“I know this because Tyler knows this” Identity is the distinct personality and the set of unique characteristics of an individual regarded as a persisting entity. The sense of identity and understanding of selfhood are what make each human being unique and able to take their own decisions. The plot of the book Fight Club, by Chuck Palahniuk, revolves around the enigmas of identity and the difficulties to understand the concept of Selfhood. In the story, the narrator suffers of a multiple personality disorder which permits his other Self to emerge and be seen as a whole different and separate identity by the narrator.
Roy F. Baumeister explains in his work, The Self and Society: Changes, Problems, and Opportunities, the three essential principles that lead to the understanding of the Self and how there are several experiences that need to be met for an Identity to exist. Baumeister mainly talks about the effects that society has upon people’s identity and vice versa, but throughout his essay, he explains several points that form the basis of the psychological self. I posit that the ideas that Baumeister depicts in his work are contradicted and rejected by the realistic and independent existence of Tyler Durden’s character in Fight Club.
Fight Club tells the story of an unnamed narrator who’s boring and pathetic life changes radically when he meets and befriends a man named Tyler Durden. The narrator, whose identity remains anonymous throughout the story, and Tyler create a strictly ruled fighting club that meets once a week, where men come to let out their emotions on each others’ faces and body. Fight Club attracted many people and, from this, a sort of revolutionary group, called Project Mayhem, branched out, lead by Tyler Durden.
The actions of this group were questioned by the narrator shortly after one of his friends dies during an operation. The narrator begins his attempts to destroy this organization, only to discover that it his himself who is running the whole operation with a different Self and type of personality: the identity of Tyler Durden. But who is Tyler Durden? Tyler enters the narrator’s life out of the blue. Palahniuk keeps Tyler’s real identity a secret until the end of the story, where it is revealed that he is only part of the narrator’s personality.
Besides his proposal of the three universal experiences, Baumeister also comes up with an absolute rule which states that in order for an identity to exist there must be a body: “It is undeniably true that self begins with body. The number of selves in a given room is equal to the count of bodies. Understanding of selfhood begins with awareness of one’s body” (Baumeister 320). I personally agree with Baumeister and believe that this law of selfhood is undeniably true; that in order for a Self to exist it must occupy a body.
But if Baumeister’s idea of the relationship between identity and body is true, how is it possible that the narrator and Tyler perform different tasks at the same time and, in some occasions, in different places? For example, how is it possible for both characters to fight and hit each other the first night outside the bar: “So I hit him, a girl’s wide roundhouse to right under his ear, and Tyler shoved me back and stomped the heel of his show in my stomach” (Palahniuk 53).
This is only one of the many scenes in the book where the narrator and Tyler seem to occupy different bodies and interact between each other. The relationship and interaction between Tyler and the narrator challenge Baumeister’s idea of “number of bodies equals number of selves” and proves how Palahniuk’s Fight Club contradicts this aspect explained by Baumeister in his work. The body constitutes a very important basis in the understanding of selfhood, but there is more to self than just the body.
Baumeister depicts three main experiences that make up the crucial nature of selfhood. The first experience Baumeister touches upon is reflexive consciousness: the ability to become aware of one’s self or, in Baumeister’s terms, to “turn around in a circle and become aware of the source” (Baumeister 321). He explains this experience as being responsible for giving people the feeling of existing and the notion of selfhood. Towards the end of Fight Club, the narrator goes around asking for Tyler Durden.
He travels from city to city, visiting every bar without a clue of where Tyler is. He walks into several bars and finds out that he has been there before, but has no recollection of it: “ ‘You stopped in last week, Mr. Durden,’ he says. ‘Don’t you remember? ’ Tyler was here. I’ve never been in here before tonight” (Palahniuk 158). In this passage of the book, the narrator has no notion of ever being in that bar before, but clearly Tyler has. The narrator does not possess the ability to “turn around in a circle” and become aware of his source, but nonetheless, Tyler still exists.
The existence of Tyler Durden, without the narrator being conscious about its real nature, not only defies the first of Baumeister’s experiences, but also challenges the idea of the interpersonal being: Baumeister’s second experience of selfhood. Baumeister describes this aspect of selfhood as the basis of human relationship in society: “focal one in love and hate, in rivalry and competition, in trying to live up to someone’s expectations or worrying about what impression one is making…” (Baumeister 321). Tyler Durden not only exists inside the narrator’s head, but also in the real world.
He interacts with other people and with the narrator as Tyler Durden. The issue in this matter is the relationship the narrator has with Tyler: he looks up to Tyler; he admires him; he wants to be like Tyler, but he can’t. The experience of interpersonal being exists within the narrator mind between the two personalities. The last root of selfhood that Baumeister speaks of is the executive function: the control over oneself and the ability to make decisions and regulate the Self. Throughout Fight Club, it is clear that the narrator has no control over Tyler Durden’s decisions, even after he figures out the truth.
Not only does he not have control over what Tyler does, but he has no control over his own life and situation: he can’t choose when to let Tyler “exist” and he can’t simply get rid of Tyler. Baumeister explains that “without the executive function, the self could still be self-aware and belong to groups, but it would be a mere helpless, passive spectator of event” (Baumeister 321). In Fight Club, the narrator is simply a spectator of Tyler Durden’s actions; he has no control over Tyler’s decisions. Roy Baumeister posits in his work the three requisites in order for a Self to exist and be understood.
The existence of Tyler Durden and the way Chuck Palahniuk draws Durden’s identity challenge Baumeister’s proposal. In Fight Club, Tyler Durden exists in the world physically, makes decisions, takes control, interacts with society, and the narrator is not aware of his real identity. So, based on Baumeister’s work, how can Tyler Durden really exist?
Works Cited Palahniuk, Chuck, Fight Club, (W. W. Norton & Company, New York, London) Baumeister, Roy F. , The Self and Society: Changes, Problems, and Opportunities.