December 9, 2012

Go Crazy, Man: Rebellion Drives You Insane

Years before you met Tyler Durden, before you peed in your first creme anglaise, you learned about dark little acts of rebellion. 
It seems like the two components of a successful rebellion are the crazy rebel and his sane counterpart. Between V and the narrator of Fight Club, Joe, we have two nutters who symbollically destroy themselves and are reborn as indestructible, limitless and insane rebels. These new personas transgress moral boundaries that a sane person wouldn't. However, the crazy outsider’s point of view needs to be slowly and carefully translated to the reader, which is why we have our counterpart. There needs to be a gradual conversion of an insider character, someone the reader can actually relate to, who isn’t a superhero or an ideological guru, like our "heroes".

For the successful rebellion, our rebels become societal outsiders, which is basically the definition of insane. They embody the necessary limitlessness, invincibility, and extremity, to rebel against a complacent world, and enlighten the insiders. Rebellion is the result of merging the insane outsider and the sane societal insider. The crazy rebel’s affinity with the insider counterpart is a projection of society’s illness, because in the end, the insider and the outsider become one and the same.

Joe, the narrator, starts off with the limitations of an “insider.” He goes to work, he listens to his boss, and he wears clean clothes: “In the real world, I’m a recall campaign coordinator in a shirt and tie,” he narrates. Soon after, Joe begins to free himself, forsaking the uniform of a normal member of the work force. Remember the line from the movie? “I don’t even wear a tie anymore.” Joe’s freedom from limitations occurs under the instruction Tyler Durden, a mentor who seems as if he has an antisocial personality disorder, but turns out to be the alternative personality of the narrator himself. Tyler has no limits, and he slowly frees Joe from his. First, the narrator finds himself urinating in people’s soup, but later it goes as far as holding Raymond Hessel at gunpoint, and, after he has realized Tyler’s agency, demolishing buildings.

Joe, the narrator, is our insider, and he needs to be converted by Tyler Durden. At the beginning of Fight Club, Joe is kind of relatable and doing okay, as far as the reader knows. His narration, which approaches stream of consciousness, is a little bit melodramatic, but not outside normal limits, psychologically: “Crying is right at hand in the smothering dark, closed inside someone else, when you see how everything you can ever accomplish will end up as trash.” Joe seems unhappy, not crazy.

In V for Vendetta, the effect is similar. V is limitless; he kills people to bring about his goal of tearing society to the ground. Evey is upset when she sees the extremes he's willing to go to. It's a moral transgression for her, and for us, the readers. After they murder Bishop Lilliman she tells V, “I didn’t know you were going to kill someone. Killing is wrong.” V’s early work in the graphic novel is to persuade Evey to rebuild society after he destroys it. V needs to convince Evey, a societal insider, that society is sick and in need of recovery.

V is the result of the destruction of his natural self. Whoever he was before he became V was destroyed at Larkhill, creating an alternate persona who is quite possibly a sociopath; we never know a single thing about the man he was before. V kills when he needs to, and he forgoes any limitations his prior self might have had.

His purpose is to tear down society: “Anarchy wears two faces, both Creator and Destroyer. Thus Destroyers topple empires; make a canvas of clean rubble where creators can then build a better world.” He needs to take radical action to enlist Evey’s help and show her the illness of society, because her role is that of the creator.

Joe, in Fight Club, is complacent and doesn’t see the need for rebellion either. Palahniuk achieves Joe's transformation through self-destruction and re-creation. In contrast to V’s rebirth story, Joe’s transformation is indirect; it is represented by the demolition of his condominium. The condo is symbolic of the narrator himself and his mediocre, unsatisfying life. He explains to the detective in his free indirect dialogue, “That was my whole life. Everything, the lamps, the chairs, the rugs were me... It was me that blew up. Couldn’t he see that?” When Joe destroys the condo, he destroys part of himself, and part of him becomes Tyler. 

In V for Vendetta, the rebel outsider says of himself, “There's no flesh or blood within this cloak to kill. There's only an idea. Ideas are bulletproof.” According to V, Tyler is indestructible because he too is an idea. Although the narrator eventually eliminates Tyler, he has removed Tyler’s real-world agency, not the scope of his rebellious ideology. The end of Fight Club signals the survival of Project Mayhem and Tyler’s spirit in the thoughts and actions of the surviving members of Project Mayhem. When the narrator is brought his lunch tray in the asylum he is told, “We miss you Mr. Durden,” and “Everything’s going according to plan.” Tyler Durden is an indestructible outsider figure, and Joe, as an insider, can’t have his rebellion without him.

Before Tyler, Joe isn’t crazy, but he is trapped by his Ikea catalogue addiction and his filing cabinet condominium lifestyle. Tyler tells Joe, “The liberator who destroys my property... is fighting to save my spirit.” Tyler is the crazy part of Joe that can easily destroy material possessions, or blow things up, which is a very extreme act of rebellion. He is the part of Joe responsible for blowing up the condo. Tyler is the outsider who has to commit extreme transgressions to show Joe his perception of society, and he is also without limitations in his actions.

The relationship between V and Evey functions differently than that of Tyler and Joe, but it is still an outsider-insider counterpart relationship. The largest difference is that Evey is indoctrinated into V’s thinking, and essentially becomes him, but she does not go crazy. V is has no limits, and his role is to destroy society. Evey’s function is to rebuild it. V tells her, “This is not anarchy, Eve. This is chaos.” Chaos is V’s construction, and it is up to his converted Evey to bring about anarchy, a positive political ideology built, for Moore, around Love. Still, Evey does symbolically merge selfs with V when she puts on his Guy Fawks mask and costume.

There are many times when the insider challenges the rebellious ideology. Tyler is not worried about hurting people, and he has no reservations about killing. He tells the members of the Assault Committee, “And just so you don’t worry about it, yes, you’re going to have to kill someone.” This example is an instance where the narrator is quite separate from his insane leader and alternate personality, because his response is: “No questions... The fifth rule about Project Mayhem is you have to trust Tyler” (93), but he continually questions Tyler immediately afterwards, starting in the next chapter when Tyler says he wants seventy-two copies of his list of notes and the narrator replies, “Why that many?” At this point, the reader and the narrator are at the same level of challenging and questioning Tyler’s outsider extremism, but that all flies out the window when Tyler and Joe turn out to be one and the same.

The insider and the outsider in fact the same person. When Joe asks Marla what his name is,  she replies, “Tyler Durden. Your name is Tyler Butt-Wipe-for-Brains Durden” (great line, by the way). In the confrontation between Joe and his alternate persona, Tyler even admits to being insane: “Every time you fall asleep... I run off and do something wild, something crazy, something completely out of my mind,” which is of course, also Joe’s mind. Palahniuk achieves a rebellion in his novel by merging Tyler Durden, a figure who is both crazy and extreme, with the narrator persona, who at first appears to be an insider and needs to be convinced that society has failed him.

Therefore, when the two merge, the narrator’s insanity is a projection of society’s insanity, because he is both an insider and an outsider. If the character that was a societal insider through much of the text is in fact crazy, then society itself is insane.

The narrator is an especially relatable insider in scenes in which he downplays Tyler’s extremist ideology, for example when he doesn’t take the personal burial money for Project Mayhem very seriously. He is to keep $500 in his shoes, and there is vodka in the house for soap-making, but the narrator says, “I steal a bottle of vodka and spend my personal burial money on cigarettes.” With this small action, he is dissenting from Tyler’s over-the-top ideology.

Even when the narrator does something as extreme and immoral as holding Raymond Hessel at gunpoint, Tyler’s extremism is behind it all: “This is what Tyler wants me to do. These are Tyler’s words coming out of my mouth.” The narrator removes his own agency from anything he does that would alienate the reader, because as long as he is separate from Tyler, he is the insider and Tyler is the crazy outsider who has yet to prove to him that society itself is nuts. The rebels of V for Vendetta and Fight Club may be insane, but their psychosis is a projection of the insanity of a society that is complacent with mediocrity. 

When V says, “Happiness is a prison, Evey. Happiness is the most insidious prison of all” (Moore), he is talking about the complacency of society that keeps people from rebelling when their freedoms are being restrained. V succeeded in converting his insider counterpart. He says, “I didn't put you in a prison, Evey. I just showed you the bars.” Although she may disagree at first, in the end it seems as if that is exactly what he achieved, and it is his sane counterpart who goes to the extreme of pulling the lever that sends the explosives to blow up parliament.

Evey becomes as extremist as V was, and while wearing his mask, she admits that his outsider perspective on society was correct. If the insider can come to agree with the insane outsider, the definition of insanity is called into question. If both the outsider and his counterpart are crazy, it follows that society as a whole is nonsensical or insane. When Evey sends V on his viking funeral, she says, “You saw, and seeing, dared to do.” V was one of the only characters to see that society needed to be rebuilt, and his lack of limitations, due to his insanity, allowed him to act, and to change things, even if it required death and destruction.

The mentally ill look in on society from a different vantage point than the rest of us. The powers that insane rebel figures have include that outside perspective, and and the lack of limitations with which they make change. Both V and the Fight Club narrator destroy themselves and rebuild a new, almost inhuman persona with which to challenge society. Evey and Joe represent societal insiders who do not see reality from an outside perspective, where V and Tyler Durden reveal to them extreme, counter-cultural, rebellious ideologies.

Insanity separates V and Tyler Durden from everyone who is complacent with an unfulfilling and restrained existence in the fictional worlds of V for Vendetta and Fight Club. The narrator of Fight Club is almost relatable until it is revealed that he is crazy, and that he and Tyler Durden, a character who quickly goes well beyond the reader’s limits, are the same person. In V for Vendetta, Evey is a rebel who works within limits that are more reasonable than V’s; he, like Tyler, has the power to be limitless. The insane rebel has a sane counterpart, which is a projection of society’s mental illness, because the crazy outsider becomes the same person as the societal insider. Rebellion springs from the merging of the normal and the insane.


  1. This was a brilliant! I really enjoyed reading this, keep up the good work!

  2. Thank you, Slava. Do you love Fight Club as much as me? I mean I'm pretty obsessed but I imagine it's possible :D