Fight Club and the Paradox of Desire
The First Rule Is To Give Up What We Don’t Need! Fight Club is a 1996 novel by Chuck Palahniuk. This work, directed by David Fincher and quality acting, entered the world of cinema in 1999 and has become a cult film that has been in the minds for years.
Our Desire is the Desire of the Other!
Jack (Edward Norton) has serious insomnia in his monotonous life. To overcome this, he joins therapy groups with the advice of the doctor. These therapy groups consist of people with testicular cancer (Jack then goes to other therapy groups). Here, Jack’s aim is to observe people who have problems that are bigger than his own and compare his own pain with them. In this case, Jack’s problem remained simple compared to the people in therapy. This creates a kind of self-satisfaction.
Jack is finally starting to sleep soundly. Later, a woman (Marla) joins the therapy groups. Marla has no health problems. Marla is also someone who started attending therapies because she had similar reasons as Jack. But Marla’s presence causes Jack to confront the sense of lies he hides behind his participation in therapies. Jack and Marla don’t have the same ailments as people in therapy, and their coexistence shatters the illusion Jack has created for himself. Jack states that because Marla was there, her lie mirrored his own and suddenly felt nothing. Thus, the effect of the therapies is lost.
Later, Jack meets Tyler (Brad Pitt) on a plane trip. Things develop between them and eventually they hold fighting tournaments under bars at night and form a “fight club”. Afterwards, Tyler speaks to the members of the club these words that stick in our minds:
(…) I see the strongest and smartest men who live here. I see potential but it is wasted. Damn, an entire generation is pumping gas. They were waitresses or became white-collar slaves. They chase cars and clothes, fooled by advertisements. We work at jobs we hate and buy things we don’t need. We are the middle children of history. We don’t have a purpose or a place. We neither experienced the great war nor the great depression. Our war is a spiritual war; Our biggest depression is our lives. Growing up with television, we believed we would one day be a millionaire, a movie star, or a rock star, but we won’t. We are slowly learning this and we are very, very angry.
All of the things we desire here do not actually belong to us, as Tyler said, and we are made to believe them. We think that everything we desire to have is directly our desire. We want to get what we don’t need as if we needed it. But as Lacan said: “Man’s desire is the desire of the Other.”
The Paradox of Desire
We think that every object we obtain from the Other will lead us to the object petit a (“obscure object of desire”), a concept used by Lacan. Because the subject wants to satisfy his original lack and seeks it in the Other. But the Other cannot meet this demand. Because the cracks in the structure of the Big Other are precisely the places where this deficiency itself cannot be filled. All purpose in the Other is the promise that every object we desire will bring us to absolute satisfaction and complete us. But the objet petit a that the subject seeks is something the Other does not have.
To give an example: The capitalist system tells us that we always have the right to be happy. But the mode of action underlying the capitalist operation is on the subject’s ultimate insatiability. This is what Tyler rebels against and wants us to realize. Jack thinks he is buying things that will always make him feel good by renewing all the furniture in his house. But this is not the solution to feeling good and being absolutely satisfied. This rekindles what the system imposes on us and the desire to get what we don’t have. This situation creates a paradox in itself. This gives birth to revolutionary movements against the existing order. The social order needs the subjects to produce and desire in order to survive; but this is only possible if there are gaps in the ideology. However, this situation also threatens the functioning of the social order.
What is Jack looking for when he renovates his house? We can explain it this way: Objet petit a (obscure and impossible object) is the cause of the subject’s desire; but it is not directly the object of desire. Because the object of desire is related to certain things and the subject is satisfied when “that” thing is achieved. For example, if you want to drink a bottle of cola, this is your object of desire. From the moment you reach it, you will be satisfied. But it is the objet petit a that leads us to cola and triggers it. The satisfaction when we reach the easy is the satisfaction of reaching the object. But originally the desire was not satisfied. However, precisely because we cannot be satisfied here, we pursue satisfaction. Absolute satisfaction of desire causes its ultimate loss. However, this search for desire always perpetuates itself.
Slavoj Zizek describes this situation as the paradox of desire. While Zizek deals with the issue of the paradox of desire, he deals with the case of Achilles and the tortoise, one of Zeno’s most famous paradoxes. Achilles starts behind the tortoise, and in order for Achilles to pass the tortoise, he must first go half the way he has traveled, and then half the way he has traveled again. Thus, Achilles could never catch up with the tortoise. In fact, we know that Achilles will catch up with the tortoise because he is fast. There is a paradox here that keeps its distance.
Starting from Lacanian theory, the important thing is that the object is inaccessible. Here he shows us the relationship between the subject and the object-cause of desire, which we can never grasp. The object-cause is always overlooked. The only thing left to do here would be to circle it. This is because the object of the original desire is ambiguous. As we have just mentioned, Lacan calls it objet petit a. The attraction of the mystery and the law, which creates a distinctive feature from other things, makes the situation where the object is desired to be reached special and intriguing with the boundaries it draws.
Fight Club manages to attack big companies as well as fighting. This is a kind of anti-capitalist action. But we see it in the most brutal and destructive way. We also see this action, which wants to get rid of the context of being a slave, in the scene where Jack punches himself in his boss’s room. To get paid from his boss, Jack sets up a trick on him and beats him until he’s bleeding. In this sequence, before the end of the movie, we can clearly see that the character of Tyler is not a second character, but a fictional character in Jack’s mind.
Zizek explains this scene as follows: There is a situation where Jack’s action here, unlike his attempt at reactionary fantasies or masochism, is freed from its shackles: freedom. Himself (Jack) is where the punch is. To defeat the enemy, we must first hit ourselves. In order to break free from the conditions that keep us in bondage to the authoritarian structure, we must first face ourselves.
Also here reference is made to what the subject’s self-harming represents, to the section of workers who have little to lose. With the act of battering himself, he gets his freedom from the symbolic/social structure that doesn’t really value him much anyway. Because he prefers to be a “free” who beats himself rather than a slave who is beaten by his master. While beating himself, he actually beats what he is attached to his master.
At the end of the movie, Jack kills Tyler with the gun he shot at himself, thus avoiding the act of beating himself. It is the system, not itself, that must be beaten anymore.