“Anytime you start talking about dead babies, necrophilia and end up desecrating the body of that dead baby you tend to get into some really edgy territory.”
There it is – insight into the mind of Chuck Palahniuk, writer of the “Fight Club” novel and collaborator on the film edition starring Ed Norton and Brad Pitt. In speaking with the cult hero, one is met with a kind of intensity both jarring and admirable. In regards to the depravity inherent in his writing, specifically his new novel “Lullaby,” Palahniuk is uncompromising and unapologetic.
“I’m taking really sacred things and building a story around them, so I really expect a lot more backlash than ‘Fight Club’ ever generated,” he said.
Yet, despite his notoriously aggressive novels and controversial stories, Chuck Palahniuk is surprisingly friendly. His dialogue is both insightful and also a bit obtuse.
While Palahniuk has gained his reputation for black humor and controversial literature, “Lullaby,” in his view, is his most controversial yet. While the idea of Big Brother is contained within “Lullaby’s” narrative, it takes on a different form than that of Orwell’s “1984.”
“When Orwell talked about Big Brother watching everybody all the time, more and more it just bothered me, even when I was a kid” commented Palahniuk. “I thought ‘you can’t watch everybody all the time, but you could keep them entertained so that they couldn’t possibly have a thought.'”
In regards to the sharp creativity in Palahniuk’s own work, the process he embarks on is the one that restricts as little as possible.
“The story totally writes itself,” said Palahniuk. “I set up a dynamic, some emotional scams, the sort of thing that’s going to eventually lead to chaos and destroy itself, then, I just let it run.”
With the overwhelming popularity of his innovative novels and Fight Club the film, the public has bizarre expectations of Palahniuk.
“My fans seem to expect Charlie Manson when they meet me,” Palahniuk said. “It’s always heartbreaking to see their little faces fall when it turns out to just be some white guy in a shirt.”
But, nevertheless, his amicable appearance and personality doesn’t dissuade fans from showing up in waiter outfits and black eyes during book signings, and choking on dinner rolls in mid-speech.
“Most of the time fans usually ask if they can punch me as hard as they can.” said Palahniuk, “They don’t ask for me to hit them, they ask if they can hit me! Everybody from Brad Pitt on down has asked if they can hit me as hard as they can.”
Most of what’s in Fight Club is fictional; there are no real fight clubs, at least none that the author knew of when writing the book. But one element of the “Fight Club” phenomenon is indeed true.
“Project Mayhem is solely based on the Cacophony Society,” commented Palahniuk. “It’s these sort of experimental clubs in cities that provide ‘semi-illegal’ activities and pranks which are adventurous for its members.”
To illustrate, Palahniuk cited a personal example.
“The Cacophony Society has this annual thing called Santa Rampage when all the members go to a host city and get identically dressed as Santa Claus. In Portland, when they had hosted it in ’96, there were approximately 500 Santa Clauses faced down by SWAT teams, and all these kids were just freaking out and crying because the Santas were getting tear gassed,” he said.
Palahniuk is of course not citing academic research, but his own experience.
“I was one of these Santas and could not take enough notes,” Palahniuk said. “It was just so bizarre, before they started, they had taken dope and soaked it in Bacardi 151 Rum. The Santas drank a shot of this before they rampaged and it was just wild, hundreds of Santas tripping for hours. There really is this whole underground world within the world.”
As an author, Palahniuk has become a cult hero, particularly with younger generations.
“I think one aspect that attracts readers is that I portray the protagonist as a sort of humiliated fool, as a person not just trying to look good,” said Palahniuk. “It gives people permission to relax and talk honestly. You can find freedom in things like cult suicide and terminal illness. You don’t have to be a deer caught in headlights about controversial issues. It’s not like we’re going to live forever, so come on!”