His name is Chuck Palahniuk (Pasco, 1962). His first novel was nothing less than The Fight Club (1996) and that marks, if only because not all writers can tell anecdotes of their shootings with Brad Pitt, as he has done in some article. Author of seventeen other books, now comes The Day of Adjustment (Random House), a frenetic satire, a choral novel set in a United States divided into three independent nation-states, Caucasia (for whites), Negrotopia (for blacks) and Gaysia (for homosexuals). Fast-paced characters, frenetic pace, essayistic density, humor and even an assault on the Capitol, “the new Bastille”, written two years before the events that took place a month ago in Washington.
“The political leaders of the future will come out of Capitol Hill stormers and groups of addicts.”
Where are you speaking to us from?
I’m at home in Portland, Oregon, about 200 miles from Washington.
In your book, in which state would you fall?
In Caucasia, the white state.
Have you come to an agreement with Trump for the promotion of your novel?
I would have had to do it two years ago, when the title appeared in English, it would have been a dream, it would have been number 1 in sales.
Underneath the action, there beats a parodic essayistic undertone, as of extravagant theories.
But true. I wanted to novelize some theses of the German sociologist and economist Gunnar Heinsohn, who has shown the relationship between demography and the great social transformations. When the children of the educated middle classes cannot enter to assume the roles for which they have been trained, a cataclysm occurs. Or societies that have many young males also react in a certain way. The Italian Renaissance, the French Revolution, the conquest of America… all take place in societies with many sons and testosterone. Another thing: whenever there are brutal changes in history there is usually a text that justifies them. A text that is ultimately absurd, that does not stand up to the slightest analysis, but that gains enormous strength and spreads everywhere: Mein kampf, the Bible, the Communist Manifesto….
We live in cultures based on book religions.
They are texts that are used to justify what some guys do. They don’t try to reason anything with arguments but to excite, to inspire faith. They make real barbarities seem just. These are books that have sold in the millions, also in the last 30 years, books that say what people want to hear.
FILE PHOTO: Jacob Anthony Chansley, also known as Jake Angeli, of Arizona, poses with his face painted in the colors of the U.S. flag as supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump gather in Washington, U.S. January 6, 2021. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith/File Photo
Jake Angeli, one of the Capitol assailants.
What about the theory of power reversal rituals?
The inversion of hierarchies is the basis of revolutions and anti-establishment movements. That’s what this book has in common with Fight Club, which is also based on British anthropologist Victor Turner’s theories of disrupted or disruptive societies. In Fight Club it was individuals discovering their potential to do great things each. Here, instead, it is people coming together to create collective power.
The more negative votes someone has on networks, the closer they are to being killed.
It is the cancer of our days, we live in a world where people destroy and attack each other on social networks, with so-called ‘negative choices’, the culture of cancellation….
Whenever there are big social changes, there is an absurd book that justifies them: the Bible, the ‘Communist Manifesto’, ‘Mein kampf’…”
We have states shaped by religious beliefs but, although it is not so different, is there anyone who asks for states like the ones in your book?
Absolutely! In Michigan, there are supporters of a black nation-state. In Washington, there are groups advocating a whites-only one. But I don’t see many gays who want a nation-state for themselves, that’s the most imaginative. I deal with the problems that would create: blacks and whites would still have children of their color, but some would be gay, and since the gay state would reproduce less, it would need to sign agreements with the other states to have boys and girls brought to it.
If money were to expire, as in your novel, would the world be very different?
Yes, money would not be able to accumulate, it would have to be re-circulated and reinvested at full speed. Instead of producing interest, it would generate tangible value. Many people think this model could work better.
Is the foundation of all power fiction?
Storytelling. The narrative. What justifies people rising to power. Jacques Derrida already said it.
He quotes many literary works, there are characters that flay The Fight Club, Steinbeck is mentioned, but also Bouvard and Pécuchet, Flaubert, about characters that fail as artists and return to be gray pen-pushers.
Flaubert advances Heidegger’s idea that people are born into a culture and, if they try to escape it, they live a life that is not authentic, a mere reaction to the fact that they do not accept the place where they were born. To be happy, they should go back to their culture. That is what is in the heads of many extremist groups today.
Chuck Palahniuk, in barcelona, in 2012
Another idea is war as purification. Is there a positive view of war in the U.S.?
Of course. We have had a year of war: many people have died or been wounded. What happened in 2020, fundamentally, has been a civil war, which has brought out a new generation of leaders. There is something theatrical about war: it is a scenario in which some combatants are recognized as the next leaders. In the assault on the Capitol we have seen those who are going to be in government in ten or twelve years.
Do you think they are going to get there?
That is how it happens in history, and in my country since the sixties. Any civil rights or protest movement has seen its leaders eventually come to power. It has always happened that way. Capitol Hill and Black Lives Matter will come.
Is there such a thing as methoxsalen, that drug to turn black?
These are all real facts. There are even books of people who have taken that, and painted themselves, to infiltrate black communities. I do journalism.
I don’t know about journalism-journalism… How?
How? I do a lot of interviews, I read all the books and articles on every subject…. I talked to militants of the extreme right and the extreme left to understand their points of view and, once understood, to pass them on to the different characters. I talked to groups like American Renaissance, white supremacists, for example. My method is journalistic.
I do journalism, I interviewed a lot of far-right and far-left militants to understand their points of view and then transfer them to the characters.”
It’s a novel about power: the power of force, money, politics… but also, and very much so, sexual power, with those characters from underprivileged backgrounds with immense power because of their attractiveness.
I always include strong physical elements in my novels. There are books with great intellectual, emotional appeal but no physical appeal. There is no eroticism in Mein kampf, and the Bible lacks explicit sex scenes, it would be much improved with them. My books do have a physical and sensual part, so that the reader connects on that level.
What’s that Dickensian story about him losing his house?
I never got the advance for this book. I’m still waiting for it. I kept asking my agent and all I got were lies and evasions: that the money is withheld, that it will come such and such a day…. In the end, I realized that they had stolen it from me, the agency’s accountant took my advance, and they had been stealing from me for twenty years. I had to sell a house I had bought from my in-laws for their retirement, and the poor people had already moved in, it was very sad. They put the guy in jail but, because of the coronavirus, he was released after a year’s sentence, even though he had stolen millions of dollars from me, like many other authors.
Chuck Palahniuk, in a hotel in Madrid
You didn’t get the money back?
No. Not a penny.
Will there be a movie?
A miniseries. There are no theaters open now.
In your novels we take pleasure in seeing violent scenes. Is there beauty in violence?
I’m not sure there is. A very beautiful room is dead, it’s static, beauty has to do with something finished. What attracts me is to give that room a new life by provoking the death of what was there. Violence is about change.
In your books it is basic.
My books are very physical. Sometimes it’s consensual violence, sometimes sex, drug addiction, illness… always something corporal, so that the reader is hooked on the visceral.
My agent has stolen millions of euros from me, it will take me years to recover, but I don’t care, the rich are the most boring thing there is.”
On drug addiction… His messiah, Talbott, says that addiction groups like Narcotics Anonymous are the new religions.
Recovery groups are the new religious meeting places. People went to church because they had problems, they met people with similar problems there, and that’s how the civil rights movements began, leaders like Martin Luther King were found in church. Today, people have left traditional churches and find a similar function in meetings of sex addicts, spending, alcohol, drugs, anger…. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that’s where the new political movements have sprung from.
Have you changed agencies?
I’m in a bigger one. I hope there will be more responsibility and attention to the accounts, but it’s going to take me years to plug that financial hole.
Maybe one day you’ll write a novel about it.
No. Nothing more boring than money, that abstract thing. To tell you the truth, the most boring people in the world are the rich, spend time with them and you’ll see, I’ve done it and they live in such a buffered life, everything is so surrounded by money, they don’t have good stories or a narrative. Money is boring and that’s why I didn’t look at what my accountant was doing.