You Do Not Talk About Fight Club by Read Mercer Schuchardt (ed.)

Using Sartre and superstring theory as a foundation, Vacker adds a voice to the continuation of Palahniuk’s theme, which deals, essentially, with the will to live -- and more importantly, how to live.

You Do Not Talk About Fight Club

Publisher: Benbella
Subtitle: I Am Jack's Completely Unauthorized Essay Collection
Contributors: Chuck Palahniuk (foreword)
Author: Read Mercer Schuchardt
Price: $14.95
Length: 224
Formats: Paperback
ISBN: 9781933771526
US publication date: 2008-09

It’s not surprising that while this is a book of essays contemplating Chuck Palahniuk’s runaway hit 1996 novel Fight Club, that the focus seems to be just as much, if not more, on the 1999 movie of the same name -- the essays were compiled by a co-founder of Metaphilm, a blog dedicated to critiquing and waxing poetic over cinema. It also brings up the visual nature of American culture as a whole, and how we perceive the reality around us; essentially, how words are pictures too, and how the pictures that are painted will be different for all of us.

This knowledge would not be lost on Palahniuk, who also contributes a short though outstanding foreword to this collection. It is not the headiest piece of the bunch, but it is certainly the most heartfelt. He knows what the movie did for the book -- a book that was already visual and visceral to begin with. His minimalist arrangements of words and mental images, coupled with his uncanny ability to pick out few scenes yet give them major significance, lends itself to both the big screen, as well as the fulfilling, if not dangerous duty of philosophy.

For the writers of this collection, subtitled I Am Jack’s Completely Unauthorized Essay Collection, take massive liberties with the text. Some of them work well and illuminate the text. Others read like the writer is merely trying to hear himself think on paper, connecting abstract dots along a graph that inevitably concludes as an image that no one can recognize or understand.

Let’s get those out of the way first. Is the story of the unnamed main character (usually referred to as Jack) and Tyler Durden really the story of Oedipus? Probably not. And if it is, Chris Landis’s essay does not exactly make a strong supporting argument. Is it analogous in nature to the Matrix series, American Beauty, and Pink Floyd’s The Wall? Read Mercer Schuchart’s pondering is a bit more structured, though when he tries to find comparisons -- for example, do all four movies feature black four-door Lincolns? bathroom scenes? gunshots to the head? -- it feels like a high school attempt at making “deep” connections to brag about to friends. Something similar lurks in an essay comparing the movie to a grown-up version of the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes -- cute, but of little substance.

And then there are just the banal. Uri Dowbenko treats the work as a conspiracy theory, and you feel like you’re reading a website about crop circles. E.J. Park’s “Rebel Consumer” is a short and snarky piece about the ultra-hip hipster scene that is facetious and pretentious. That last word should also be reserved for Vox Day’s “The Club That Dare Not Speak Its Name,” a piece that looks at the violent nature of the film by a former martial artist who appears to be of the Tiger Shulmann “kick ass at any cost and for fun” mentality. The writing is pumped full of testosterone, which probably is a cover for a lack of intelligence, especially when it concludes by criticizing the supposed “homoerotic” nature of Fight Club: “To paraphrase the great English philosophers, gay men lurking in cellars distributing fluids is no basis for civilization.” Either the editor of this collection did not have enough essays to choose from, or he owed a serious favor.

We can expect essay collections to be a mixed bag, however. They are like record compilations. And while there are quite a few lackluster performances, the longer, more thoughtful pieces are excellent, and actually do shine a light on Palahniuk’s book, as well as the movie that followed.

Sometimes last is best. While the collection ends with a history of Palahniuk’s website, Barry Vacker’s “Slugging Nothing” is the final -- and finest -- essay of this book. He treats the book/movie as indicative of the “zero condition,” a state of being that represents both the void of destruction, as well as the ability to reform and begin anew; it is, in one example from mythology, the dance of Natraj in Indian folklore, where the deity that destroys is also the creator and preserver. Vacker wittingly ties in Ground Zero and 9/11, the Y2K syndrome, the Millennium Dome, and even Coke Zero, in gazing at the rush towards the end-time propagated by Tyler Durden throughout Fight Club.

While Palahniuk may very well have had several agendas in his book -- even a writer never knows all the layers his language will reveal, which is what makes criticism and philosophy so important, to serve as a mirror unto one’s art -- consumerism was blatantly at the top of the list. As Vacker writes, “The new struggle is less a war on poverty than it is a war on homogeneity, seeking authenticity in a culture of mass production, seeking identity in a culture mass mediation, seeking roots in a culture of rapid acceleration.” Using Sartre and superstring theory as a foundation, Vacker adds a voice to the continuation of Palahniuk’s theme, which deals, essentially, with the will to live -- and more importantly, how to live.

“I Am Jack’s Happy Ending” is another insightful essay, this one offered by David McNutt. His comparison is with J.R.R. Tolkien’s theory of “eucatastrophe,” which is essentially akin to the moment when the mythological hero fulfills his or her destiny through a surprising series of events. “It is a completely unexpected and undeserved rescue in the midst of tragedy,” he writes, “a fortunate ending through unfortunate means. It is that moment when all appears to be lost, but then -- incredibly, unbelievably -- all is saved and restored.”

McNutt uses figures such as Jesus Christ and Michael Douglas (in the mind-bending thriller, The Game) as parallels to Jack’s/Tyler’s epic quest, near destruction, and liberation -- Jack is liberated from Tyler, Tyler from the world. He concludes that the film “reveals the possibility for joy in the midst of sorrow and victory in the midst of defeat.”

In the introduction, Schuchardt quotes from an interview with Palahniuk in which the author states, “People are going to bring their own body of knowledge, their own experience, to whatever.” This is true in all critiques, citations, and footnotes, especially when dealing with the written word, for as much as one would think otherwise, we read with our own voices. We emphasize certain words, understand certain nuances, all the while sacrificing other ideas and words, often unknowingly. The movie gave a definitive form to Tyler Durden in the form of Brad Pitt, to Jack in Edward Norton. This too is a blessing and curse. It blessed Palahniuk by giving him a readership far wider than he may have achieved otherwise; it is a curse because it removes the Tyler Durden from inside of each one of us and transfers it onto Pitt.

But what can we do? We are, as stated, a visual culture. Our best writers are acclaimed because they paint pictures inside of our minds; they make words that you can picture and feel and relate to, that sculpt people and events and time into your thoughts. Their characters have an emotional resonance, they leave psychic imprints, making nearly tangible substances out of words that we can feel -- without empathy, writing is mere information, and will not sustain in the reader’s mind. Despite accolades for and criticism of Palahniuk’s work, it is easy to agree that the man is genius of the paintbrush.

So, in the words of that very man, how do we know when we’re dealing with “a copy of a copy of a copy?” In one way or another these essays all tackle this question, being copies of an original work that is a copy of the society around us. Fight Club is a mirror, and these essays are mirrors of that mirror. Some turn the mirror onto the mirror and it reflects endlessly -- these are the ones that offer insight, that bring us to yet another level of awareness of American life ... one that, according to Palahniuk (and the general consensus of the essayists), does not have to struggle to survive in the hunter-gatherer sense of the word, but rather bases its survival on ready-made IKEA living rooms. The others -- those that attempt to turn the mirror back onto the author himself -- are the failures, for they are concerned more with witty aphorisms and catchy-though-not-relevant synopses than contributing to the story of modern America, and what to do with it.






Padma Lakshmi's 'Taste the Nation' Questions What, Exactly, Is American Food

Can food alone undo centuries of anti-immigrant policies that are ingrained in the fabric of the American nation? Padma Lakshmi's Taste the Nation certainly tries.


Performing Race in James Whale's 'Show Boat'

There's a song performed in James Whale's musical, Show Boat, wherein race is revealed as a set of variegated and contradictory performances, signals to others, a manner of being seen and a manner of remaining hidden, and it isn't "Old Man River".


The Greyboy Allstars Rise Up to Help America Come Together with 'Como De Allstars'

If America could come together as one nation under a groove, Karl Denson & the Greyboy Allstars would be leading candidates of musical unity with their funky new album, Como De Allstars.


The Beatles' 'Help!' Redefined How Personal Popular Music Could Be 55 Years Ago

Help! is the record on which the Beatles really started to investigate just how much they could get away with. The album was released 55 years ago this week, and it's the kick-off to our new "All Things Reconsidered" series.


Porridge Radio's Mercury Prize-Nominated 'Every Bad' Is a Wonderful Epistemological Nightmare

With Every Bad, Porridge Radio seduce us with the vulnerability and existential confusion of Dana Margolin's deathly beautiful lyricism interweaved with alluring pop melodies.


​​Beyoncé's 'Black Is King' Builds Identity From Afrofuturism

Beyoncé's Black Is King's reliance on Afrofuturism recuperates the film from Disney's clutches while reclaiming Black excellence.

Reading Pandemics

Colonial Pandemics and Indigenous Futurism in Louise Erdrich and Gerald Vizenor

From a non-Native perspective, COVID-19 may be experienced as an unexpected and unprecedented catastrophe. Yet from a Native perspective, this current catastrophe links to a longer history that is synonymous with European colonization.


John Fullbright Salutes Leon Russell with "If the Shoe Fits" (premiere + interview)

John Fullbright and other Tulsa musicians decamped to Leon Russell's defunct studio for a four-day session that's a tribute to Dwight Twilley, Hoyt Axton, the Gap Band and more. Hear Fullbright's take on Russell's "If The Shoe Fits".


Roots Rocker Webb Wilder Shares a "Night Without Love" (premiere + interview)

Veteran roots rocker Webb Wilder turns back the hands of time on an old favorite of his with "Night Without Love".


The 10 Best Films of Sir Alan Parker

Here are 10 reasons to mourn the passing of one of England's most interesting directors, Sir Alan Parker.


July Talk Transform on 'Pray for It'

On Pray for It, Canadian alt-poppers July Talk show they understand the complex dualities that make up our lives.


With 'Articulation' Rival Consoles Goes Back to the Drawing Board

London producer Rival Consoles uses unorthodox approaches on his latest record, Articulation, resulting in a stunning, beautiful collection.


Paranoia Goes Viral in 'She Dies Tomorrow'

Amy Seimetz's thriller, She Dies Tomorrow, is visually dazzling and pulsating with menace -- until the color fades.


MetalMatters: July 2020 - Back on Track

In a busy and exciting month for metal, Boris arrive in rejuvenated fashion, Imperial Triumphant continue to impress with their forward-thinking black metal, and death metal masters Defeated Sanity and Lantern return with a vengeance.


Isabel Wilkerson's 'Caste' Reveals the Other Kind of American Exceptionalism

By comparing the American race-based class system to that of India and Nazi Germany, Isabel Wilkerson makes us see a familiar evil in a different light with her latest work, Caste.


Anna Kerrigan Prioritizes Substance Over Style in 'Cowboys'

Anna Kerrigan talks with PopMatters about her latest film, Cowboys, which deviates from the common "issues style" approach to LGBTQ characters.


John Fusco and the X-Road Riders Get Funky with "It Takes a Man" (premiere + interview)

Screenwriter and musician John Fusco pens a soulful anti-street fighting man song, "It Takes a Man". "As a trained fighter, one of the greatest lessons I have ever learned is to walk away from a fight without letting ego get the best of you."


'Run-Out Groove' Shows the Dark Side of Capitol Records

Music promoter Dave Morrell's memoir, Run Out Groove, recalls the underbelly of the mainstream music industry.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.