Yesterday, I finished reading “Nonfiction” by the American author Chuck Palahniuk.
Palahniuk is probably best known for his book “Fight Club”, a violently nihilistic and entertaining novel about young men fighting to find a meaning in their lives. It didn’t really sell well until it was made into a film starring Brad Pitt and Edward Norton.
Since then he’s written several other novels and various articles in between. Nonfiction is collection of these articles. Some are interesting, some are rather boring. Palahniuk’s style of writing works well with short pieces like “My life as a dog” where he describes a day of walking around Seattle dressed as a Dalmatian (complete with big Papier Mache head), being fondled, beaten, abused and suspected by the people he meets. One of the essays even describes his minimalist ideal of writing by referring to his favourite writer, Amy Hempel. He says that after reading her short story “The Harvest”, ” almost every other book you ever read will suck.”
I’ll let you judge for yourselves (don’t worry – being minimalist, it’s not very long).
This exact ideal of minimalist, compact writing makes most of his longer articles lose a lot of their punch, which is unfortunate as he does have some good stories to tell. He writes about how he’s always taking notes, constantly adding to his catalogue of stories until he has to vent some of it by writing the stories into a book.
This constantly awareness and notetaking (mentally or on paper) is also a defining element of the anthropological fieldwork. But where the professional fieldworker tend to focus her awareness on a specific scientific object, an author like Palahniuk just look for things that interests him, that might contain a story worth telling.
Most people do this from time to time, though it’s difficult enough to find and write down these interesting things to make it a job in it’s own right. I know some anthropologists who jokingly call this focus on the unconsidered strangeness of everyday life for “out of sorts anthropology”. I’ve tried to do it from time to time, most interestingly by trying to figure out why girls wear make-up.
When you leave behind the obvious anthropological conclusion of “It’s much more complex than you’d think at first”, and just go for that tempting first thought – where it’s more your own fiction than other people’s truth – that’s where you create “out of sorts anthropology” and that’s the kind of nonfiction Palahniuk writes.