Author: TJ Burns

What in the World

“Okay, so dig this – ”

“Did you just say dig?”

“Yes, I did. Anyway, I was just in the bathroom, right, and – ”

“Yeah, no shit, we are standing outside of it.”

“I swear to God you’re going to let me finish this. So – ”

“Okay, go ahead.”

“Fuck you.”

“What? Tell me what happened in the men’s restroom.”

“I don’t want to tell you now.”


“Because you were a dick and now the story is ruined.”

“Oh, you baby. Tell me.”


They started walking toward the exit. She grabbed his arm and turned him around.

“Please tell me?”


“Why!” she whined.


“Because why!”

“Honestly, given time to reassess, I figured it isn’t the best story to tell.”

“Okay, now I have to know. Please! I’ll make it worth your while.”

“Oh, really now?”


“And how is that?”

“You’ll just have to find out.”

“Fuck. Fine. Okay. So I go to use the urinal. There are four lined up on the wall. The three at the end are like standard height, and the one nearest the door is lower for kids. In observance of the buffer rule – are you familiar with the buffer rule?”

“Don’t mansplain the buffer rule to me. Girls do it with stalls. Continue.”

“My apologies. At any rate, I go to the far stall. Two guys walk in, I assume they’re buddies, and one guy goes to the nearest tall urinal to the door, and the other guy uses the kiddie urinal.”

“Why didn’t he use the big one?”

“The kiddie urinal only alters the buffer if it would not cause consecutive users. You never complete a chain of guys if there is another option available.”

“If someone else walked in, what should they do?”

“Someone did walk in.”

“What did they do?”

“They went to a stall.”

“Jesus fucking Christ.”

“At any rate, the guy using the taller urinal started giving his buddy shit, saying ‘Ha! You’re using the urinal for guys with small dicks!’ Then his buddy said – ”

“Wait, wouldn’t the smaller urinal be for a guy with a bigger dick because it would hang lower?”

“God damn you.”


“That’s exactly what his friend said. You ruined the story. You are the killer of joy,” he said. He turned away from her and started walking away. She followed him as he pouted to the car. He got in the car and turned it on before her hand was even on the passenger door handle.

“Wait, are you actually mad?”

“A little.”

“What? Why?”

“You just interrupted me like, thirty times.”

“You interrupt people all the time!”

“Like when?”

“Forget it.”

“No, you don’t get to just make a claim and not provide supporting evidence.”

“I don’t fucking care enough about this conversation to do so.”

“That’s because you don’t have an example.”

“Oh yes, yes I do,” she said, rolling her eyes.

“Then fucking enlighten me.”

“Whoah now, guy, you want to cool it?”

“Me cool it? You’re the one saying I interrupt people after you spent the past five minutes interrupting me!”

“Seriously, I don’t want to do this. Stop.”

“Fucking fine.”

He drove her home. He put on some music. She hated it. He knew she hated it. When they got back to their apartment, he flipped on all the lights and grabbed a beer. He sat down in the living room and turned on the TV. She turned off all the lights behind him and went to bed. He stayed up, watching some old movie until he passed out. He woke up to the TV blaring about some revolutionary culinary device, able to fry anything you placed inside of it without the use of oil. It was still dark out. He thought about getting up from the couch and walking into the bedroom with her, but he could move his body. He wanted to change the channel, but the remote was on the end table by his feet. He watched the infomercial describe the miraculous machine, a final cure-all to all of our home frying woes. Both safe, fast, and energy efficient, the whatever-the-fuck-it-is was going to shift our kitchen’s paradigm.

He got up from the couch. A blanket fell off of him. He didn’t remember it being there before. He walked into the bedroom and laid down on the bed. She wasn’t there.



This Alabama gas station coffee is good,
I drove 350 miles yesterday to get here
and now I’m driving back.
It’s 80 degrees in January.

Before I left, I bought new tires.
At the gas station where I live,
I picked up some cigarettes and sunflower seeds.
I listened to side one of Low on repeat on the way.

I got there, and I didn’t know anyone.
I waited alone amongst all of those people for two family members that I knew were coming,
they weren’t sure I was going to.

Afterward, I went to a gas station across the street,
one of those neon sign, bars over the windows sort of gas stations,
To get some beer. All of the beer was crap. I left with some six-pack of wheat ale that tastes good but makes you crawl the next day.

I got back to my room and turned on the TV,
I watched the football game.
I drank a couple of beers,
and ate some chips.

After the game, I ran a bath,
I took the beers with me,
I turned the water too hot,
I sat and let the water cool off, the steam fogged the mirror.
I got in the tub and finished the rest of the beers.

This morning I felt like shit.
I made coffee in the little coffee machine they provide in the room,
They never give you the same coffee maker.
I always fuck up the first pouch of instant coffee,
and I can never drink just one cup of coffee,
so I always end up drinking the decaf coffee.

I went downstairs and had the continental breakfast.
I still don’t know why they call it continental.
I scarfed some eggs and sausage to settle my stomach.
I went upstairs and packed my things and headed back downstairs.
I checked out and grabbed a cup of coffee from the cafeteria for the road.

On my way out of town, I stopped by his house,
they let me grab a couple of things to remember him by,
more books than I could ever read, some model boats, a few pipes,
I sat at the dock and looked out over the water
fantasizing about a new career in a new town.

I stopped here to fill up on gas,
I don’t usually do this
but I grabbed a cup of coffee.
This Alabama gas station coffee is good.

Why the French Election Matters

My latest on Blasting News, go check it out!


Emmanuel Macron is heavily favored to win, but the fact someone like Marine Le Pen has come so close to power in a country like France is disturbing in and of itself, no matter the outcome of Sunday’s election. The Russian interference feels like a bad recurring nightmare that shows no signs of stopping until western nations like France, the UK, Germany, and the United States band together and force real consequences against Russia for the meddling. It is for the fate of the free world.

Trumpcare has Republicans in trouble, Georgia will tell us how much

Another post from Blasting News, this time on the American Healthcare Act and potential fallout for House Republicans.

On the November 8th, 2016 general election Tom Price garnered a 61.7% majority to his Democratic opponent’s 38.3%. Between November 8th, 2016 and April 18th, 2017 democrats gained nearly 10%. Ossoff also inspired vast fundraising efforts, collecting over an unheard of $8.3 million. Ossoff won 70% of all voters who had not voted in the 2014 election. This enthusiasm and swing in support provided the some of the first tangible empirical pieces of data to show the negative impact of Trump’s performance on Republicans running for office.

Donald Trump’s incoherent statement on Andrew Jackson has its own logic – My May 4 post on Blasting News

I have recently begun writing small pieces for Blasting News on day to day news and I will be sharing links and brief excerpts here! It won’t impact my use of this space which is reserved for longer pieces as well as original creative writing. But you should still check this stuff out!

From the piece:

Trump compares himself to Andrew Jackson because “they said” he was like Andrew Jackson. To Trump, if he and Andrew Jackson are alike, Andrew Jackson must be well versed in the Art of the Deal. Trump suggests that if Jackson were around that he would have negotiated his way out of the Civil War. In Trump’s mind this must be true because he believes that he could have negotiated some way out of the Civil War (whether Trump honestly believes this in his heart of hearts is between himself and his lonesome bathrobe though tangible evidence Trump is a deal maker in the White House is scant).

Click the link above to check out the whole thing!

Hillary Clinton vs the media on Election Culpability – My post on Blasting News

Hey all! I’ve begun writing for Blasting News and I will be sharing links to my posts here.
From the piece:

Glenn Thrush of the New York Times sent no less than fourteen tweets on May 2nd engaging in commentary of what he deemed an insufficient expression of responsibility, writing in one tweet “Mea Culpa-not so much: Hillary says she was ‘on the way to winning’ but combination of Comey letter, Russia ‘scared off’ voters,” and “I don’t care if she takes responsibility. I care if her explanation jibes with reality. It does, sorta, with glaring omissions.” What sort of admission of omissions is Thrush looking for? Does he want her to say that she should have gone to Wisconsin? Does he want her to say that she should have listened to Bill and went after working-class white voters? Should she unsheathe a katana and commit harakiri?

Click the link above to check out the full article!

Satan, Enlightenment, and Milton’s Politics in Paradise Lost

Satan, Enlightenment, and Milton’s Politics in Paradise Lost

John Milton’s Paradise Lost is one of the most scrutinized texts in the western canon. Of frequent interest is how Milton was attempting to, as he wrote in Book I of the poem, “justifie the wayes of God to men” (26). Most critics agree that the character of Satan is one of the most dynamic and compelling characters in the poem with his charismatic speeches and grand posturing. Modern readers, as well as Romantic writers such as William Blake, are drawn to the character of Satan because of his appeals to reason and against tyranny. Readers who had been exposed to enlightenment ideals can find the Satan’s notions of liberty from tyranny and consent of the governed all throughout Satan’s rhetoric, particularly in books I and II. However, it certainly was not Milton’s intention to make Satan the hero of the text. Satan’s appeal was meant to represent the temptation of sin, and Satan’s role as a leader of the other fallen angels falls in line with Milton’s hierarchical perspective, that no one person is to hold themselves higher than their fellow man. The character of Satan functions as a means by which Milton comments on political turmoil of his day.
In Milton’s time, the Elizabethan era, England was filled with political and religious turmoil stemming from when Henry VIII established the Anglican Church. With the monarch being handed religious power, conflict ensued between Catholics and Protestants. Something of a compromise was reached with the Elizabethan Settlement, which tries to make a protestant church that would be acceptable to Catholics. However Protestants were never fully satisfied. Thus into the 17th century there were numerous political upheavals, notably the English revolution in 1641 where parliament overthrew the Monarchy.
During the height of the civil war in 1644 Milton published his Areopagitica where he argued for freedom of speech and from censorship, writing “Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties” (Areopagitica). This notion of free speech is an Enlightenment ideal that is familiar to those who have read the First Amendment. Milton later wrote in his The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates of his notion of the consent of the governed, that a King’s power is only given to them by the people, writing “It being thus manifest that the power of Kings and Magistrates is nothing else, but what is only derivative, transferr’d and committed to them in trust from the People, to the Common good of them all, in whom the power yet remains fundamentally, and cannot be tak’n from them, without a violation of thir natural birthright” (Kings and Magistrates). This echoes John Locke’s Second Treatise of Civil Government where he states “Every man being, as has been shewed, naturally free, and nothing being able to put him into subjection to any earthly power, but only his own consent; it is to be considered, what shall be understood to be a sufficient declaration of a man’s consent, to make him subject to the laws of any government” (Locke 291). What connects Milton to enlightenment ideals is his reverence of reason, writing in Areopagitica “When God gave him reason, he gave him freedom to choose.” In his seminal enlightenment work Answering the Question: What is Enlightenment? Immanuel Kant wrote “This enlightenment requires nothing but freedom–and the most innocent of all that may be called ‘freedom’: freedom to make public use of one’s reason in all matters” (Kant 62). Milton’s politics of reason, freedom of speech, and government consent, are all considered to be key elements of the Enlightenment movement.
In Paradise Lost, Satan makes many of these similar appeals to reason. In making what appears to be a reasonable case, readers often feel empathetic towards Satan. In book I of the poem Satan’s words after the defeat in heaven exude confidence and an eagerness to exact revenge on God. Satan believes that they were very close to defeating God. Satan makes excuses for their loss, reasoning that they had no idea God was so powerful. Satan’s main argument to Beelzebub is an argument against what Satan believes is God’s tyranny. Satan says that it is better to be in hell than in heaven under God’s dictatorship, stating in lines 245-251:

Be it so, since he
Who now is Sovran can dispose and bid
What shall be right: fardest from him is best
Whom reason hath equald, force hath made supream
Above his equals. Farewel happy Fields
Where Joy for ever dwells: Hail horrours, hail
Infernal world, and thou profoundest Hell (Milton 245-251)

He also reasons “Here at least / We shall be free; th’ Almighty hath not built / Here for his envy,” meaning that God has no use for Hell and it is a place they can be safe (258-259). Satan further states in line 263 “Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav’n. “ Satan’s appeals for freedom from God’s tyranny resonates in those exposed to enlightenment thinking, particularly the notion of the consent of the governed. Satan and his followers had no choice in whether to be under God’s reign. This again reflects the writings of John Locke in the Two Treatise of Government where he writes “Tyranny is the exercise of power beyond right, which nobody can have a right to; and this is making use of the power any one has in his hands, not for the good of those who are under it, but for his own private, separate advantage.”
Satan further argues that God does not have this “right” that Locke spoke of. In book V Satan questions God’s authority when rallying his followers to battle, saying

Who can in reason then or right assume
Monarchie over such as live by right
His equals, if in power and splendor less,
In freedome equal? or can introduce
Law and Edict on us, who without law
Erre not, much less for this to be our Lord,
And look for adoration to th’ abuse
Of those Imperial Titles which assert
Our being ordain’d to govern, not to serve? (794-802)

Satan is questioning what right God has to impose his laws on them. Satan believes that he and the angels are God’s equal. Satan is following the notion of hierarchy and that one on the same level as another shall not hold themselves to be greater than their equal. Abdiel responds to Satan correcting him on placing himself and the other angels on the same level as God saying

But to grant it thee unjust,
That equal over equals Monarch Reigne:
Thy self though great and glorious dost thou count,
Or all Angelic Nature joind in one,
Equal to him begotten Son, by whom (831-835)

Abdiel is saying that while Satan is right in saying that it is not right for an equal to rule over an equal, it is absurd to belief that he is on an equal plane as god. To relate back to the political context in which Paradise Lost, Milton believed it was the Monarchy who was holding themselves over their equally created human beings. With Abdiel’s response to Satan, Milton is saying only God can reign over humans without the consent of the governed.
Abdiel furthers this point in book VI before he strikes Satan, saying

Apostat, still thou errst, nor end wilt find
Of erring, from the path of truth remote:
Unjustly thou deprav’st it with the name
Of Servitude to serve whom God ordains,
Or Nature; God and Nature bid the same,
When he who rules is worthiest, and excels
Them whom he governs. This is servitude,
To serve th’ unwise, or him who hath rebelld
Against his worthier, as thine now serve thee,
Thy self not free, but to thy self enthrall’d; (172-181)

Satan had just accused God of being a slave master. In this quotation, Abdiel is calling Satan a fool for believing so. Abdiel says that there is no one more worthy to reign over the angels in heaven than God, and if anyone were a slave, it would be Satan’s followers, making Satan the tyrant. Ultimately, Satan is a slave to his own misconceptions. It is in this point Milton makes his argument through Abdiel against the old divine right of kings mentality of the English monarchy. Satan becomes representative of the monarchs who claim power over their equals. The only being with a divine right of power is God.
Milton drives this notion home in book XII when the angel Michael is showing Adam the future of man. Michael describes how there will be a new generation of people after the flood, who for generations will behave as they remember what would happen if they made God angry. Michael then speaks of a man who attempts to reign over his fellow man.

till one shall rise
Of proud ambitious heart, who not content
With fair equalitie, fraternal state,
Will arrogate Dominion undeserv’d
Over his brethren, and quite dispossess
Concord and law of Nature from the Earth,
Hunting (and Men not Beasts shall be his game)
With Warr and hostile snare such as refuse
Subjection to his Empire tyrannous:
A mightie Hunter thence he shall be styl’d
Before the Lord, as in despite of Heav’n,
Or from Heav’n claming second Sovrantie;
And from Rebellion shall derive his name,
Though of Rebellion others he accuse.
This is describing the biblical character King Nimrod. According to Michael he ended the time of peace. He killed anyone who did not accept him as his or her ruler and he wanted to be God. Nimrod and his followers built a tower to reach heaven and in response God made everyone speak different languages. Adam responds to this story in a manner that directs the poem’s audience, saying “O execrable Son so to aspire / Above his Brethren, to himself assuming / Authoritie usurpt,” (63-66), calling Nimrod a fool for thinking he could reign over his equals. Adam further argues that God is the only one who can rule over people, saying
He gave us onely over Beast, Fish, Fowl
Dominion absolute; that right we hold
By his donation; but Man over men
He made not Lord; such title to himself
Reserving, human left from human free. (67-70)

In contrast to Satan’s attempts at revolution to become like God and rule over his fellow angels, Adam acknowledges that one cannot hold power over their equal. As Milton argued in The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates, a leader’s power is only legitimate if those who are governed consent.
Satan’s confusion of servitude and serving is a key to understanding Milton’s politics as they relate to the Enlightenment. In Paradise Lost Adam and Eve are punished for not obeying and serving God, just as Satan is cast from Heaven for not obeying God and revolting. This recalls the Enlightenment ideal of the contract theory of government. In Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s The Social Contract he wrote, “Each of us puts his person and all his power in common under the supreme direction of the general will; and in a body we receive each member as an indivisible part of the whole” (Rousseau 55). The contract theory of government states that individuals must give up some of their rights in exchange for the protections given by a sovereign government. Adam and Eve, as well as the Angels in Paradise Lost have free will, but must make the right decision in order to receive God’s grace. They all must be willing to give up their right to do as they wish in exchange for God’s favor. Satan does not receive this favor because he was not willing to cede his liberty. This reflects the contract theory of government.
While Satan is a charismatic figure whose ideals do reflect those of the enlightenment, Satan is portrayed in books I and II as being a victim of God’s tyranny, and therefore is the subject of pity of many readers. But Satan is mistaken according to Milton because God is above the angels, and Satan is the one claiming power over his equals by trying to replace God. Moreover, in Paradise Lost Milton’s message on the subject of government is one the begs for the use of right reason, the concept of the consent of the governed, and the contract theory of government, all Enlightenment ideals which are carried through to today.

Works Cited
Kant, Immanuel. “What Is Enlightenment?” The Modern World. The Asheville Reader. Acton, MA: Copley Custom Group, 2003. 61-66. Print.
Locke, John. Two Treatises on Government. R. Butler, 1821. Google Books. Web.
Milton, John. Aeropagitica. Dartmouth, 1644. Web. 29 Apr. 2014.
Milton, John. Milton: The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates. Dartmouth, 1650. Web. 29 Apr. 2014.
Milton, John, and John T. Shawcross. “Paradise Lost.” The Complete Poetry of John Milton. Garden City, NY: Anchor, 1971. 249-517. Print.
Rousseau, Jean Jacques. “The Social Contract.” The Modern World. The Asheville Reader. Acton, MA: Copley Custom Group, 2003. 52-58. Print.

For Whom is the Funhouse Fun? The Necessary Conditions for Reading Chuck Palahniuk’s “Fight Club”

For Whom is the Funhouse Fun?
The Necessary Conditions for Reading Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club

The film adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club faced many of the same criticisms as the novel, particularly that of glorifying violence in a post-Columbine and post-Oklahoma City bombing America. The idea of a domestic terrorist organization hit too close to home for many Americans. However, both the film and the novel suffer from literal interpreters who often do not think metaphorically or symbolically, even though both book and film indicates that non-literal interpretations are called for. In other words, both say in their wacky postmodern way not to take them seriously. In the case of the book, Fight Club places great responsibility on the reader, who must become a sleuth seeking clues that indicate the book’s genre: parody. Palahniuk sets up traps for those inclined to look for something specific. Such traps subvert ideological thinking. A useful framework to think of when understanding Palahniuk’s play with readerly expectations is one provided by John Barth: Lost in the funhouse. Fight Club imitates American culture and deliberately mocks it, using parody to create a warped funhouse mirror, a reflection with exaggerated features for comic and sometimes disturbing effect. Like a hall of mirrors, a shuffling flight of steps, or a rotating cylinder, Fight Club disorients readers by portraying American culture as a funhouse, responding emphatically to the question: “For Whom is the Funhouse Fun?” with “only for those who are willing to accept American culture as absurd.

The common understanding of the word parody is that it is a mockery by imitation. In parody, the imitation of the subject through an ironic lens can be indicated by an exaggeration of the subject’s traits. Unlike satire however, there doesn’t necessarily need to be a direct polemic purpose while there can be one. As scholar Linda Hutcheon writes, “parody is doubly coded in political terms: it both legitimizes and subverts that which it parodies” (Politics 101). She also writes “Through a double process of installing and ironizing, parody signals how present representations come from past ones and what ideological consequences derive from both continuity and difference” (Politics 93). The ideas of subversion and ideology are critical to understanding parody in the context of Fight Club, as they often function together.

Fight Club tells the story of an unnamed narrator, who is a single, working middle class male who has become depressed and numb to his everyday life. The narrator had achieved the American dream of financial independence, yet remained remains unfulfilled and out of touch with his humanity. This detachment causes him to develop insomnia. His insomnia is indicative of how he is out of touch, and how even “successful” Americans can experience angst and frustration. The narrator visits the doctor in hopes of scoring sleeping pills, which the doctor denies him of, instead suggesting sarcastically that if the narrator wants to see real pain he ought to see the cancer patients in support groups. The narrator does this and finds solace in pretending to be terminally ill, until he meets Marla Singer. Marla is another “faker” and it ruins the illusion for the narrator causing the return of his insomnia. The narrator meets Tyler Durden. After the narrator’s apartment mysteriously explodes, he begins to live with Tyler. Together they start Fight Club, based on underground boxing fights Palahniuk had attended himself. Fight Club is a place where the narrator can assert his own masculinity and exercise his own agency in a world where he feels he has little. Tyler starts a sexual relationship with Marla. Fight Club’s popularity rises and Tyler reveals his larger plans for Fight Club known as Project Mayhem, a terrorist organization hell bent on ending history. It is ultimately revealed that Tyler is not real and is just a projection in the narrator’s mind.

Fight Club was a critical success, being called “disturbing and fascinating.” Fight Club was noted for it’s extreme violence and addressing the place masculinity in a modern society. A Publishers Weekly reviewer called the novel “caustic, outrageous, bleakly funny, violent and always unsettling.” The novel however was also criticized for its violence and nihilism. Guardian Unlimited’s Stuart Jefferies wrote that the novel “suggests that all-male clubs are the only way men can re-establish their male potency” (Contemporary Authors Online). With this idea of the parody of American culture as a whole in mind, it is important to note the vast array of conclusions scholars have reached in regards to the text’s meaning and function. The wide range of conclusions drawn from the text points to the traps Palahniuk has set up for readers. For example Deacy examines the films American Beauty and Fight Club and how they “raise pertinent questions about the nature and quality of human existence, its anxieties and aspirations.” In particular Deacy looks at how Fight Club can be interpreted through a religious lens. However Deacy does not contend that Fight Club serves as a perfect religious comparison but “Significant though parallels between the founding of the ‘fight clubs’ – and their subsequent development into ‘Project Mayhem’ – and the origins of the early Christian community may be to the textual scholar, it is the underlying discourse on the dichotomy between material and spiritual values and on the efficacy of violence as a means of achieving one’s aims that is of more fundamental value.” This presentation of a dichotomy by imitation and its similarity to the rise of Christianity is characteristic of parody, particularly the notion that a group of men beating each other senseless is being compared to what many consider to be a serious religious experience. As the narrator says of Fight Club, “This is what church should feel like.” Omar Lizardo writes of Fight Club that while it has many important themes addressing gender and masculinity, its most important aspect is its commentary on capitalism. He believes Fight Club can therefore be inter- preted as an inchoate attempt to produce some version of a class consciousness and cognitive mapping in the late-capitalist situation” (1). Lizardo’s interpretation, while legitimate, is indicative of the trap Fight Club sets up for the reader. Fight Club can be interpreted as being a serious commentary on nearly any aspect of American culture, when really in parodies the discussion itself. Robert Bennet argues that Fight Club ought to be read through an existentialist perspective. He criticizes many critical readings of the text which interpret it solely as social satire on consumerist culture or a commentary on masculinity. He writes “It is as if critics have forgotten both that Fight Club is narrated by a highly unreliable narrator—a radically alienated individual suffering from a wide range of psychological disorders—and that it employs diverse modernist, postmodernist, and other avant-garde aesthetic strategies” (67). He writes that the extent of which Fight Club functions as a parody is nearly all reaching, even to existentialism itself, saying “It is as if after having proclaimed the Death of God, Palahniuk realizes that the existentialist absurd hero itself may be next. For me, the brilliance of Palahniuk’s novel is that it strikes a precarious balance somewhere between an ambivalent existentialism and existentialist parody, engaging existentialism without either taking it too seriously or dismissing it altogether” (78). I believe Bennet is correct in his characterization of Palahniuk as a skeptical existentialist. The narrator strives to have a purpose like Sisyphus, but the purpose he finds isn’t noble and ultimately fails. Palahniuk even parodies Sisyphus in this regard while acknowledging the culture’s irrationality through his satire of culture. There are even Oedipal interpretations of the text. Paul Kennet argues that the true antagonist of the text is not Tyler Durden or even consumerist culture, but the notion of the Oedipal narrative. Kennet argues that without a father, Tyler becomes in essence the narrator’s father, his example as a man. The narrator then must commit patricide to fulfill the Oedipal narrative. In the context of the modern man wherein traditional modes of masculinity are falling, men do not need to fall into the trap of the Oedipal narrative. Men can create their own new place in the new cultural order. While this is an interesting take, it does seem to be a reach to find something that might not be there, to make sense of the warp in the mirror.

These very different interpretations though can be quite useful. However their legitimacy may show how Palahniuk set up these interpretations as pieces of the parody. In this sense many critics who focus in on one place within the text are not seeing the forest through the trees. Each individual moment of parody is its own warped mirror or shuffling floor in the parodic funhouse of American Culture. Now we turn to several key passages where this parody is developed.

The novel establishes its parodic frame through an elaborate critique of American self-help culture, a culture marked by a comedic narcissistic indulgence that plays out against the pain and suffering of an array of diseases. As the narrator relays the story, an absurd, unbelievable plot emerges. The absurdity arises because a man cannot sleep yet, instead of seeking a cause to his insomnia, an etiological means of dealing with an empirical phenomenon, he prolongs his waking hours by attending support groups, posing as the one who has experienced sickle cell anemia, testicular cell cancer, brain parasites, leukemia, melanoma, and degenerative bone diseases. Not only are the range of conditions the poser experiences horrific and unimaginable, unbearable and the experience of sitting through the sharing of experience and tears painful to anyone reading the text with any sense of empathy, but also the groups themselves often have comic means of coping. For example, the “Firm Believers Leukemia Rap Group” or the brain parasite group with Chloe, a terminally ill subject who seeks to seduce the narrator by describing pornographic films, which lie waiting, along with amyl nitrates, for their mutual pleasure: “Chloe had pornographic movies if I were interested. Amyl nitrate. Lubricants. Normal times, I’d be sporting an erection. Our Chloe, however, is a skeleton dipped in yellow wax” (20). Emaciated, near death, she is not an erotic icon. But she makes an erotic appeal. This moment is an example of Palahniuk’s use of the abject to stir readers; how his funhouse tilts the room the readers are standing in. Here the reader is caught between pity and hilarity, puzzling over which response is best. This is both the mode of telling for the novel—where the reader confronts extreme ambiguity and has to decide whether they are encountering social realism or dark comedy in the form of postmodern parody, one commensurate with the complications of contemporary life. If the struggle to negotiate these extreme positions comprises the novel’s difficulty, it creates both its success and failure. Here, I mean that those who negotiate the extremes successfully will most likely find dark humor, while those who read literally and cannot reconcile the extremes will focus upon the inappropriateness of what is being described.

Another area wherein the reader is forced to negotiate between empathy and humor is in the voice of the narrator. Palahniuk presents us with an unreliable narrator with whom the audience can either relate to and experience the action of the text with him, or distance ourselves and allow us to read the action critically and often times find humor in absurdity. This unreliability is demonstrated early in the text when the narrator goes to the doctor to get a prescription for sleeping medication specifically “red-and-blue Tuinal bullet capsules, lipstick-red seconals.” (Palahniuk, 19). The narrator’s knowledge of the color of the pills, knowing red and blue means Tuinal and lipstick-red means Secanol®, indicates that the narrator knows exactly what he wants from the start. He is looking for a quick fix. The doctor tells the narrator to “chew valerian root and get more exercise” (19). The doctor is relatively indifferent to the narrator’s sleeping issues. The language Palahniuk has the narrator use reveals to a critical reader that the narrator is exaggerating his condition by making hyperbolic statements such as “The bruised, old fruit way my face had collapsed, you would’ve thought I was dead” (19). The doctor issues a caustic response to the narrator’s melodrama about his inability to sleep, suggesting that the narrator goes to cancer support groups to see what real pain looks like. The narrator takes the suggestion literally he goes to various cancer support groups such as “Remaining Men Together” under the guise of being terminally ill.

At this point the narrator undermines his reliability, that out of desperation he would rather pretend to be near death rather than try getting more exercise. At these meetings the narrator is finally able to release the tension inside him and cry into the chest of an ex-steroid abusing bodybuilder named Bob, whose steroid abuse create such a hormone imbalance that he developed comically large breasts, or as the narrator calls them “the way you think of God’s as big”. With this release the narrator is finally able to find rest. Here the text is parodying not only support groups and popular medical practice, but the American need for the external quick fix solutions to their problems. The narrator does not mention if he tries simple personal methods to fix his insomnia, such as sticking to a sleep schedule, reducing caffeine intake particularly later at night, or even reading a book before bed. His first solution is to attain prescription medication. The absurd lengths that the narrator goes to in order to sleep are not only humorous but indicate parody.

The clearest revelation of his complete unreliability is the fact that the narrator is clinically insane. At the end of the text he wakes up in a mental institution and one of the key characters in the text, Tyler, turns out to be a figment of his imagination, a projection of an idealized male who is free from the trappings of society. Through this projection the narrator plots domestic terrorist attacks with homemade explosions and makes soap from the fat of Marla’s dead mother. However the unreliability meter goes even further with the narrator’s voice in the text. The narrator expresses a near ambivalent bemusement to most of the violence and odd happenings in the text, creating a distance between himself and the action. For example at the beginning of the novel, Tyler is holding a gun in the narrator’s mouth to which the narrator quips “With a gun stuck in your mouth and the barrel of the gun between your teeth, you can only talk in vowels” (13). In a sense, the narrator does not appear to take the action of the text all too seriously. The narrator himself is detached from the action, which says to the reader they should be as well. If the reader cannot trust the words of the clinically insane narrator, they should not take seriously the philosophy of the narrator’s insomnia produced alter ego and it’s takes on consumerism and masculinity.

Another element of the text that nods to parody, is the extreme, almost cartoon-like violence. An example of this violence is in chapter 15. The narrator is being fired from his job for his ragged appearance from being beaten up in the fight clubs, as well as his erratic behavior linked to the “project mayhem” initiative. When the narrator’s boss says that the narrator’s appearance makes him unemployable, the narrator punches himself in the face drawing blood. The narrator then continually punches himself. He describes the actions as “clowning around.” After the narrator is covered in blood and broken glass from throwing himself about the room, he crawls toward his boss and begs “please.” The narrator tries to extort money from the manager by making it appear that the manager had beaten him. The ruse works as security guards come in as the narrator is clutching the manager’s pants begging him to stop.
The sheer absurdity of this scene is evident through the nonchalance with which the narrator recounts his self-beatdown, “I punch myself, again. It just looks good, all the blood, but I throw myself back against the wall to make a terrible noise and break the painting that hangs there” (116). The nonchalance towards the extremity of the violence signals to the reader that the violence is not to be taken seriously, considering that the narrator himself does not take the violence seriously. Nearly all that was missing from the scene were falling anvils and pianos. In this pursuit of extorting the manager the narrator is fancying himself as a Robin Hood figure, the proletariat taking a stand against the bourgeoisie. The narrator says to the manager “You have so much, and I have nothing.” In this scene the despair of the battle between classes is being parodied, considering that the manager of the hotel where the narrator works likely does not fit into a tax bracket far from the narrator’s. Yet the narrator takes a stand against his boss on behalf of all disenfranchised men by beating himself to a pulp and extorting a human being, the exact charge the philosophy of Project Mayhem levies against society.

Palahniuk creates a world where from the narrator’s and Tyler’s perspective, femininity and masculinity are pit against one another. This feminized culture appears in a number of ways. One such way is the culture of the support group, where the narrator and his fellow cancer/brain parasite/blood disease carriers are encouraged to talk through their feelings and to literally “hug-it-out.” The seminal moment where the narrator finally reaches peace to sleep in these groups are in the arms of Bob, as the narrator’s face is buried into his breasts, invoking the image of a child crying into his mother’s chest after a bad dream or falling off their bike. Bob strikes this maternal figure after developing breasts from a hormone imbalance caused by steroids. The steroids also cause his testicular cancer, requiring his testicles to be removed. Not only like Chloe where we are presented with a character we can either pity, or find humor in from the absurdity, but Bob represents the completely emasculated male. Bob once was a towering and physically imposing man, who overtime has been feminized by losing a pair of masculine physical traits and by gaining a pair of feminine ones. He also instead of lighting weights and injecting steroids, Bob is now a veteran of the “Remaining Men together” testicular cancer support group, giving encouraging advice and offering hugs to his fellow physically and culturally emasculated men.

Tyler and his ideas represent the opposition to this feminized culture. Tyler even participates in some emasculation himself. As fight club spreads to other cities and turns into “Project Mayhem,’ they begin to garner police attention. Members of the clubs are instructed by Tyler to do what he calls a “cut and run,” meaning to capture the police commissioner trying to shut them down and threaten to castrate them. As far as the narrator knows these were only to be threats until he found a pair of testicles in the freezer. To Tyler this emasculation is just the logical extension of the direction of society. The police commissioner trying to stop Project Mayhem can be castrated because as far as Tyler is concerned, he already was.

Tyler’s philosophy is influenced by his perceived feminization of culture. Tyler focuses on exercising personal agency. Tyler suggests that in order to assert this agency one must first break themself down. The narrator and Tyler spend the entire text trying to hit bottom, trying to die in order to resurrect, as Tyler says, “It’s only after you’ve lost everything that you’re free to do anything” (70). To do this, the narrator blows up his own apartment and gets fired from his job. Ultimately Tyler decides all of society as a whole needs to participate in this self-destruction and creates Project Mayhem to do the destructing. Tyler’s half-baked philosophy of sacrifice and breaking down in order to rise is all in the narrator’s head and stems from his insecurity with his masculinity. Palahniuk carries Tyler’s nihilistic ideas out to their conclusion and exposes how nonsensical they are. While Palahniuk may not personally offer answers to life’s questions in the text, he indicates Tyler’s aren’t the correct ones by outright mocking them reduction ad absurdum. In essence, to suggest that males are suppressed in society and need to rise up and take what is theirs is absurd enough to indicate parody in itself.

Throughout the insanity of the text, the fighting, making soap from the fat of Marla’s dead mother, terrorism, nihilism, and castration, it is important to keep in perspective the previously stated core plot of the text; it is the story of a man who cannot sleep. The sheer absurdity of how far the narrator goes to try and find peace to sleep and his unreliability as a narrator shows that the text is a parody of the action that takes place. Tyler’s nihilistic rhetoric, the narrator’s Robin Hood act, and the cancer support groups as sleeping aids solution are not to be taken seriously. Neither is the text’s surface commentary on masculinity and it losing a grip on its place in society. Though the opposite is not being argued either. Palahniuk uses the parody of masculinity as a trap for his real object of parody, which is dominant American culture as whole and in particular its insistence on external satisfaction, be it through medication, consumerism, punching, or all the above.

Fight Club insists that readers submit to its postmodern minimalist pyrotechnics and follow its self-referential clues to arrive at a non-literal understanding of the language and images in the book. Mostly, the book targets those who are simply literal readers. It provokes them, deliberately challenging them to question its use of language and content and turning the parody on their heads. Thus, in the end, the one engaged in the nihilistic fight is the literal reader, the one chewing the Denny’s plastic image of the “Moons over My Hammy” special who complains about the taste of the plastic and never tastes the true parodic dish.

Works Cited
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War Dances

Two Indians walk into a bar on Thanksgiving.
On the TV the Cowboys are playing the Redskins
They couldn’t help but notice most of the players were black
But the coaches and the quarterbacks were white
In other news, the sky is blue and water is wet.

The bar was empty except for the bartender
who didn’t want to be there.
He’d rather be at home being thankful
for the Cowboys beating the Redskins.

Damned if the Redskins didn’t try though.
But against the Cowboys, it was as if they were outnumbered.
The Redskins worked their ground game
but they couldn’t match the Cowboys’
sophisticated passing attack.
It was like shooting arrows against bullets.

In reality, the game was over before it began,
But Americans love their Cowboys,
And love to watch a good slaughter.
So why not pit them against each other on Thanksgiving?
League executives thought,
Without any self-awareness or sense of irony.

By the time in the second half the announcers said that
the Cowboys were galloping up and down the field
and the Redskins look gassed,
walking with their hands on their hips,

The two Indians finished their Budweiser, walked past the cigar store Indian in a headdress at the entrance, went outside, lit their American Spirit cigarettes, and drove home.

Don’t Blink

“Don’t blink.”


“Just don’t do it!”

“Okay fine,” he said. She ripped the splinter from his foot. “Ah, fuck! God damn it.”

“You blinked!”

“What the fuck does blinking have to do with anything?”

“I don’t know. Just to give you something else to focus on,” she laughed.

He started bleeding from the gaping hole that the sliver of wood from her apartment porch rented in his foot. She went to the bathroom to grab some gauze and bandage wrap. He couldn’t recall if he even owned band-aids. She came back and wrapped up his foot. He wanted to cry but he wouldn’t. He did a poor job of hiding it.

It was the morning after their second date, if you counted the first one as a date. The first one they were hanging out at a small get-together at a mutual friend’s house. They developed an immediate rapport, he with his insistence on dominating a conversation whilst trying to be funny and she with her actually being funny. They spoke only to one another. They got so lost in their conversation the host had to kick them out, as everyone but them had already left. Upon leaving she asked him if he wanted to go to a bar or something for a nightcap, he declined.

Their second date was a real date. Dinner. Movie. He wasn’t that creative. She didn’t appear to mind. During dinner they were rapt in the the same rapport they had developed at the party. He asked her what she was going to order before their waiter came by. When it was time to order, he ordered for her. She was not impressed. She told him it didn’t count as charming if she had told him what she wanted to order. He apologized, she said not to sweat it, she was just joking. At those words his heart rate settled back down, he was worried he had blown it.

The movie they saw was one of those ensemble comedies where some famous comedian and his friends smoke a bunch of weed. It was only okay, but they laughed through it. They agreed they’ve both spent $20 on worse things.

After the movie, he drove her home and she invited him upstairs. He relented at first, but she insisted. He relented at his relenting. They went upstairs and drank some more, talked some more, and they had sex. It was good. He could see himself doing so again. She said she enjoyed it, which he took as either true or indicative of her grace that she would bother to lie to him about it.

That next morning she got up and made him coffee. She brought it to him in bed, telling him that she would be out on the porch if he was ready to get up, if not, that was cool too. She was wearing a big t-shirt that went a quarter-way down her thigh. As she walked away he had to follow. He got up and threw on his shirt and pants and followed her outside. He was barefoot and with the first step on to the porch the wood bit him. He yelped.

After she cleaned him up and he came to his senses beyond the pain in his foot, he could smell something from the kitchen.

“Hey, what smells so good?” he asked.

“Oh, I’m making cinnamon rolls.”

“Awesome, how much longer until they are ready.”

“I don’t know, thirty minutes?”

“Oh, okay,” he said. He looked at his phone. It was 9:30 am. He had to be at work by 1:00 pm.

“Do you not like cinnamon rolls?”

“No, it’s just that I have to get to work soon and, yeah.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. I was just hoping we could hang out for a bit and I could do wifey stuff for you.”

“Oh, well, I can hang out for a little bit, I guess.”

“Okay, cool.”

They chit-chatted while they waited on the cinnamon rolls, but it wasn’t the same kind of conversation they had at the party or at dinner the night before. It was small talk. Work. Where they went to school. It was boring. When the cinnamon rolls were ready he ate his before it had cooled off. He inhaled his before she reached the third bite of hers.

“Wow, dude, do you want another one?” she said. She smiled. She thought it was cute.

“I wish,” he said, “but I’m cutting it close now.” It was 10:15 am. Her smiled turned to a pout.

“Are you sure you don’t want to call in and hang out?”

He wanted to more than anything.

“I’m sorry, I can’t.”

“Oh, okay then.”

He went inside and she followed him in, watching as he put on his socks and shoes. She walked him to the door and they agreed to call each other later that night. They kissed. He got into his car and drove home.

He blinked.