of more than usual organic sensibility, has also thought long and deeply” (562). Such works are cathartic in a way, coming from an ordinary man, a writer, who took time to examine aesthetics and the environment surrounding them and attach his own emotions to them in order to amplify the subject for the reader. It is through the poet’s “extravagant and absurd language” that the reader is brought “nearer to a sympathy with that character: an effect which is accomplished by unsettling ordinary habits of thinking, and thus assisting the Reader to approach to that perturbed and dizzy state of mind” (578).

The Romantics valued the honest display of emotions, a point touched on by Wordsworth: “[A language] arising out of repeated experience and regular feelings is a more permanent, and a far more philosophical language, than that which is frequently substituted for it by Poets” (561-2). Palahniuk is undoubtedly an ordinary man using “extravagant and absurd language.” His writing, though simplistic, is driven by a powerful philosophy best conveyed to the reader through Palahniuk’s strategies. His own writing is a rebellion against the values of the corrupt society he illustrates in the story and he seeks to “unsettle [the] ordinary habits of thinking” (Wordsworth 578) of his readers just as Tyler does with the Narrator. Such a rebellion would be inhibited in the society he writes about. In this way Palahniuk parallels Tyler, his own character. Just as Tyler acts as a guide to the Narrator, leading him away from the traps of the corporate twenty-first century society in which he lives, Palahniuk leads the reader to a realization of the potential risks of our real-life modern society, hoping to prevent his audience from falling into the same dark place as his Narrator. In fact, one could argue that Palahniuk is the protagonist of his own story.

By using simple, everyday language, Wordsworth would agree that Palahniuk makes a greater, more lasting impact on his reader than he would by writing more fancifully: “Such a language, arising out of repeated experience and regular feelings, is a more permanent, and a far more philosophical language, than that which is frequently substituted for it by Poets” (561-62). Palahniuk’s writing is a return to a simple and casual, even primitive, form. Just as Wordsworth “proposed to deal with materials from ‘common life’ in ‘a selection of language really used by men’” (Abrams 238), Palahniuk’s gritty tone and his characters’ language match the informality and roughness commonly used in real-life settings, making his portrayal accessible and easy to relate to.

There is no doubt that Fight Club is a volatile story which can easily be misunderstood. However, the benefits of its philosophy outweigh the risks. Just as Tyler mentors the Narrator, Palahniuk forces the reader to realize the restrictions of modern society. He questions the effects it will have on each individual, as well as the possible long-term effects on mankind as a whole. Industrialization and the rise of consumerism has taken over our minds and caused us to rebuild our natural selves. The Romantics strove to illustrate this and to provide a means for escape. This is what Fight Club is about – escaping social constraints and breaking down the modern self and modern society in order to rebuild an identity true to human nature. Though Palahniuk’s translation of Romanticism is somewhat unorthodox – his intensity is not common to our typical idea of the genre – it is effective. Readers and critics should focus on Palahniuk’s motives and inspiration – his gritty, out of control world is a reflection of our real-life society, even if he exaggerates it a little – rather than only on the violence he includes. Both his philosophy that modern society should be closely examined for its role in endangering man’s identity and the rhetorical strategies he uses to impart philosophic ideas in the novel fit the themes and characteristics which were central to the Romantic era in literature and his unique approach to those issues make Fight Club an important piece of contemporary literature.

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