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I always give pause when these two…

…find themselves in some sort of agreement on a matter.

Listen to Tyler Durden soar to idyllic heights:

“Imagine,” Tyler said, “stalking elk past department store windows and stinking racks of beautiful rotting dresses and tuxedos on hangers; you’ll wear leather clothes that will last you the rest of your life, and you’ll climb the wrist-thick kudzu vines that wrap the Sears Tower. Jack and the beanstalk, you’ll climb up through  the dripping forest canopy and the air will be so clean you’ll see tiny figures pounding corn and laying strips of venison to dry in the empty car pool lane of an abandoned superhighway stretching eight-lanes-wide and August-hot for a thousand miles.”

This was the goal of Project Mayhem, Tyler said, the complete and right-away destruction of civilization.

This is really one of the most prominent themes in Fight Club: self-destruction as a means towards a new reality, “Maybe self-improvement isn’t the answer…Maybe self-destruction is the answer.” The entire notion of a fight club involves the desire to explore the possibilities of ruin. But here Mr. Durden reveals an internal motivation for all his mayhem: peace. A peace that Durden (that is, Palahniuk) believes will come with the inception of a Thoreau-goes-green sort of simplicity, “Project Mayhem will force humanity to go dormant or into remission long enough for the Earth to recover.”

Imagine my surprise when I found a similar sentiment in some lines of verse by the esteemed Christian apologist, C.S. Lewis. The lines are from his poem, “Pan’s Purge,” (c. 1947) found in Poems.

Lewis begins with the death of Pan, Greek god of nature, which is precipitated by “the planning of peremptory humanity”:

But the lion and the unicorn were sighing at the funeral,
Crying at the funeral,
Sobbing at the funeral of the god Pan.

The poet lingers over the mourning for another stanza before turning to the vengeance hinted at in the poem’s title:

No longer were they sorrowful, but stronger and more horrible,
It had only been a rumour of the death of Pan.
The scorpions and the mantichores and corpulent tarantulas
Were closing in around me, hissing Long live Pan!
And forth with rage unlimited the Northwind drew his scimitar,
In wrath with ringing scimitar
He came, with sleet and shipwreck, for the doom of Man.

A falling of fire and brimstone like something out of John’s Revelation commences, leading the poet to conclude:

It was the end of Man;
Except where saints and savages were kept from his ravaging,
And crept out when the ravaging
Was ended, on an empty earth. The new world began.

Perhaps I’m just a naive post-modernist, but I can hardly imagine a more fitting visualization to these lines than the cataclysmic ending of the cinematic adaptation of Palahniuk’s Fight Club:

And here is where an eerie similarity in the post-apocalyptic vision of Chuck Palahniuk and C.S. Lewis becomes apparent:

A small race – a smiling heaven – all round the silences
Returned; there was comfort for corrected Man
Flowered turf had swallowed up the towered cities; following
His flocks and herds where nameless, untainted rivers ran,
Leisurely he pondered, at his pleasure wandering,
Measurelessly wandering…
Clear, on the huge pastures, the young voice of Man.

The rural swallows up the industrial. The organic survives the mechanical. Patches of green grow atop the factory’s grave.

Now, what cannot be done at this point is to pave over all the other glaring differences between Palahniuk and Lewis. Because they are legion. What I’m doing here is playing the part of the archaeologist who has discovered the same religious artifact on opposite sides of the globe. Or different planets, for that matter.

In both Palahniuk and Lewis, there is a longing for something here. What is it?

A new creation.

Lewis loved his outdoor walks. It is obvious that they had a spiritual dimension. They allowed Lewis to behold the beauty that pointed him to its Maker. “Pure white magic,” Lewis once said in the midst of some English woods. I believe this juncture between the spiritual and the pastoral is illustrated well by one of Lewis’ walks, as recorded by George Sayers in his biography of Lewis, Jack: A Life of C.S. Lewis. On this walk, Lewis and his brother, Major Warren Lewis (or “Warnie”), encounter the famed Tintern Abbey. Lewis comments on the sight:

Anything like the sweetness and peace of the long shafts of sunlight falling through the window on this grass cannot be imagined. All churches should be roofless. A holier place I never saw.

Some read Genesis and say that all the world was made a sanctuary. I think Lewis would probably agree. But nature is not the only holy place, as Paul writes to the Corinthians, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” “God’s temple is holy,” he continues, “and you are that temple.” New creation. We want to see it in nature. Ironically, nature wants to see it in us, “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.”

Palahniuk and Lewis longed after the same thing. Palahniuk explores this longing with the literary device of a fight club, a kind of resurrection of medieval flagellation, where one tries to force a new creation within the self through clenched fists and violent pain. But this is like the child who thinks he can measure the moon by eclipsing it with a quarter. All the revolutions in the world can’t save the soul of a man.

“Truly, truly, I say to you,” says the Son of Man, “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”

There will be an end of all things…

…but at the center of the new Jerusalem is a tree of life, the leaves of which will be “for the healing of the nations.”

“Behold,” announces Christus Victor, “I am making all things new.”

Most major universities have to provide housing for the mass population of students that seek attendance at their grand halls. This housing usually comes in the form of dorm halls. Those dorm halls are monitored by the university with the help of a few, naive, pitiful souls often called R.A.’s or “Resident Assistants.”

That completely unecessary explanation was used to introduce you to my existence for the next year and these past few days. Last night I had three hours of sleep. Night before that: four hours. The narrator for Palahniuk’s Fight Club described it well,

“This is how it is with insomnia. Everything is far away, a copy of a copy of a copy. The insomnia distance of everything, you can’t touch anything and nothing can touch you.”  

We are selfish creatures as it is. The lack of sleep encourages me to focus more on myself, hence magnifying any internal conflict. I become the objective reader of my reality. My eyes acquire a polished, glazed look, like somone sprayed Windex® on them.

Alarm clock sentiments in regards to existence.

Few things taken completely seriously. Everything becomes a movie scene to examine, to critique. Even the coworker in your face right now. Even the turkey sandwich staring back up at you pitifully.

And in this state of mind, like most altered states of mind, I begin to question if what I’m experiencing is not in fact, the reality. Because in this exhaustion, I feel the teeth of my pain pulling at the ventricles and atriums of my heart, with the persistence and indifference of a quiet gardner, slowly stripping me away. It covers like twelve thick blankets, muffling you like some bank robbery hostage. You make that smacking noise with your mouth, but you’re not eating anything. It’s because you taste the pain, resting on your tongue like some acidic cocktail.

The pain throbs and pulls you under. You talk to God with a muffled, underwater voice. You ask Him when the ride will be over. Bubbles roll out of your moving mouth like migrating jellyfish. Eyes scramble frantically.

Then someone taps you on the shoulder and asks if they can borrow your scissors.

When pain comes flooding in, we may be slow to let it go. Pain provides the sensation of experiencing reality at its core, of the touching-battery-to-the-tongue taste of truth. It shocks and it burns, but you feel it. You feel it. And that is precious to us. We clutch onto it and say, “Look, here, something real.”

It’s why people are tortured in interrogations and not chastised harshly. Why a broken finger can do more to help you “Know yourself,” faster than any guided meditation or yoga. Pain tells you – and tells you quickly – what you really believe. It takes all the marshmallows claims that we’ve made for years and puts them to the flame. Gold stays. Nothing else. A word from our friend Jack:

“You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn’t you then first discover how much you really trusted it?”
– C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

Pain can be the x-ray machine to our souls. But once the cancer is discovered, call the doctor, make an appointment. That is all the x-ray machine can be good for.

Remember that pain has other uses:

I was not in the courtroom when God had this conversation,

 ” (7) The Lord said to Satan, ‘From where do you come?’ Then Satan answered the Lord and said, ‘From roaming about on the earth and walking around on it.
  (8) The Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.’
  (9) Then Satan answered the Lord, ‘Does Job fear God for nothing?
  (10) ‘Have you not made a hedge about him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land.
  (11) But…

And here’s where you and I feel a very understandable shudder.

 (11)…put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse You to Your face.
 (12) Then the Lord said to Satan, ‘Behold, all that he has is in your power, only do not put forth your hand on him.’ So Satan departed from the presence of the Lord.

And put his hand into the cookie jar of your reality, and poured pain into your open cranium until you thought it might run out your nose or through your ears.

I do not mean to suggest that our pain is always the result of a trial. Often, it can be the result of our own mistake. The very real consequences of sin. Our pain may be the discipline of God.

Here is where I tell you to rejoice in the discipline of God. Did you expect it?

Rejoice in the discipline of God. Raised crushed hands to the sky and praise. Don’t mope around and make a martyr of yourself. Choose godly repentance. It takes the pain, like so much molten lead that sears your skin and brings the veins out in your neck and burns your nostrils, and shapes it into a monument to your continued closeness to God.

In the end, we must choose to either put our molten-lead-pain into the mold and let it solidify, or wade around in it until we ourselves are only vapors, faint fumes of our bitterness and hatred.

Allow God to shape the pain.

daniel

I am constantly, constantly amazed at how easily influenced I can be.

I watch Jarhead. I’m going to join the Marines. I watch a video of Jason Mraz strolling through Paris, I read Hemingway: I’m backpacking through Europe. I read the Gita and I’m ascetic Siddhārtha under the sacred fig. I see a black and white photo…

 …and my hand’s already halfway in my wallet for the Canon EOS Rebel with the 12.2 megapixels that will put my universe on an SD Memory Card. I see pictures of Scottish shores, and I’m considering the $1,000+ one way ticket.

I am the panting tumbleweed. I just tumble on.

My mind is a hurricane. This daily decision to write down my thoughts is a sad, humbling funneling for me. This compression of my passions is also done in life on a daily basis. Want to kayak down the Colorado River? Well, that’s  sweet, but you’ve got an education to pay for. Instead, howsabout you go rot in a cubicle for eight hours?

I stand outside of myself and note this smarminess, this sarcasm. It is a quarter-life hissy fit, in a lot of ways. I could travel to all the lands of the world, but I would still live inside myself. Step 1: Figure out yourself. Step 2: Go do stuff. I think Plato said that. Or Mr. Rogers. One of the two.

One potentially valid reason for this thirst for experience could be my desire to shape my writing. Look at the great books and the great authors. The detail, the roughness, the reality of their writing that you can lay your hands on and feel the inherent pain of comes from the store of their minds, the store of their experience. I finished reading Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club tonight. He mentioned in his afterword, “To make the short story [that would be Fight Club] into a book, I added every story my friends could tell. Every party I attended gave me more material.” Read Kerouac’s On the Road. The book is an obvious autobiography; Sal Paradise is a thin disguise for the author himself and Dean Moriarty is the raging Neal Cassady, as they drive back and forth across that “American Night.”

This obviously cannot mean that every great piece of literature has to be nonfiction on some level, or drawn directly from experience. It’s simply that “we write what we know,” and I want to know more. The task at hand is to direct these passions down the highway of reality without slamming into a tree (or another traveller).

In case you haven’t had enough of this public fit of introspection, consider one of my poems:

Ragnarök 

A cow cleared Mrs. Luna’s check,
As I rolled my eyes at the Dish and the Spoon,
While they cradled and cooed in the early afternoon.
I scrape sandpaper asphalt with tired flip-flops
And share sidewalk with a smiling dog

He pants and I sweat
Two old men make a bet,
“Rain won’t come ‘til the people are right.”

When the radio talks of twilight,
Look up my address, drop me a line,
I’ll grab that violin of mine,
And we’ll find a chord for the night.

A la noche,

daniel