An Interview with Chuck Palahniuk

Chuck Palahniuk has got his finger right on the pulse of the present. When I ask him “How do you think we will look back on one of the most bizarre periods in American history?.” He replies with “Every era is the most-bizarre era.” His new novel ‘Adjustment Day’ is a lot of things. Biting, exhausting, twisted, dark, self-aware, absolutely all over the place, and classic Chuck. Back with enough here to shock, offend and make us laugh all the same. The book reads sort of like a tome for an event that’s already happened, and it’s eerie to see the similarities between our real world and the world Palahniuk creates.

Dagobot: Why are we so interested in Dystopias?

Chuck Palahniuk: My best guess is that a Dystopia no longer holds any moral authority.  It’s patently corrupt.  Therefore characters are free from morals and ethics as they strive to survive and escape their conditions.  Everything is wrong so nothing is wrong.

What could bring power to the powerless?

An imminent threat to their lives or status would spur people to exercise their power.  No one is powerless, we simply choose not to use our power unless the situation warrants it.

What side do you stand on? …and why? 

To paraphrase Marlon Brando, “What sides do you got?”  I’m for whichever side allows the individual to recognize and attain his greatest potential.  I’m for the side that’s about empowering individuals rather than perpetuating itself.  I’m for the side that’s willing to disappear once it meets its objective of developing the talents and visions of its members.

What were you trying to get across with ‘Adjustment Day’? 

Fantasy fulfillment.  The culture is full of separatist fantasies and civil war fantasies, from the Hotep Nation’s demand for a black homeland to Calexit and Ecotopia, here, in the Pacific Northwest.  I wanted to take a reader down that road and show how it might happen, and show what new flaws might be waiting to complicate life in nation states based entirely on identity politics.

Do you think that people will realize that this is satire once they read it? I mean, is it satire or is it a history book?

The South Park folks have made a fortune from ridiculing The Book of Mormon.  Everyone’s sacred text looks like satire from the outside. 

Were there books or films that influenced the satire in ‘Adjustment Day’? 

Both Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles and Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath were huge influences on my book’s structure.  And Ayn Rand’s books, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged were another inspiration.  It’s been so long since we’ve had a hard-headed polemic.  Instead, we get soft-focus books like The Celestine Prophesies.  I wanted to breed The Handmaid’s Tale with The Turner Diaries and see what kind of monster baby would come forth. 

What is the book about in your opinion?

The book is about rage.  It’s a rejection of classic American novels wherein the passive character commits suicide, the rebel is executed, and the moderate character who never takes action survives to tell the tale.  Those books do nothing but perpetuate the status quo.

To the extent that politics is the art of the possible, would you say that Talbott Reynolds could be elected today? 

In my world a great leader isn’t elected in our traditional popularity contest.  He is imposed. 

Is there room for everyone in America, or just the elites?

It’s a balance.  The elites dictate right-thinking to us.  We, in turn, clean their toilets and mow their lawns.  A beautiful system, no?

As Americans, we have elected a reality TV star to be our president. What’s left to do that hasn’t been co-opted? 

The people who demand peace are those who already hold the most power and don’t want to share it.  With apologies to The Beatles, “All we are saying is to give violent armed, internal insurrection a chance…”

Is outrage native in contemporary culture?

Not outrage.  Offense is our new, common reaction.  We take offense at everything, usually on behalf of someone else who might or might not feel offended.  Offense implies injury and automatically makes the “offender” the villain. 

Are political parties built on outrage?

See the above.  More and more, politics is based on determining a “victim” and rushing forward to advocate on his behalf — while actually promoting your own agenda. 

What was the last thing you were offended by?

I read a Donald Ray Pollock novel where two men sat and ate a meal of live chicks.  Needless to say I did not turn the page.  Before that was the David Foster Wallace story where they douse a cute puppy with lighter fluid and set it on fire, laughing as it runs around squealing and eventually dies.  Nice stuff, David.

Does your imagination shock you sometimes?

I have no imagination.  My training is as a journalist, and what I sell as fiction is actually the experience and secrets of people I interview.  Who wants to sit alone making shit up?

What have you learned from your own writing?

I’ve learned that I’m a romantic.  Love rears its head in everything I write.  And nothing I can depict isn’t already being done by many, many people.  In 1995 when I wanted to depict someone cutting single frames of porno into family films, my friends warned me not to.  They worried it would prompt people to do their own splicing.  Since then, some of the biggest names in Hollywood have told me they cut smut into Disney stuff years before I wrote about it.  So, I’m not actually creating the dark, twisted future.  I’m documenting the recent past.  Somebody around here has to tell the truth.

‘Adjustment Day’ is the authors first novel in four years and it is available today.


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