FROM DOUBLING TO SCHIZOPHRENIA AND NARCISSIM

While the creation of the double is a by-product of the "schizoid reality" of the postmodern moment, the notion of the double is also integral to the myth of the hunter. According to Richard Slotkin, the hunter "will fight the enemy on his own terms and in his own manner, becoming in the process a reflection or double of his dark opponent" (573). The figure of the double is a common trope in the American experience with individuals defining themselves by what they are not. An early example of such definition by negation occurs in a story by American's first man of letters, Edgar Allen Poe. Poe's "William Wilson" must violently battle his alter ego in order to reclaim his identity, a scenario strikingly similar to Fight Club. Poe's tale is strikingly similar to Fight Club in the sense that the story's protagonist must violently battle with his alter ego in order to reclaim his own identity.

The "dark opponent" that the hunter faces can also be a figment of the hunter/hero's mind. Slotkin writes, "the struggle turns inward: Indians are discovered lurking in subversive forces within society itself, in the independence and aspirations of one's own children, in the recesses of one's own mind (my emphasis) (564). This struggle occurs dramatically in the mind of the narrator in Fight Club.

HOW THE FILM PORTRAYS THE SPLIT OF THE PSYCHE

Cinematically, the film foreshadows the arrival of that narrator's alter ego, Tyler, by splicing in brief images of Tyler at specific points early in the narrative. In one such clip this insertion occurs when the narrator visits his doctor about his insomnia. The narrator beseeches the doctor to prescribe some medication for him. "But I'm in pain," he says to which the doctor replies, "If you want to see pain go to the testicular cancer support group…that's pain." Tyler Durden appears on the screen just as the doctor utters the words "that's pain." This juxtaposition equates Tyler with pain and prefigures the imminent development of the fight club. The subtlty of the almost subliminal splice illustrates the narrator's description of the pornographic splices Tyler inserts into films, "Nobody knows they saw it, but they did."

It is not until the narrator is traveling for work that his alter ego, Tyler, appears in a full scene with dialogue. Previous to Tyler's arrival, the monotony of the narrator's life is captured in his cataloguing of the airports he frequents for work: "You wake up at O'Hare. You wake up at Dallas/Ft. Worth. You wake up at BWI." He speaks in a sardonic monotone that perfectly captures his ennui, asking, "Is it possible to wake up as someone else?" Norton's character "cultivate[s] more vivid experiences" to overcome what Christopher Lasch describes as "annihilating boredom" in The Culture of Narcissism (11).

Single Serving Friends


Plane CrashIndividuals that the narrator is a caricature of "tend to be consumed with rage, which derives from defenses against the desire and give rise in turn to new defenses against rage itself. Outwardly bland, submissive, and sociable, they seethe with inner anger" (11). The narrator's frustration and disillusionment is revealed as he imagines a horrible plane crash killing him and his "single serving friends" as he so fondly refers to his fellow nine-to-five travelers. The simulated crash, however, signifies more than the protagonist's inner anger. It also symbolizes the degeneration that has occurred within his psyche. The narrator's survival instinct during his mental plane wreck creates an outlet, Tyler Durden, who appears seated next to the narrator after he snaps out of his imaginary plane crash. At this point in the film the audience is led to believe that Tyler is in fact a real human being.

In this scene the viewer learns that Tyler manufactures and sells soap, which becomes an important symbol in the film. On the one hand, soap signifies the washing away of materiality, which is exactly why Tyler preaches to the narrator about the evils of consumerism. On the other hand, the fact that Tyler steals fat from human liposuction clinics to make the soap selling it to department stores for $20 a bar implicates him in the propagation of materialism. As Tyler eloquently puts it he is "selling rich women their own fat asses." The dualistic symbolism of the soap captures the contradiction in Tyler's own nihilistic philosophy. While Tyler exhorts the narrator to reject materialism and capitalism, capitalism is what enables Tyler to sell his soap and finance fight club and his vigilante group Project Mayhem. The discrepancy in Tyler's beliefs leads to the narrator's eventual separation from his alter ego.

Initially, however, the narrator is attracted to Tyler. The narrator arrives home after his trip to find that he has lost his apartment to an explosion. Homeless and without his long sought after possessions, the narrator moves into Tyler's dilapidated house on Paper Street, a house imminently falling as hard as Usher's. The house symbolizes the narrator's ultimate rejection of the consumer-driven society he formerly inhabited. The narrator's decision to move into the house stimulates the narrator's retreat into the recesses of his own mind and using that escape as a means to construct a new version of reality. The interior of the house is a veritable wilderness of disintegration, mimicing the condition of the narrator's mind. Being inside the house is like experiencing the inner workings of the narrator's brain as the alter ego, Tyler, dominates the narrator's thoughts. Visually, this inner thought process is portrayed by Tyler moving in and out of different rooms and climbing up and down the stairs. Separated from the materialistic world, the narrator begins his downward spiral into the chaotic world of bare-knuckled fighting in an attempt to create for himself a visceral, tangible experience.

UNDERSTANDING DOUBLING IN A POSTMODERN CONTEXT

Two components help situate the doubling in Fight Club within a postmodern context and provide insight into the "subversive forces" that lurk in the narrator's mind. The first component is the postmodern condition of schizoid reality. Within the postmodern social milieu, doubling connects to the notion of the "schizoid reality" described by Fredric Jameson: "This differentiation and specialization or semiautonomization of reality is then prior to what happens in the psyche-postmodern schizo-fragmentation as opposed to modern or modernist anxieties and hysterics-which takes the form of the world it models and seeks" (CLLC). Plagued by the way in which materiality has come to define his life and a general feeling of "historical deafness," the narrator begins to experience a fragmentation of self which manifests itself in the creation of a megalomaniacal double.

The second component to the doubling in Fight Club is the concept of narcissism as described in Christopher Lasch's 1978 book The Culture of Narcissism. Lasch's social commentary is similar to the very same ideas of "historical deafness" that Fredric Jameson writes about in the 1980's. According to Lasch, "to live for the moment is the prevailing passion-to live for yourself, not for your predecessors or posterity. We are fast losing the sense of historical continuity, the sense of belonging to a succession of generations originating in the past and stretching into the future. It is the waning of the sense of historical time" (5). Just as Jean Baudrillard characterizes the postmodern individual as being a passive "screen" or recipient of the inundation of the postmodern media frenzy, Lasch similarly describes the world of the narcissist: "For the narcissist, the world is a mirror, whereas the rugged individualist saw it as an empty wilderness to be shaped by his own design" (10). The plight of the narcissist stems from "His [sic] apparent freedom from family ties and institutional constraints" which "contributes to his insecurity, which he can overcome only by seeing his "grandiose self" reflected in the attentions of others, or by attaching himself to those who radiate celebrity, power, and charisma" (Lasch 10).

"Power" and "charisma" are words that describe the direct antithesis of the narrator. As the recall coordinator for a major automobile company who suffers from boredom and insomnia, the narrator's only relief from his sleepless nights is attending support group meetings for people with blood parasites, tuberculosis, lupus, and testicular cancer. Instead of suffering from a fatal parasitic disease, the narrator himself is the parasite; the suffering of others is his sustenance. So useless are his material possessions that it is only through witnessing the emotional pain of others that the narrator is able to sleep: "Babies don't sleep this well," he tells the audience. Soon, however, the support group meetings can no longer suffice for the narrator's festering rage. Lasch's assessment of the narcissist perfectly describes the narrator's mundane existence: "Having internalized the social restraints by means of which they formerly sought to keep possibility within civilized limits, they feel themselves overwhelmed by an annihilating boredom, like animals whose instincts have withered in captivity…a reversion to savagery threatens them so little that they long precisely for a more vigorous instinctual experience" (11). In order to obtain this authentic and "vigorous" experience the narrator delves into the frontier of his mind as Michael Kimmel argues, "the search for authentic experience, for deep meaning, has always led men back to the frontier, back to nature, even if it is inevitably the frontier of their imaginations" (323).

Tyler
Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt)

Unable to have a "vigorous instinctual experience," and faced with the challenge of having to navigate through his cerebral wilderness, the narrator must extrapolate the drives of his id into a tangible entity. Lurking and waiting in the wilderness of the narrator's mind to unleash his pragmatic nihilism on the narrator's weakened psyche is Tyler Durden. Tyler serves as a means of desire and identification for the narrator because he is everything the narrator is not: charismatic, stylish, and most importantly, free from the confines of the consumer-driven society.

The Narrator
The Narrator (Edward Norton)

Destructiveness of the Double

Recalling Richard Slotkin's assertion that "Indians are discovered lurking…in the recesses of one's own mind" (564), Tyler Durden is the wild "Indian" other that serves as a double for the narrator. This tempestuous relationship leads to the destruction of one self by the other through violence. In The Double, Otto Rank describes "pathological self-love" as "the defensive form of the pathological fear of one's self, often leading to paranoid insanity and appearing personified in the pursuing shadow, mirror-image, or double" (85). The self-reflexive aspect of narcissism provides an embellishment upon the postmodern notion of schizophrenia. In a parallel demonstration of Fredric Jameson's characterization of linguistic schizophrenia as the moment when "the links of the signifying chain snap," (CLLC 26) Fight Club dramatizes the breakdown of the ego.


Alienated by society and "no longer having others on whom to inflict his power and his pain with impunity," the narrator "begins to turn against himself and to prove his mettle by gritting his teeth and taking his punishment like a man" (Savran 169). In their dialogue exchange prior to their first fight, Tyler instructs the narrator: "I want you to hit me as hard as you can…How much can you know yourself if you've never been in a fight? I don't want to die without any scars." Tyler insists that experiencing pain is a means by which an individual can experience enlightenment. The desire to undergo a "vigorous" experience is captured cinematically by the way Tyler jumps up and down out of the frame of the camera, exuding unbridled energy refusing to be contained in a single shot. The musical accompaniment here intensifies the visceral quality of this scene with the thumping of a heartbeat. Thus, the narrator begins his decent into self-destruction as a means to ameliorate his banal existence and fight club is born.

First fight
Burn

The destructiveness of the narrator's double is especially evident in the scene where Tyler burns his kiss into the back of the narrator's hand with lye. In retrospect when the viewer understands that Tyler is not a physical entity but just a figment of the narrator's mind, the scene is especially powerful; it reiterates Otto Rank's description of the "pathological self-love" of the narcissist. The pain the narrator undergoes becomes a test of endurance, a battle between his id and his ego. As the narrator writhes in pain Tyler tells him "Stay with the pain" as the narrator attempts to use the guided meditation from his support groups to help him remove himself from the sensation of his burning flesh. Visually, this mental attempt to separate one's self from pain is depicted by the images of a serene green forest and the words "searing" and "flesh" from the pages of a dictionary. Tyler continues to emphasize the importance of pain to the narrator's life experience: "Without pain, without sacrifice, you would have nothing" for "It's only after we've lost everything that we're free to do anything."

The depiction of the narrator's burning flesh is more impactful in hindsight when the audience can understand it as an act of self-mutilation. Nonetheless, the kiss that Tyler places on the narrator's hand is the ultimate example of narcissistic "pathological self-love." The kiss is normally a signifier of love and tenderness, but here the "signifying chain" breaks and the kiss is portrayed as a self-destructive action. Thus, you have the "schizophrenic" condition that is characterized by the "rubble of distinct and unrelated signifiers" (Jameson 26).

SEPARATING FROM THE DOUBLE

Once the narrator undergoes the self-revelation that he and Tyler are of the same mind, the narrator must emerge stronger and kill the 'double' in order to reclaim his individuality. As Tyler's rampage begins to spin out of control with the invention of Project Mayhem, the protagonist "weakened by a toxic and perverse society…is barely able to hold on to some shred of moral consciousness in the face of the anarchic force" (Taubin 17). The fight club morphs into Project Mayhem, a vigilante group of men who wreck havoc on the city in the nighttime hours by destroying and defacing symbols of corporate America. In one such act of mischief, the "space monkeys" (so named by Tyler to capture the sacrifice they are making), embark on a mission to destroy a piece of corporate art and a franchise coffee bar.

As acts of destruction move away from the individual beatings that occur in fight club to the public sphere, the narrator begins to grow uncomfortable with Tyler's actions. The narrator believes that Tyler has gone too far, and in a scene shot with numerous fades the viewer witnesses Tyler's departure. The use of fades in this particular scene contributes to and emphasizes Tyler's transient existence as a creation of the narrator's mind. Tyler's departure hints that the narrator might be regaining control of his mind and his ability to discern fantasy from reality.

Tyler's Departure

After the death of one of the "space monkeys" the narrator begins aggressively question Tyler's actions and doubt his existence as an actual human being. The narrator finds Tyler's used airline ticket stubs and embarks on a cross-country manhunt, discovering that fight clubs have sprung up across the country. Experiencing what he calls "perpetual deja-vu," the narrator marvels at the fact that when he steps off the airplane he can sense the presence of a fight club in the area. He meets with pugnacious participants and when he asks them if they know Tyler Durden, his question is usually met with the response, "Is this a test, sir?" and a wink. This repeated response suggests to the narrator that in fact he has been the instigator in establishing a chain of fight clubs across the country. Exasperated, the narrator returns to his hotel room and confronts Tyler.

Hotel Room

"All the ways you wish you could be, that's me…I'm free in all the ways you're not" Tyler tells the narrator. After his confrontation with his double, the narrator understands that he is in fact Tyler Durden. The camera portrays this revelation by transporting the viewer back to previous scenes in the film that depicted the narrator and Tyler together only this time the narrator is alone. The viewer sees the narrator punching himself in the parking lot of the bar where he and Tyler once fought and sees the narrator alone watching his hand burn with lye. It becomes clear that Tyler and the narrator are one. If the viewer had yet to discern that the narrator and Tyler were one in the same, this scene is all the more riveting because the viewer must acknowledge the fact that the narrator has been inflicting violence on his own body.

The ultimate act of self-inflicted violence is the narrator's destruction of Tyler. Since the alter ego, "works at cross-purposes with its prototype" (33) the ego must try to defend itself, and "the form of defense against narcissism finds expression principally in two ways: in fear and revulsion before one's own image…or in the loss of the shadow-image or mirror-image" (Rank 74-75). The narrator's "revulsion" of his alter ego occurs with the realization that he is Tyler and that Tyler's latest project involves blowing up the buildings of credit card companies. The only way the narrator can "lose" his "shadow-mage" is by destroying Tyler. The narrator must shoot himself in order to kill his out-of-control id. The infliction of real violence to destroy a figment of the narrator's imagination is the way that the narrator is able to forge a connection between the real and the fantastic.

Suicide

Just as violence is used as a necessary means by which the men in fight club feel "saved," the narrator is reborn as the hunter/protector as he is saved from the wilderness of society and his mind. Yet the myth of regeneration through violence is still present; in order to save himself, the narrator had to destroy part of himself leading the viewer to wonder if the narrator can in fact ever be a whole and "healed" individual again.