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According to Bennett, there has not been a sufficient amount of discussion regarding the complexity of the Fight Club text in the sense that critics and supporters alike have limited a full exploration of such a profound text. Although he does not reject the idea - expressed by many critics, that Fight Club tackles issues as gender and class identity, Bennett argues that existentialism, understood both as a philosophical and as an aesthetic practice, provides a superior critical framework for interpreting Fight Club (Bennett: 67). His stance is that Palahniuk's Fight Club is a brilliant sample of the "existential literary tradition with certain postmodern differences" (Bennett: 68) in the sense that the existentialism of the book is very much adapted to its historical context, i.e. The age of "postmodern capitalism" (Ibid: 68). In fact, his argument goes a bit further; he draws a parallel between Fight Club and Dostoyevsky's novella, Notes from the Underground in the sense that they both center on the "alienated individual going underground to rage against a dehumanizing society" (Ibid: 69). Palahniuk's unnamed narrator, who is conventionally referred to as Jack suffers from a wide but vaguely defined range of psychological disorders, including insomnia and narcolepsy - the so-called disorders of the modern man, and has the need to confront himself with the most acute human suffering in order to regain his humanity: "Every evening, I died, and every evening, I was born. Resurrected." (Palahniuk: 13)
Fight Club attempts to deconstruct the many strata of postmodern consumer society in its search for the substance of life and the "buried existential self" (Bennett: 76). The main character/narrator Jack-Tyler is a sort of "postmodern existentialist" (Ibid.) who embarks on a quest for the essence of life which is hidden deep under the layers of the consumer society. In his quest he does not turn to God, nor does he refute His existence: "We are not special. We are not crap either. We just are. We just are, and what happens, happens. And God says, "No that's not right." Yeah. Well. Whatever. You can't teach God anything." (Palahniuk: 198). The only escape from the disenchantment of a pain-free existence is violence, seen as the core of human essence, and explained by Tyler: "If you lose your nerve before you hit rock bottom, you'll never succeed." (Palahniuk: 61). Only by letting go of all the illusions that society preaches and abandoning shattered dreams can the individual really become an agent for change: "It's only after you've lost everything...that you're free to do anything" (Palahniuk: 61)
Men feel emasculated in contemporary society. The men of Fight Club are all products of a matriarchal culture where male role models do not exist anymore. Their fathers either abandoned them or divorced their mother: "a generation of men raised by women" (Palahniuk: 26). This is why, during the meetings of the cancer support group that Jack goes to, Bob, who had suffered from testicular cancer, loves to hug the narrator, who in turn, feels like a child being held by his mother. He allows himself to cry, and then to sleep: "babies don't sleep this well" (Palahniuk: 12) in Bob's feminine embrace, both of which are deeply infantile needs (Kavadlo: 9). In this sense, physical violence - that is, fighting, although extreme, is the way back to a sense of masculinity that men in contemporary society had lost.
Fight Club does not glorify violence; it glorifies self-awareness and standing up against ideologies that the individual is bullied into adhering to. Fight Club encourages individuals to go out and discover who they are and to live accordingly; to be agents of change in society. It also spurs an interesting discussing concerning what is dysfunctional; some can argue that the men fighting each other like savages in a basement are the dysfunctional element in the book. On the other hand, it can be argued that society itself is dysfunctional, and that the only way to break the cycle is to embrace physical pain and privation and to abandon illusions of happiness.
Bennett, Robert. "The Death of Sisyphus: Existentialist Literature and the Cultural Logic of Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club." Stirrings Still - the International Journal of Existential Literature 2.2 (2005): 65-80.
Kavadlo, Jesse. "The…[continue]
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