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Chuck Palahniuk’s Views on Gender in Fiction Haven’t Evolved Since 2005

To promote the upcoming release of his new novel Beautiful You and the Fight Club 2 sequel, Chuck Palahniuk has been periodically answering fan questions on his Tumblr. As expected, most of the questions revolve around Fight Club. Also as expected, most of the answers range from insipid to laughably stupid — including one response in particular that seemed like a case of mass trolling. In a post that has since been deleted (but will live on in screenshots and reblogs forever), Chuck Palahniuk mourns the dearth of novels that focus on male issues:

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 11.47.09 AMThere is so much strangeness in this exchange — his odd, outdated picks of novels about women, this idea that there aren’t books exploring male issues, and even just the revelation that Fight Club is being taught in schools (though it’s hilariously telling that so many copies are returned) — that it doesn’t deserve any real response aside from some laughs and eye-rolls. But the post took off on both Tumblr and Twitter, as these things do.

Of course, it was swiftly defended by Chuck Palahniuk fans (in Tumblr reblogs, in my Twitter mentions, and, oddly enough, a comment thread in A.V. Club’s Leftovers review), the sort who begin every reply with, “Um, actually…” or “Well, if you really read the book…” (For the record: Yes, I have read the book — multiple times — because I was once a teenager). Over the weekend, the same people who, in 1999, proudly proclaimed, “Fight Club isn’t really about fighting,” with the smugness of a freshman English major were quick to point out that Palahniuk has touched upon this before, most notably in the afterword to the 2005 edition of Fight Club:

At the same time, the bookstores were full of books like The Joy Luck Club and The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood and How to Make an American Quilt. These were all novels that presented a social model for women to be together. To sit together and tell their stories. To share their lives. But there was no novel that presented a new social model for men to share their lives.

Why pointing this out as a defense makes no sense to me — Palahniuk said something silly years ago and now he is echoing the same silly statement in a different medium (and in the near-decade since that afterword, it seems he hasn’t read any new books about women and somehow has managed to ignore every single book about “male issues” except for his own). It’s an outdated view of novels and gender — it was even outdated when Palahniuk wrote that afterword — but he doesn’t seem to realize that. Another exchange, which has also since been deleted, gotd this baffling and derailing response:

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 12.34.47 PM

The real takeaway from all of this is that Chuck Palahniuk hasn’t said anything new in years. He has written over a dozen books (I have inexplicably read about ten of these) but is stuck in 1999, repeating the same absurdities over and over. It’s frustrating because he has such a huge, loyal following that clings to his every word — just take a look at the cult of Fight Club! — and provides him the opportunity to share some genuine knowledge with his fans. Instead, he chooses to spew outdated nonsense.

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11 comments
My Americanmovie
My Americanmovie

I'm a male writer.  My themes are often about men. But my books, which have won literary awards, don't seem to sell.  So spread the word and help me change that, Chuck 9and everyone else).  Here's my anonymous blog about non-Hollywood Sex in NYC.   And I'm happy to provide my real name and the titles of my real books to anyone who's interested.  Thanks.


http://myamericanmovie.us/

DrThomasMorrow
DrThomasMorrow

I must agree with Obiwan. I would be much more willing to entertain your point of view in this article if you had mentioned even one "outdated" novel.

Palauniuk is saying that the teaching of his novel reveals the lack of OTHER sources for the study of masculinity in the modern Western world. He is humbly trying to say that there should be better sources, more insightful wells from which to draw curriculum. 

Simply because he has a consistent ideological basis for his stances and hasn't changed his mind in the last 10 years doesn't make his ideas antiquated or incorrect. 

As for Fight Club really being about fighting despite all those angry teenager's protests - sure - just as Grapes of Wrath is about a road trip and Heart of Darkness is about the ivory trade.

Honestly this article doesn't even strike me as having an opinion aside from a knee jerk reaction to a subject the author makes no claims to know anything about - gender theory, sexuality and masculinity in the 21st century.

Snicker all you want but laughter betrays ignorance just as often as it reveals folly.

ConnerHobson
ConnerHobson

Flavorwire usually has quality articles so reading this came as a surprise. Attacking authors and belittling the opinions of others isn't good journalism. Palahniuk is an excellent writer and his views here are perfectly valid. You also missed a typo.

obiwan_baloni
obiwan_baloni

Thank you for writing this article without providing us any examples of books that either prove or disprove what Palahniuk is stating, regardless of whether those quotes are recycled or not (personally, I can't think of another book besides Fight Club that does the job so well). Thank you for also assuming that books that primarily feature female social models are somehow more needed than male ones, and that this opinion is more "correct" and "modern" than what Palahniuk appears to believe. We're all human beings with different - yes, unequal - problems, values, and ways of connecting to one another due to gender, and it's just another blind act of feminism that makes Fight Club another "it's about men, therefore says nothing worthwhile" book in the eyes of young women. True, white male writers have dominated the literary scene for quite some time, but that doesn't mean their *individual* messages are any less necessary than those of minority or female writers. I'm a white female college student and see nothing wrong with Palahniuk addressing the idea that men connect differently to others that women do. True equality is not about taking the mic from some in order to better hear others - it's about everyone simultaneously participating equally.

RickBrands
RickBrands

I'm pretty sure these comments were not, in fact, posted by Chuck Palahniuk himself, but by someone on his team who was simply recycling dated quotes which seemed appropriate to this particular staffer, and to be clear: I think this is nonsense. It certainly would baffle me that a writer such as himself wouldn't be able to pick up on the obvious sarcasm in some of these 'questions'.


However: I've got no idea what Palahniuk's been trying to prove in his last five novels or so. As a big fan of 'Invisible Monsters', 'Survivor', and, especially, 'Lullaby', I haven't read anything truly fresh from his hand in quite some years. Yes, 'Haunted' was a fine mix-up of 'The Canterbury Tales' and good ol' Grand Guignol, but it ended up as a glorified gory short story collection, and 'Rant' was a poignant homage to Ballard's 'Crash', but can't truly stand on its own feet upon rereading. Ever since, he has only disappointed me by either using his same old tricks, or digging into the modern dystopian classics.


That being said: I don't think this is him, personally, writing these answers. Otherwise, it would be a big letdown.

kris_irisawa
kris_irisawa

I think a lot of gender issues can be explained by a lack of empathy. The fact that Chuck responds to the second comment - which is clearly sarcastic to me, "male writers, a desperately marginalized group" - in a complete serious way is also telling because empathy is key to understanding sarcasm and irony.


And just doing some armchair psychology (so please take this with a grain of salt) combined with the empathy thing Chuck also has some pretty violent stuff in his books - to the point the symptoms make you think he's borderline psychopathic, but in the normal, medical sense and not the absurd Patrick Bateman pop culture definition of the word. 

faryl
faryl

"True equality is not about taking the mic from some in order to better hear others - it's about everyone simultaneously participating equally" - love this

AndrewShaffer
AndrewShaffer

@RickBrands There's no question that he's writing the Tumblr responses himself. He's made that very clear. However, if I were answering questions about a book I'd written 18 years ago, I might just copy and paste from old Q&As too.

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