An Interview with Chuck Palahniuk

Sometimes, you read a book that opens up a whole universe of possibilities, leaving you wondering where these characters will go next. What else can happen? What other rules are there to break? When I finished reading Fight Club for the first time, back in the nineties, trying to find another book that left the same satisfactory emotion was difficult. I mean, it was the most transcendent, zeitgeist-defining novel of the last couple of decades. It changed me.

When Fight Club 2 was announced, my first reaction was “this is the sequel someone writes because they are so fucking sick and tired of being asked to do a sequel.” I kept an open mind, picked up the Graphic Novel, published by powerhouse, Dark Horse Books and dove in. Everything about that book is taken up a notch from the original. Tyler’s plans are grander and, in doing so, Palahniuk demands we extend our disbelief far greater than is required in the original. Symbolic, sure. Meta, kind of. Over the top? Absolutely.

So, what should my expectations be for Fight Club 3? Will I be thinking/saying/screaming, “I really wanted to like this.” Or, “it was cool. It has its moments but it wasn’t what I was looking for.” Or will I be filled with Jack’s raging disappointment?

Well, I do know one thing, It does need to be read. It demands to be read. It is my hope that it’s the most beautiful messed up thing I’ve ever read.

I got a chance to discuss all things Fight Club with Mr. Palahniuk. Some of which, I can’t talk about, first rule and all. The rest of our conversation is below.


BSR: If you could give yourself a nice cover blurb for Fight Club 3, what would it be? 

CP: “Just when you thought it was safe to crawl back into your safe space, here’s Fight Club 3.  Brace yourself.”

BSR: How would you describe Fight Club 3 to friends? 

CP: Fight Club 3 is a sexually transmitted idea.

BSR: How would you describe Tyler Durden to somebody who has never met him? How about Marla Singer? 

CP: Tyler is the person you dream of becoming, someone of unlimited agency.  Marla is your ideal counterpart, someone who can match your every strength, with whom you can goad each other to your greatest ability.

BSR: Do you see yourself as a provocateur? 

CP: No, not unless you consider some ordinary, everyday truths to be provocative.  My job is just to present in public what I already hear many people saying in secret.

BSR: How would you describe your own sense of mythos? 

CP: I must pass on this one.  “What happens in Fight Club doesn’t happen in words.”  To describe any mythos in words is to  reduce it to nonsense.  If you can keyboard something, it can’t be all that important.  

BSR: Is Tyler Durden your alter ego? 

CP: Tyler is a composite of qualities I’ve admired in many people.  I aspire to be him.

BSR: Who is the real villain in Fight Club 3

CP: Rosebud is a sled.  Bruce Willis is really a dead child psychologist.  I’m not going to offer up any other plot spoilers here.

BSR: Is Fight Club more than the sum of its parts? 

CP: The story is always finished by the reader’s experience.  That said, it’s too soon to tell what the story might catalyze in the future.  And while I’ll likely get the blame, it’s unlikely I’ll get a royalty.  Sigh.  Big sigh.

BSR: What have you learned most exploring in the ‘Comic’ medium? Since Fight Club 2?  

CP: Comics have taught me how to play well with others.  My fiction writing workshop was a good beginning, I’m not totally feedback-adverse.  But comics have given me several years of collaborating and cooperating with other people, skilled people who have talents I lack.  Now I recognize the contribution others can make, and my work will only get stronger for that.

BSR: What unconventional thing did you do in Fight Club 3 that you are the most proud of? 

CP: It’s a toss-up.  It might be the sequence where Marla tries, unsuccessfully, to resolve her pregnancy.  Or it might be the extended scene in the sex club.  Both are my humble homage to the gruesome/sexy EC Comics I loved as a demented kid in the 1970s.  

BSR: What fires your imagination? 

CP: I’m triggered by the physical, the visceral.  Something moves, and I have to look.  That’s a very animal aspect of me, and perhaps all people.  Also, when I confide a secret and hear other people share something similar from their own lives.  I love finding those connections common to almost everyone.  That was the sentiment behind the “You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake” statement, people ignore the great power that comes from recognizing the things they hold in common with others.

BSR: Is this a personal vision or a collaborative one? (with Cameron Stewart)

CP: To me comics are always collaborative.  Like everyone else, I want to be surprised and delighted by the work of David Mack and Cameron Stewart.  When I start brainstorming ideas with my editor Scott Allie it’s a race to the bottom.  

BSR: Are you conscious of the reader as you write? Do you write listening to the reader listening to you? 

CP: The writer David Foster Wallace (I hate that I had to state he was a writer) used to say that writing was like masturbation:  First you do it to get yourself off, then you do it for approval, but eventually you go back to doing it for your own pleasure.  I fapped out Fight Club 3 for my own selfish jollies.  

BSR: Are we living in Tyler Durden’s dream America? 

CP: Almost.  During my salad days in the Reagan/Thatcher years, music and visual arts exploded in wild, colorful rebellion.  Punk morphed into New Wave, fashion got ridiculous (Do you remember when Benetton sold colorful sweaters by running ads full of skulls from the genocide in Rwanda?  I do.  I shoplifted that sweater.) and the Memphis School of Design killed earth tones and wood-grain anything.  It was no accident that art students took over film, music, fashion — and art!  Even food got artsy.  I keep expecting the Trump world to spur a similar counter attack in the arts.  That would be more along the lines of Tyler’s vision.  

BSR: Is this a boring time for you culturally? 

CP: The present is only boring in the sense that it fatigues me.  It wears me out with such a fast news cycle and constant announcements of some new Armageddon.  Whether it’s Ebola, global warming or plummeting sperm counts, the modern world keeps begging for attention, and that gets boring.  

BSR: What is your greatest fear about the world right now? 

CP: Oh my, how much time do you have?  Then I remember I’m a cheerful nihilist and think, fuck it, how can I add to the mess?  The situation only seems to get worse when we try to fix shit; how about we take the counter-intuitive option and try to break stuff for a while?   

BSR: Do you still surprise yourself? 

CP: Constantly.  That is the point of life.  As is disappointing myself, too.  It is a balance.

BSR: How much further do you go in FC3 versus FC2? 

CP: FC2 was written to acclimate the readers to a new medium for the story so it stuck very close to the elements people already knew from the novel and film.  It’s in FC3 that I can jump the shark and risk going to more outrageous places with the characters.

BSR: Has Tyler Durden turned into a trope? 

CP: Golly, I hope so.  He’s the classic trickster character from world mythology.  He’s Hermes or Coyote or Loki.  I’d be honored to see Tyler become such a universal symbol for our time in history.

BSR: Is there a fresh subversive idea at the heart of Fight Club 3? 

CP: Here’s my elevator pitch:  What if the culture of sport fucking and casual hooking up was really about killing one another?

BSR: Is this your weirdest work yet? 

CP: Parts of FC3 are my weirdest work, but it’s hard to beat the sheer density of weird that goes into a short story collection.  For maximum weird, I’d fall back on my coloring book, Bait, or the book Make Something Up:  Stories You Can’t Unread.  The latter was the most-banned book in public libraries and schools since the 1960s.  It’s like if Judy Blume wrote a funny, touching coming-of-age novel about fisting.  

BSR: Did you write Fight Club 2 in order to bury your Fight Club work in not just a symbolic way, but in a very real way? 

CP: You see a depth in me that doesn’t actually exist.  I wrote FC2 because I wanted to go to Comic-Cons and comics people parties and escape the novel-writing world’s expectation that every book should enter the canon or the pantheon and fix all societal woes.  Among my greatest fears, nowadays, is that comics have become infected with that same pretentiousness.  If that happens the whole fun-loving comics culture will wither into wearing hair shirts and calling it cosplay.  

BSR: Or…Did you write Fight Club 2 because it was the only way to deal with the original Fight Club? 

CP: What’s to deal with?  FC2 was more like finding an old flame on the internet and reaching out to see if the sex could still be that good, and it is, only the sex is better because your parents are dead so they can’t find out and put the kibosh on things.

BSR: If you “destroyed your legacy” with Fight Club 2, will Fight Club 3 annihilate it? 

CP: Hey, destruction makes way for creation, right?.  As they asked in the film Heathers:  “Now that you’re dead, what are you going to do with your life?”  I’m only getting started.


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