Out of sorts

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.

2 comments

  1. laila

    Sorry missed the point- is it you or someone else who does not undestand why women are wearing make up? Anyway, we do it to feel good about ourselves or maybee to attrack men.Make up could be undestood as a sexistic action and -has been.But the answer you will get to this question will depend on who you are asking. Guess that Bourdieu would say, if he was able to speak, that we do it because we are cunning. We do it because we are/were living a patriach society. We do it because we are living in certain culturel contexts, because we are living in the world that we live in, and because this world has a history. That does answer other questions-not if we are cunning or not, but why we still use that stuff, living in parts of the world where women are able to support themselves,why some men look boring or why the “new” ( in fact he isn´t)metrosexual man is avalable on the market.The danish phrase “hun ser pissegodt ud” or when you get older ” at least of someone of her age” is still a vital question for most people.
    Don´t know,if you asked Darwin,and he was able to speak about the whole qustion of plastic surgery,maybe he would answer that it has to do with survival of the fittest.
    str^c prst skrz krk is a proper czek word which means “stick the finger in the throat”.Looking forward to see you in Prague !
    Love Laila

  2. Andreas

    Oh, I figured that much out by myself. Some time I’ll have to post a link to my not too scientific report on the matter. It was all an attempt to get on national TV, y’see. But that’s another story…

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