annarborpaper.com is no longer working, but the discussion has come up time and time. let’s put it to rest. If a person doesn’t admit he’s a criminal, we should not keep calling him one, that’s just not fair.
DC: You’ve previously said that you’re not a nihilist and that your works are misinterpreted as nihilist. Why do you think that is, and do you think “Rant” will be received the same way?
CP: It will probably be received the same way, but my fallback is always, if you don’t believe what other folks believe, if you don’t buy into their value system, then they just write you off by calling you a nihilist. They don’t care what you believe in—it’s easy for them to say you don’t believe in anything. I think that’s why I get labeled a nihilist. But in fact, I’m totally a romantic. My books are about people destroying their own isolation and creating community. The nihilist label has kind of stuck now, 10 books, so I think it’ll continue to be thrown out there. In Europe, instead of a nihilist they call you a fascist. It’s more like a reflex that people really have very little understanding of. They just say it automatically.
“I am the biggest romantic you’re probably ever going to meet,” Palahniuk said in response to my question about why the themes of his novels tend to divine from Dante’s eighth circle. “I go to my signings and hand out packets of seeds. And I send more flowers than any 100 people together.”
“My novels are all romantic comedies,” said Palahniuk (pronounced Paul-a-nick), attempting further explanation. “But they’re just romantic comedies that are done with very dysfunctional, dark characters.”
Palahniuk’s first and best novel, “Fight Club,” achieved renown because it zeroed in on the lesser noticed features of Gen X, especially those of the men — and it is far from a romantic comedy. The novel centers on one Tyler Durden, a fast-talking anarchist out to convert a generation “raised by women” into real men. To achieve this, Tyler lectures ad nauseam on the evils of consumer capitalism (it homogenizes, feminizes, makes us dumb) and commences a series of bloody boxing nights, which allow him and his followers to beat the crap out of each other with the purpose of reasserting their culturally repressed male energy. One of my favorite Tyler Durden speeches reads:
“We don’t have a great war in our generation, or a great depression, but we do have a great war of the spirit. We have a great revolution against the culture. The great depression is our lives. We have a spiritual depression.”
Still, Palahniuk is adamant that Choke is a romantic comedy and even that out of “our cynical, sarcastic, ironic time” will come “the most romantic time we’ve ever witnessed.” In his defense, he argued that he believes it is impossible to write novels that address romance without irony and cynicism. “You can’t manipulate someone into feeling something in a real obvious way anymore,” he said. “People are so aware of devices and they resent them. I blame the movies. God, Forrest Gump was one long emotional handjob.”
I have been called a nihilist, but I would describe myself as a romantic. I’m always looking for narratives that bring people together. I like my books to have a wedding at the end, rather than a death.