…is that you don’t talk about fight club or at least the narrative twists in Fight Club. I’ve been teaching Fight Club this week in my cultural studies and composition course, and in teaching the novel (in some sense, alongside the film), I’ve been confronted with an interesting “disciplinary” dilemma. On the one hand, I feel obligated to discuss certain narrative details about Fight Club, namely that Tyler and the narrator are the “same person.” On the other, when I discuss a text such as Fight Club, I catch myself falling into the disciplinary practice of a filmgoer who quickly learns that he or she is not supposed to reveal important plot twists in order not to spoil the shock effect for others.
This conflict between two very different institutional organizations (the classroom and film audiences) became remarkably clear last spring when a student group completed project called “Twisted Celluloid” that focused on films (Usual Suspects, Memento, Sixth Sense) with narrative twists designed to revise our knowledge of everything that happened in the film until that point.
My thoughts here are following two unrelated lines right now:
- In general, I’m intrigued by what these films are doing, what they offer to viewers. The effect is obviously something that many viewers find pleasurable, given the popularity of this type of effect. Of course the idea of the secret itself seems like an important part of the successful marketing of these films (The Crying Game would seem to be the best example here), but the narrative shock effect offers a pleasurable disorientation or destabilization that seems important. In a recent essay, Linda Williams compares this feeling to the shock effect offered by roller coaster rides, an observation that I find promising.
- How do you talk about these texts in class? When teaching the novel, especially, I wanted to be careful not to reveal the “secret” too soon for readers who were unfamiliar with the text. Again, at some point, you have to assume the students have read far enough into the book, but I constantly find myself questioning how and when to reveal this kind of information, a hesitation that I think is primarily based on my desire to remain complicit with the expectations of movie audiences not to give away the ending.