18 August, 2007 by rhesus12
Found a brilliant essay by Dzintars Dzilna on Fight Club as a Zen parable. There’s a lot that’s very good in that movie. I take the fighting itself as a metaphor for having a method or practice, especially one that requires surrender to all the possibilities of reality. Easy to suspect though that there’s some sort of empty hipster nihilism at work.
Dzilna’s pretty good on this, admitting straight away that the film could be taken as a
“slick Hollywood story about a guy who is tired of his 9 to 5 job and life revolving around Ikea catalogs, so he blows up his apartment, starts a fist-fighting club, moves on to become a terrorist mastermind … and gets the girl in the end”.
But Dzilna concerntrates on the possiblity that there’s something more going on (though you probably have to choose to see it). Here’s the abstract from Fight Club: Violence as Yoga.
This essay is an interpretation of the movie Fight Club as a Zen Buddhist allegory, specifically, a search for identity in a world of consumerism and abstraction. By defining himself with the illusions of a consumerist lifestyle—foisted on today’s modern society by an advertising machine that perpetually imposes unattainable desires—the protagonist Jack feels frustrated because he can never achieve those illusions of identity. He uses fighting and terrorism as his yoga to destroy the abstractions of maya, or illusion, that identify him.
Jack, played by the always good Ed Norton, goes to meetings. Dzilna captures something of the radical emotional surgery of the 12-step programmes …
Initially, the meetings help. Jack is able to sleep soundly and has feelings of liberation: “I found freedom. Losing all hope was freedom.” Participants are told to really open ourselves up,” which is to say, become open to who you are, and let go of the abstract standards and conventional thinking about whom you are supposed to be.
But Jack isn’t really liberated. He is identifying himself with another representation, this time a “poor, sick little me” that gets recognition because of a lie that he has testicular cancer, AIDS or tuberculosis. He only pretends to be the identity of Rupert, Cornelius or “whatever name he gives himself each night,” as Marla points out. The liberation Jack experiences, when “every evening I died and every evening I was born again, resurrected,” is just a vacation from samsara. He is a tourist who is “addicted” and “needs this.” Jack also starts desiring Marla, whose chicanery of identity—by attending the testicular cancer group, she even feigns gender—reflects Jack’s.