Words: Andrea Zanin
Illustration: Fleur Beech

The first rule of fight club is that you don’t talk about fight club. But we’re going to pulverise that rule because there’s a sequel coming out and, well, Tyler Durden’s so worth talking about. For one, he’s hot (at least the Brad Pitt version) – all abs and attitude; who wouldn’t want to reminisce? And then there’s that whole beat-people-to-a-bloody-pulp thing. Sure, it sounds pretty wretched, like the kind of activity sequestered to hoodlums and hooligans flexing their testosterone at a football match, in a mosh pit or outside a pub. But what about poor mum on the school run, whose cheery morning smile is not an invitation to greeting but the physical manifestation of a fantasy involving the decimation by decapitation of ‘perfect Patty’ and her blow-waved hair, Sergio Rossi heels and never-late children. If society’s mild-mannered school mum entertains fantastic visions of violence toward her fellow woman, what about the rest of the populace; the people who don’t have ‘for the good of the children’ to keep ‘em on the straight and narrow?

It’s the small things. They set us off… invoking an evil intent that prowls our thoughts like a ravenous lion. Fight Club (1996), authored by transgressive fiction cognoscenti Chuck Palahniuk, taps into the primal portion of mankind’s psyche – the part that is repressed by conscience but itches to get out; to break free from the societal norms that keep chaos at bay. Sometimes we scratch and what oozes out is a putrid puss – drugs, porn, killing, crime, brutality… it lurks in all of us; disgusting things that we fantasise about and relive with an oxymoronic sense of guilt-ridden glee. Yet Palahniuk offers a solution; an alternate therapy – a club that actions homicidal reprieve but has rules that help keep the animal in check. As well as catharsis, fight club aims to ignite reanimation; a fire in the soul. It is a solution to the claustrophobic restrictions that seem to infringe (with good purpose) on our penchant for destruction; “You aren’t alive anywhere like you’re alive at fight club… There’s hysterical shouting in tongues like at church, and when you wake up Sunday afternoon you feel saved” (Fight Club, 1996). We need an outlet; a point Palahniuk plans to reiterate in the impending Fight Club 2.

Tyler Durden is the perennial reminder that life is not something to be watched but something to be lived

The last we saw of our unnamed narrator (Edward Norton in David Fincher’s 1999 movie adaptation) was a botched suicide, a mental hospital and some loyalist employees swearing allegiance to the legacy of ‘Project Mayhem’ (Durden’s attack against consumerism and corporate America). Skip 10 fictional years and we have our second instalment: a 10-issue graphic novel that sees Mr Anonymous (who calls himself Sebastian) embroiled in a nine-year marriage to chain-smoking, laundry-stealing reprobate Marla Singer. Except this time around it’s all about picket fences; gone are the days of sabotage, abuse, peeing on food, inserting subliminal porn into movies and stealing left-over drained human fat from liposuction clinics to make soap, sold to finance the ingredients for bomb manufacturing. Nope, life is boring. ‘Sebastian’ is oblivious. Marla is bored. Their marriage teeters on the rocky coastline of middle-aged suburban mediocrity. But they do have a son and he likes to create homemade gunpowder to the tune of his parents’ unravelling marriage. And of course Tyler is there. Tyler is always there.

Tyler Durden is the perennial reminder that life is not something to be watched but something to be lived. He’s that voice that camps out at the back of our minds, telling us to carpe diem. He’s also a kidnapper, stealing away Marla and Sebastian’s mini-terrorist in an effort to challenge the insipidity that has become their life. Durden aims to rile a reaction into being by urging his alter-ego to “Rize or Die” (Fight Club 2, 2015). In Fight Club, Durden argues “Maybe self-improvement isn’t the answer, maybe self-destruction is the answer”, that “It’s only after you lose everything that you’re free to do anything.” Life’s great existential ponderings are never easy material but Durden’s supposition is a tough sell because, really, freedom is an exercise in futility – we can never escape our thoughts and we can never escape our context. Most of us don’t entertain our fantasies; we’re not really going to murder our fellow mum but punch her face in? Sure! And yet even then, there will be someone else, a new mum with patronising posture, to infuriate and enslave. What Durden offers is mitigation, fleeting freedom, but should we settle for this… this deciduous dalliance with satiety? Is there a better option?

Greek philosopher Epictetus (55AD – 135AD) said, “The greater the difficulty the more glory in surmounting it.” Perhaps the answer is improvement after all? It’s the thing that exists in defiance of our natural inclination toward destruction. It’s the thing that our conscience wills but our instinct deplores. The obvious analogy posed by Fight Club is that we are at war with ourselves – Durden the Yin to ‘Sebastian’s Yang; two parts of the same whole, posed as a metaphor for the internal battle that dictates the (relative) quality of our very existence. The novel ponders our capacity to reconcile the dark with the light in a way that enables us to remain true to who we are. Palahniuk’s protagonist is a literary manifestation of this effort and he exists in error, swaying too far either side – mania or mediocrity. Balance is not easy; the irony of a fight club that invokes the beast but also constrains it – it’s a fine line to walk; fall to the right and you’ll plunge into platitude, with pandemonium pacing just a little to the left. But we must take the risk; we must walk the line. Palahniuk warns: “Prove you’re alive. If you don’t claim your humanity you will become a statistic. You have been warned” (Fight Club, 1996). We have been warned.

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