Tag Archives: reading recommendations

Fight Club is a good book in terms of literary technique. But it is also grossly inaccurate in regards to the mental health issues it attempts to put across. As is understood by psychology, multiple-personality disorder (correctly termed Disassociative Identity Disorder) is a result of extreme childhood trauma, not a man-tantrum. It would not be possible for the Narrator to form the identity of Tyler Durden without that childhood trauma, and it would have manifested far sooner.

Yes. This is something worth keeping in mind. Even without going into DID in detail, the book operates off a pop-culture view of mental illness. From what I remember, Jack’s behavior is more in line with a schizoaffective disorder than DID.

But, even then, this is not how mental illness works. It does however add an element of discomfort to the book. Which is intentional. I said, in passing, that Fight Club is a book that needs to be read critically. I mean that. Palahniuk is a very provocative writer. Literally, he seeks to provoke a response.

I’m actually going to step back a little and say, in broad strokes, Fight Club is not a book you should enjoy. It is a book that should make you stop, and think about what you just read. In many cases, it’s a book you should disagree with. And, near as I can tell, that’s actually the authorial intent.

This is a book designed to get you talking, and get you questioning what you just read. Not a book you should endorse.

It’s worth noting that Palahniuk’s own experience with mental illness was insomnia. That informs his perspective and how he approached the novel. As someone who’s suffered from bouts of insomnia over the years, his insights there are on point. It’s not analogous to the characters he’s writing, and it doesn’t excuse the book of anything. But, if it got you to start talking, it did something right.

In direct response to you, I think Fight Club accurately reflects the way society perceives and stigmatizes at mental illness. Telling people to turn it off, and pass for normal. Within that context, it’s arguing that doing so is inevitably destructive, or at the very least self-destructive. Not the reality of how mental illness functions, but the subjective sensation of being marginalized because of it. I’ll admit, it’s not an easy subject to broach.


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I’m sorry, but I can’t take you seriously anymore. Fight Club is an expression of toxic masculinity that is worth nothing? Hell, everything about that ask is wrong, but that one in particular… Wow.

Just so we’re clear, this is the book about a man who feels
so emasculated by modern society and consumer culture that he visits a self
help group for men who have, literally, had their testicles surgically removed.
When he encounters a woman invading his territory, his only response is to
engage in increasingly violent and destructive acts, culminating in a failed
terrorist bombing? We’re talking about the same story, right?

Yeah, can’t imagine how anyone could consider that toxic

The novel is actually quite good. It’s not a pleasant read,
and I wouldn’t recommend it as entertainment, but it is worth reading. Chuck
Palahniuk is a very skilled writer. He has a visceral, “gross-out,” style that obfuscates
just how sharp his material is. It’s easy to pick up Fight Club and soak in the hyper-aggressive elements and miss just
how critical the book is.

But, that’s not what we were talking about.

We were talking about the fight club itself. The organization
in the novel and film. The one which morphs into Project Mayhem. That is
worthless, and without redeeming value. The fight club started by the narrator
is an expression of toxic masculinity. It doesn’t teach people how to fight, no
matter how awesome it makes the narrator feel about himself in the moment.

(I’m just going to refer to the narrator as Jack from here
on out. The name comes from the film, not the book, but it’s faster to type.)

The fight club itself, is a tantrum, being thrown by a man
child who has no model for what it means to be an adult, and isn’t satisfied by
the options he sees in the world. Looking for a venue to release his pent up aggression,
he resorts to violence. Jack moans about how, because his father abandoned him,
he has no concept of who he should be. Ultimately, he is terrified of being an
adult. Everything that follows is Jack acting out against the world.

There’s a weird element where you can intentionally read Jack
as a teenage rebellion, a few decades too late. This is probably why the Calvin & Hobbes misread plays so
well. At several levels, Jack is still a child, and written as such. Remember, before
the novel opens, Jack’s job is to look at horrifically mangled bodies (auto
insurance investigator). This is an adult version of a little kid looking at, “gross
stuff,” and then enthusiastically inflicting that on people around them for
shock value. Which should also sound familiar when discussing Tyler Durden and

So, yes, the novel Fight
is about toxic masculinity. The fight club itself is an expression of
the same. It’s easy to read the surface message and run with the idea that the
book is advocating the position of the protagonist. Until you remember that the
entire third act of the book (and film) is Jack losing control of Project
Mayhem, and trying to stop them from bombing buildings.

Fight Club isn’t
exclusively about toxic masculinity. There are very strong themes of
establishing a personal identity, and learning to communicate with others scattered
through the novel. They’re mixed in with large quantities of puerile behavior,
and aggressive missteps by the various characters. Toxic masculinity is a major
part, because it’s the first place Jack goes, and it colors the rest of his
experiences, even after he’s decided on a different approach.

It’s a very good, and quite challenging book. Certainly not
for everyone. However, the fight club itself is, ultimately, a self destructive
exercise. You don’t learn to fight by punching your imaginary friend.


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The film adaptation is pretty good as well. As with the
book, it requires some critical thinking to fully parse, but don’t let that
scare you off.