Fight Club is an example of postmodernism that radically breaks conventions and questions the meta-narrative that society by large plays into. In the modern world, there’s this ideology that we’re all expected to conform to: get an expensive college education, a job that makes us as much money as possible, an onslaught of material possessions you don’t need, have a white-picket-fence existence in the suburbs, reproduce, then inevitably await our demise. As the film progresses, so does the narrator’s rejection of this common ideology that most of society has chosen to identify with; instead of conforming further, with the help of his Freudian ‘ID’ alter ego in the form of Tyler Durden, he rejects conventional reality constantly and purposefully. Starting from a beginning that indulged in this meta-narrative, to intentionally rejecting it through the form of idealized anarchy and chaos, one extreme to the next. Inevitably highlighting what’s truly important in a world where our lives are fragile and short.
Through the narrator, we explore this meta-narrative in depth because he’s entirely engulfed in it. He works a ‘job he hates’ to buy ‘shit he doesn’t need’ which is entirely apparent in his apathy for living and this notion that the only thing that makes him feel alive is swiping through Ikea’s catalog in order to decide which dining set would best compliment his studio apartment. This pursuit of the capitalistic idealism has inherently left him hollow lacking an apparent direction or purpose. He feels as though he’s doing exactly what society told him to do in order to be happy, but yet he still lacks a sense of fulfillment and is entirely apathetic towards the idea of his own death. This is predominately seen in his attitude while flying back and forth through different time zones on business trips, he frequently mentions how he wouldn’t mind if a flock of migrating birds flew in the turbine and ended this tedious unfulfilling meta-narrative he has firmly embedded himself in.
One flight in particular leads to the development of an entirely new ideology and state of mind in the narrator. By “meeting” or coming to terms with his Freudian ‘ID’ like state of mind (in the form of Tyler Durden), he begins to digress from this thoroughly engrained meta-narrative he’s wasted most of his life believing he identified with. Through Tyler, he sees an unkempt almost Buddhist side of himself, one that believes materialism is the root of all evil and chooses to live in complete squatter so as long as he has a roof over his head. He doesn’t believe in conventional movies with happy endings and a sheer lack of realism. This is seen through his time working at a movie theater cutting snippets of nude images into films. The way Tyler Durden portrays himself on a regular basis consistently picks at this commonly accepted ideology of what society should be. He’s willing to grow an army in order to invoke complete and utter anarchy with the end goal being to deconstruct this notion that capitalism is how society should conduct its self.
It isn’t until Tyler Durden ‘influences’ the narrator to blow up his own apartment does his ideology begin to radically shift. By ridding himself of these materialistic possessions he attained in an attempt to feel a sense of fulfillment, he felt liberated for the first time. It quickly became apparent that his constant battle to climb the corporate ladder, acquire wealth, and to find a sense of fulfillment through materialism was a relentless and meaningless state of existence that he completely unknowingly embedded himself into. As smoke billows from the narrator’s once humble abode, he realizes his life is metaphorically as empty as the fridge that once stood in his now burning apartment.
Particularly, what stands out to me as a key moment where Tyler Durden firmly expresses why this commonly believed and practiced meta-narrative needs to be deconstructed is shown in this quote:
“We’re the middle children of history, man – no purpose or place. We have no great war, no great depression. Our great war is a spiritual war. Our great depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires and movie gods and rock stars – but we won’t. We’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.”
The quote suggests that our generation lacks an innate purpose that is worth fighting for. Instead of a great war of nations, we’ve almost declared a war on our sanity by buying into this materialist ideology where money and success are portrayed to be of utmost importance while spirituality and true purpose in knowing oneself has been entirely lost in the pursuit of greed. This idea leads into the reasoning behind making a Fight Club in the first place. Culturally the common ideology is that if we just continue to follow the rat race, go to work, etc we’ll live a long happy life into retirement. This meta-narrative is a false perception of what reality really is because in ‘reality,’ we could die at any time, and death will undoubtedly come to each and every one of us. It’s intention is to make us realize our own mortality and understand the sheer fragility of life. By denying this urge to practice self-preservation and avoid all situations that may result in untimely death, Tyler Durden believes that the best way to combat this issue is to fight senselessly to gain a sense of being fully alive. This is demonstrated obviously though the organized fights in bar basements, but also in a number of scenes scattered throughout the novel and movie.
Particularly, the scene where Tyler holds a gun to the innocent store clerks head in order to invoke a sense of reality into him stands out as a rejection of the mundane monotonous flow of life. By going through this near death experience, Raymond K Hessel will truly live every single day to its fullest, enjoy his food more, and may even finish medical school. This suggests that many of us fall into monotonous routine and cease to realize that our life is passing by second by second, minute by minute, and more often than not — we take the painless route and forget that we don’t live forever. This rejects the idea that we’ll all live until we’re 90 and become extremely wealthy because, in reality, we could get senselessly shot execution style in a back alley for doing nothing more than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. By instilling a sense of urgency to live in Raymond, Fight Club further rejects this meta-narrative of how one should conduct his life.
This on the edge, live for the moment philosophy consumes the narrator and he applies it to areas outside of just Fight Club. Instead of continuously being belittled and undermined by his boss like society tells him he should do, the narrator decides to stand up for himself and instill a sense of reality in his boss by making him realize the potential consequences of his actions. He does this by stating that instead of worrying about trivial Fight Club flyers in the copying machine, maybe he should worry more about a man wielding an assault rifle that’s fed up with the daily grind that decides to slaughter the entire office without warning. Although this seems unrealistic to his boss and leaves him speechless; it rejects the common flow in which things typically go in life. We don’t anticipate our sudden death because of something out of control, but in reality, it can happen any day, any time.
Near the end of the novel that seemingly had no true direction or purpose begins to unravel and show it’s true meaning. The narrator realizes that in order to completely reject this common ideology society has forced people to play into, he needs to construct a vigilante militia of like-minded individuals that together could dismantle society to the point of complete collapse. He sees anarchy as the only solution to breaking society by large out of this rat race we’ve all lost ourselves in. By attacking sources of materialism: credit card companies, coffee shops, clothing and jewelry stores — the narrator intends to eliminate this need for it so people will focus on what’s truly important in life. By rejecting this meta-narrative that society should be most concerned with (wealth, career progression, and material goods), you begin to understand the post-modernist meta-narrative here is to reject conventions, question society, and ultimately to deny what’s commonly perceived as the correct way to live while being fully aware of our mortality.