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"A Copy of a Copy of a Copy": Productive Repetition in Fight Club
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"A Copy of a Copy of a Copy":
Productive Repetition in Fight Club

This paper uses Deleuzian philosophy to address the theme of repetition and seriality in Fight Club (both Chuck Palahniuk's novel and David Fincher's film)1 and to exemplify a theory of reading that can be considered a style hospitable to youth cultures.2 I argue that it is through the role of Tyler Durden (the narrator's alter ego) that the work of deterritorialization is accomplished intra-textually, as well as extra-textually, for readers of the novel and viewers of the film. Tyler Durden acts as a difference-inducing moment of repetition in the narrator's life as well as a nodal point of interruption for readers and viewers of the text. It is through the deterritorializing interruption introduced into the text by Tyler Durden that the trajectory of the narrator's life—as well as the flow of readers' and viewers' experiences—is opened up to what Deleuze would call its virtual dimension of potentialities for counter-actualization. Similarly, readers and viewers of the text are invited to deterritorialize their own lives as readers/viewers and consumers of the/their world. Intra-textual seriality, embodied by the various incarnations of Tyler Durden throughout the text, exemplifies the seriality of readers' and viewers' lives; this serial structure enables them to (re)imagine their own potentialities for action and identity formation.

Fight Club and Youth Culture

Since its filmic release in 1999, Fight Club has seen something of a cultish following, especially among younger people: Palahniuk's fan club is actually called "The Cult." A cursory glance at Palahniuk's Twitter account, which acts as a sort of archive of his impact on a certain demographic of popular culture, finds him retweeting various instances of his influence, including [End Page 108] everything from fan-created artwork and alternative movie posters to digital photographs of graffiti murals in urban spaces and quotations from Fight Club written on high-school walls (apparently sanctioned by the school itself since the novel Fight Club is officially on the curriculum) (see Dennis). An appendix to the latest edition of the novel features a series of notes compiled by Palahniuk about the popularity of both film and novel, an example of the way in which the two texts are used to reinforce each other in their popularity among a young audience. The text has also provoked a series of underground copy-cat fight clubs among students of high-school age and older (see Complex Mag). It is interesting to note that the Ultimate Fighting Championship—which began as an underground, no-holds-barred competition between fighters of different disciplines (wrestling, judo, karate, and kick-boxing) organized by the jiu-jitsu Gracie family dynasty in Brazil—has grown into a sport worth half a billion dollars a year. Given that the UFC held its first official pay-per-view event in 1993, three years before the release of Palahniuk's novel, the popularity of Fight Club can be seen as fitting into the lexicon of the contemporary cultural imaginary.

The accessible critical edge and the sleek countercultural ethos of Fight Club also help to explain its reception among young readers. That is, the powerful message of revolution is packaged into a compelling narrative, a message with which readers are invited to identify. Whether or not the text implicitly reinforces the values that it criticizes, the narrative explicitly offers a critical attitude toward the system of consumer capitalism, the instrumentalization and homogenization of cultural standardization, and the exploitative nature of the service sector. (Young people, of course, are among the primary targets of the multi-billion-dollar advertisement industry, and many eventually find themselves employed in these same sectors.) As a fast-paced and adrenaline-producing motion picture, the screen text in particular encourages fervent responses, so that it is difficult to resist being taken in by the countercultural discourse it appropriates.

In addition, the comic-book-hero narrative is likely to be recognizable to young people. The transformation of the narrator (an average, everyday employee) into Tyler Durden (a larger-than-life heroic figure who overcomes the mundanity of...