A chat about the novel "Fight Club"
October 27, 1999
An underground classic since its first publication in 1996, Fight Club is now recognized as one of the most original and provocative novels published in this decade.
Palahniuk's darkly funny first novel tells the story of a godforsaken young man who discovers that his rage at living in a world filled with failure and lies cannot be pacified by an empty consumer culture. Relief for him and his disenfranchised peers comes in the form of secret after-hours boxing matches held in the basements of bars.
Chuck Palahniuk joined us for a chat on October 27, 1999 from Portland, Oregon. CNN.com provided a typist for him.
Chat Moderator: Thank you Chuck Palahniuk for joining us today and welcome to the chat.
Chuck Palahniuk: Thank you!
Question: What prompted you to write this book.
Chuck Palahniuk: I love to write ... and I really wanted to write something that would offend the publishers who wouldn't publish my "nice work."
Question from Websteria: I'm amazed how they stretched a 208 page book into a two and a half hour movie and kept the same feel.
Chuck Palahniuk: Yeah, its a terrific job. David Fincher is a genius.
Question: How involved were you in the making of the movie
Chuck Palahniuk: I was a tourist. I went down and sorta sat at the set. I met everyone involved, but I didn't have much involvement.
Question from Stevieboy: How much creative control did you maintain through the development of the screenplay?
Chuck Palahniuk: I met with the screenwriter early on before he got started. We discussed how to compress the plot into 2 1/2 hours.
Question from Pace: At what point did you realize that you wanted to symbolize frustration in the American culture with such a fundamental aspect of humanity itself, fighting? And how did you come to this conclusion?
Chuck Palahniuk: When I realized how good and how relieved I felt after I was at a fight.
Question: How did the idea of having two alter-egos (of the same person) being represented as two different characters come to you?
Chuck Palahniuk: I didn't realize the plot twist until I got to that point in the book ... It was a complete surprise to me.
Question from Mercurial: How accurate was the portrayal of the characters in the movie to the ones you envisioned?
Chuck Palahniuk: In a word.... perfect! Frighteningly perfect.
Question from Stevieboy: I'm sure others fantasize what it would be like to be in a bar room brawl, as depicted in films about the Old West. Is this something that you saw Fight Club reflecting as well?
Chuck Palahniuk: Yes, only more realistically. Movie brawls tend to be bloodless and quick.
Question from NineNine: Was the book meant to be didactic? Are we supposed to consider chucking it all after watching the movie/reading the book, or is it just meant to be entertainment?
Chuck Palahniuk: Boy... um... It is entertainment first, but it does carry an extreme message. It isn't an imperative, but it is a message.
Question from Edgecrusher: Did you have any say in the casting?
Chuck Palahniuk: Not for Edward and Brad because they were both perfect. But David Fincher and I talked a lot about the female role, whether it would be Courtney Love or Winona Ryder, or David's suggestion, Helena Bonham Carter.
Question from Websteria: How did you feel about the ending of the film versus the book? Did you approve of the ending of the film?
Chuck Palahniuk: I approved of it because I wanted to see the romance emphasized more. I realized that would help sell the movie to more people. And the whole story is about a man reaching the point where he can commit to a woman, so the ending is appropriate.
Question: Is it legitimate to suggest that the homoerotic impressions in the tale are driving some of the popularity of the movie/book?
Chuck Palahniuk: LOL. Homoerotic? I must have missed that part ... you mean like that interview with the vampire movie? Just kidding, this is a buddy movie taken to the extreme.
Question from Stevieboy: When you write stories now, do you make the "salability" of a film affect some of your decisions? The writer for "Sixth Sense" stated that it helped him to focus that film.
Chuck Palahniuk: I would say NO. In fact, now I write with the idea of making my work more difficult to film. People said that "Fight Club" would be impossible to turn into a movie, but I think David Fincher loved that challenge.
Question from GooseKirk: Chuck, with "Fight Club" and "Bulworth," it seems that the only way a Hollywood character can challenge the status quo is if the character is insane. Any feelings on that?
Chuck Palahniuk: Hmm. I would say any behavior that is not the status quo is interpreted as insanity, when, in fact, it might actually be enlightenment. Insanity is sorta in the eye of the beholder.
Question from maxshreck: Chuck: I understand that many of the characters in your book were inspired by your friends. Were you ever involved in an actual "fight club"?
Chuck Palahniuk: No. No actual club ... but lots of actual fights, most of which are beyond the 7-year statute of limitations.
Question from do: Do you think it at least odd that a person beating himself up viciously would influence other people to join in the "club" initially? Or am I missing something here...?
Chuck Palahniuk: That step in the process wasn't shown. I can't explain that missing link, I guess that is the suspension of disbelief that is required of the viewer.
Question from sether: Chuck, what did Tyler smell at the end after being shot? He says he smells something...?
Chuck Palahniuk: LOL; that is a huge inside joke. It's David Fincher's reference to the lyricist Ira Gershwin who, while he was dying of an undiagnosed brain tumor, insisted that he could smell burning chicken feathers, and kept asking "what is that smell?" until he fell down dead.
Question from ExitRunner: Chuck, if you had to face some of your characters on the street and they wanted to challenge you for a duel, what would you say to them?
Chuck Palahniuk: I would say, "So go crazy, man."
Question from cubel: The film seems to try desperately to metaphorically beat us over the head with it's message of anti-consumerism/the male dilemma ... how does that correlate with your book?
Chuck Palahniuk: Hey, a heavy message beats no message, and since most of our entertainment is comforting and vacuous, I think we should risk being pedantic.
Question from sether: Chuck, have you ever been to a support group under false pretenses?
Chuck Palahniuk: I volunteered at a hospice for indigent young adults. My job was to take them to their support groups where I had to sit with them until they were ready to be taken back to the hospice. That was my experience.
Question from rinka: Which writers do you admire?
Chuck Palahniuk: Amy Hemple, for her short stories; Thom Jones for his short stories; Mark Richard, Brett Ellis' collection, "The Informers"; Also, Dennis Johnson's collection, "Jesus' Son".
Question from ExitRunner: Since your recent success and popularity with the film, have any crazed 'fans' approached belligerently or have you had any weird instances?
Chuck Palahniuk: No, nothing weird. I get a lot of letters from women who insist that "Fight Club" is not just a guy thing. They insist that women have the same rage and need the same outlet.
Question from Rex: Mr. Palahniuk, I just want to say that your book was one of the greatest experiences of my life ... You really opened my eyes ...
Chuck Palahniuk: Wow! Thank you thank you thank you!
Question from Bravo: Your story runs very close to the "Iron John" dissection by Robert Bly, did you do that intentionally?
Chuck Palahniuk: Sorry, I've never read "Iron John".
Question from guestchatter: Chuck, are you currently working on any project? (that you're allowed to discuss, of course)
Chuck Palahniuk: Yes, I'm always writing and researching... but No, I can't talk about it.
Question from inkubus: Chuck, have you ever thought of the possibility of a sequel?
Chuck Palahniuk: No, never. I will never write a sequel to anything that I will ever write.
Question from Robert: What are your thoughts on the media backlash against the movie? I've seen more violence in a Stallone movie than in "Fight Club." Do you think Hollywood is being hypocritical in their treatment of "Fight Club" versus other films?
Chuck Palahniuk: Bravo! Excellent observation. The system is more frightened of our anti-consumerist message than they are of our violence. The violence is just an excuse to trash us.
Question from blabby: How much do you think about how your readers will respond while you are writing? Some writers I know seem more focused on this than others. Some claim to just write what they "need" to write.
Chuck Palahniuk: I write first to entertain the reader. And second to try to portray something Iím hearing in the culture from my peers and friends.
Question: Did you expect the movie to be as 'dark' as the director made it?
Chuck Palahniuk: LOL. Yes. Everything David does has been dark. I loved "Alien 3" even though David seems to hate it.
Question from Brad: Do you worry about fanatics trying to follow in the Brad Pitt characters footsteps and causing social disruption?
Chuck Palahniuk: Hmm. Yes, I do worry but, it is demonstrated by Tyler's death that Tyler's way ultimately doesn't work.
Question from Novelboy: What do you think of notions like the "public good" or the "common good" of the people in relation to your novel?
Chuck Palahniuk: Is the "common good" necessarily the safest thing or the most challenging thing to us? We shouldn't allow other people to decide that for us.
Question from logiclrd: Chuck, will you marry me?
Chuck Palahniuk: hahaha. I'm already married. But Iím forbidden by the terms of my marriage to discuss my private life because my marriage is the most sacred thing in my life.
Question: What do you think of the after-school teen fight group that was recently shut down in Oregon?
Chuck Palahniuk: I think they got dumped on by the publicity of the movie. These kids created the idea for their club without having read the book or seeing the movie. Their club would still be thriving if the movie had not generated so much publicity around fighting. They are in a way, innocent victims. But I do admire them.
Question from Pace: Do you think that a "fight club" society would be beneficial or would hurt our nation?
Chuck Palahniuk: Hmm. Think about George Orwell's three-minute hate from the novel "1984" and how that left everyone sort of exhausted and able to live their boring humdrum lives. If our lives are going to continue being unfulfilled and boring, perhaps we do need some sort of short-term violent chaos incorporated into them to make them more palatable.
Question from bob: Why is it bad that there is a generation of men raised by women?
Chuck Palahniuk: Haha. Because men need to have men as immediate role models. Women cannot serve as the sole role model for young men growing up.
Question from tracylee: What exactly is the message you are trying to make with the book? Consumerism is bad, men need to prove their worth through physical means... but the ending left me hanging. Yes -- consumerism is bad ... but what is good? What is the answer?
Chuck Palahniuk: HaHa. I want to sidestep that one! Seriously, buy my book ... or better yet ... just send me gobs of money. Please don't make me wrestle that intellectual greased pig any more.
Question from maxshreck: I'd just like to congratulate you for your involvement in a movie that, essentially, attacks the values and motivations of the industry itself! Were you ever surprised that the movie even got made?
Chuck Palahniuk: Yes! The rumor I heard was that the material was so good and the casting so good that FOX was afraid that if they didn't make this movie, then some other studio would make it. So in a way they were blackmailed into making it because it was too good not to make.
Question from jakel: In the novel, the narrator is left in heaven, and earlier Tyler referred to a "war of the spirit." Can you give further comment on spirituality in our society, and in relation to the ideas in your work?
Chuck Palahniuk: The heaven the narrator is left in is a mental institution where "god" is a psychiatrist still trying to tell him how he should feel and think. In terms of spirituality, I think people need to take responsibility for their own beliefs and not just accept beliefs to be imposed on them by the powers to be.
Question: Can you share the motivation for the soap?
Chuck Palahniuk: Simple enough. My friend Alice taught me how to make soap and that same day, my sister Shawn called from Canada to say how the Canadian government couldn't keep up with the amount of liposuctioned fat that needed to be incinerated. I thought soap, fat, ... why not just ... you know... make soap out of it.
Question from tracylee: Are you amused at all by the irony that Hollywood decided to make a movie about anti-consumerism ... and then spent millions of dollars to do so and you can buy the soundtrack and posters from the film?
Chuck Palahniuk: LOL. It seems like the ultimate absurd joke. In a way its funnier than the movie itself.
Question from bob: Do you feel like you wrote a misogynistic book? Because the movie struck me as being so.
Chuck Palahniuk: No, in fact I think Marla is possibly the most honest character in the book in that she wears her problems on the outside. But, I didn't strive to try to portray women's issues. I did focus on men's issues.
Question from Novelboy: So -- in being yourself -- in "Fight Club," it was important to be Durden ... Durden was as evil as society then?
Chuck Palahniuk: Tyler plays the devil's advocate against society. He has a great deal of fun doing it. And perhaps Tyler's motivation is perhaps to be against something, anything.
Question from Pace: How did the Norton character know things that he didn't know that he knew?
Chuck Palahniuk: Don't you sometimes forget things, but on some level still know them? Please don't try to take a metaphor too literally. This is allegory, this is not something you can dissect in a physical way.
Question from TylerDurden: With all the Crispy Kreme being eaten in the film, is there some symbolism behind that?
Chuck Palahniuk: LOLOL. I think Brad just liked Krispy Kreme. There are no Krispy Kreme donuts in Portland Oregon. I have never had a Krispy Kreme donut.
Question from sether: Chuck, do you think I could get paid 52 weeks a year if I gave my boss the same deal as Ed Norton's character?
Chuck Palahniuk: That all depends on the power of information you have hanging over your boss' head
Question from rinka: What kind of attention did your novel get before the movie?
Chuck Palahniuk: Semi obscurity ... small cult following.
Question from Pace: Does Tyler not care what trouble Jack gets into?
Chuck Palahniuk: Tyler doesn't care. Tyler sees all trouble as a growth opportunity for Jack.
Question from UCLA: What mental disorder best describes Jack, in your estimation?
Chuck Palahniuk: Dissociative schizophrenic
Question from Enigma: It seems like many critics I've read are off-target in interpreting the film. Do you think that that lack of an explicitly spelled out 'message' about violence causes misunderstanding by the intellectually lazy critics?
Chuck Palahniuk: I think it is because the critics are frightened by the surface appearance of things and they shut down before they can see the deeper meaning that is revealed in the ultimate consequences that are revealed at the end of the movie.
Question from JoBlo: How come Fincher didn't slap you in the movie in a cameo role?
Chuck Palahniuk: haha. The first thing David asked me was which part I would like. I said no way would I be in the movie. I had no interest whatsoever in any appearance.
Question from Eniac: How did you get into writing a novel after being a mechanic? Seems like an odd progression.
Chuck Palahniuk: I wrote the novel while I was a mechanic to keep my mind occupied and to kill time.
Question from tobi: Do you think men are deprived emotional in our society more than women?
Chuck Palahniuk: Yes, because there are fewer defining activities for men than for women. It is harder to find physical and emotional challenges as a man, except for making money.
Question from Dirty-D: Were you trying to portray yourself in any of the characters in the novel? If so which one and if not who would you have liked to have been?
Chuck Palahniuk: I am no one in the novel. But I would love to be Tyler Durden; wouldn't we all?
Question from fleegle: Is there anything you would have done differently in the film adaptation?
Chuck Palahniuk: I would have revisited the support groups like happened in the book.
Question from Kalista: How did the book come to the attention of the movie industry?
Chuck Palahniuk: In 1995, while it was still a manuscript, a property scout in New York for Fox read it and loved it and pressured everyone at Fox to read it.
Question from Rex: Do you feel that your book may eventually fall under the same scrutiny and anti-idealism/wanna be book burners that the Harry Potter novels have lately?
Chuck Palahniuk: haha probably, but any publicity is good publicity ... and to burn a book you still have to buy it!
Question from JoBlo: Isn't a big part of the film about society inability to correctly identify certain psychological disorders in sociopaths?
Chuck Palahniuk: No, no, no. This film is about regular people under regular stress, not demented people under extraordinary circumstances. It was meant to be an everyman tale.
Question from fleegle: I love how you used Joe's organs talking in the first person ... It served its purpose beautifully to put the reader in that exact moment of the narrator's thought and emotion. Did you actually find this series of articles, or is it your invention?
Chuck Palahniuk: I read the entire "I am Joeís and I am Janeís" series in "Reader's Digest" as a child and still remember every organ.
Question from Esh: Aren't you breaking "rule #1" right now?
Chuck Palahniuk: hahaha. Hmm ... Isn't Fight Club itself about breaking all the rules, and don't we love to do things we are explicitly told not to do? Like eating the apple off the tree.
Question from Matt: Will you write screenplays, or stick to novels?
Chuck Palahniuk: Stick to novels. I wrote one very s**tty screenplay... I won't try that again for a long time.
Question from soapman: If it was really just one person, who was driving the car in the crash?
Chuck Palahniuk: My cop out answer ... .ask David Fincher. In the book, the "mechanic" was driving the car in the crash.
Question from Rex: How are you handling all of the not so nice attention by feminist groups? Does it get to you when you get marked as a complete chauvinist?
Chuck Palahniuk: Oh wow ... I didn't realize I was marked as a complete chauvinist. I'm very cut off ... I have no TV, seldom listen to the radio. Most of my life is research and reading. Iím very much out of the mass media loop. Thank God!
Question from PaulDN: Do you feel it is sometimes necessary to engage in fights as a way to feel alive or make life more interesting?
Chuck Palahniuk: Sometimes ... lol. It served that purpose in my life several years ago, but it's no longer part of my life.
Chat Moderator: Any final thoughts
Chuck Palahniuk: I really want to thank everyone for swinging out and giving this book and movie a chance in the world. I would encourage people to take responsibility and take control yourselves and write your own books, even if it means possibly getting dumped on!
Chat Moderator: Thank you Chuck Palahniuk for chatting with us today!
Chuck Palahniuk: Good bye and enjoy your fights!
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