Slap Something Together: Sixteen Abysmal Quotations from Chuck Palahniuk’s MAKE SOMETHING UP: STORIES YOU CAN’T UNREAD
by Joseph Suglia
1.) MAKE SOMETHING UP: STORIES YOU CAN’T UNREAD
Every work of fiction is, by definition, something that is “made up.” The word fiction is derived from the Latin fictio, which means “to fashion,” “to craft.” If psychoanalysis has taught us anything, its lesson is that nothing that has been read can be unread. The title of the book contains a redundancy and a statement of the obvious. Or a statement that would be obvious to even a slightly educated person. The book would have been better titled Slap Something Together: Stories No Thinking Person Should Ever Read.
2.) “My old man, he makes everything into a Big Joke” .
Elementary-school children learn that double subjects are bad grammar. chuckpalahniuk, who is fifty-three years old as I write these words, is still unaware of this fact. There is nothing wrong with appositives, but this is not an appositive: “My old man, he” is a double subject. The use of the double subject is not merely ungrammatical; it is irritating and unnecessary. And why capitalize “big joke,” if it is preceded by an indefinite article?
3.) “Me, I didn’t get it” .
No literate person begins a sentence with a double subject. Nor does he or she begin sentences with objective pronouns.
4.) “Me, my teachers still haven’t covered long division and all the multiple-cation tables so it’s not my old man’s fault I don’t know what’s ‘c**’” .
One might claim that the narrator is a child and would not know the proper spelling of multiplication, but the narrator is identified as a “grown-up son” on the fourth page.
5.) “This Stage Four cancer guy forces himself to laugh nonstop at Abbott and Costello and Laurel and Hardy and those Marx brothers, and he gets healed by the end-orphans [sic] and oxy-generated [sic] blood” .
Even though the misspellings are purposeful, only someone with brain damage would write in such a manner. There are purposeful misspellings in the writing of Anita Loos, but none is witless. chuckpalahniuk is capable of nothing but witlessisms.
6.) “The bartender smiles so nice and says, ‘What? You don’t like Michelob no more?’” .
That should read “so nicely,” of course; the Chuckies and the Chuckettes have the tendency to confuse adverbs and adjectives. “So nice” is chuckpalahniuk’s ham-fisted way of trying to make his narrator (and himself) appear charming. Unhappily, chuckpalahniuk is not merely charmless; he is uncharmable. This sentence, incidentally, occurs toward the end of a rape joke. I would defend to the death the right of writers to describe whatever they please, but anyone who finds rape amusing is either a sociopath or a psychopath. The unenviable readers of Beautiful You already know that chuckpalahniuk finds rape a fit subject for humor. chuckpalahniuk’s approach to the sexual violation of women is both slapdash and slaphappy. It is a distasteful quality in the writer and not a little insane.
7.) “The old man’s gasping his big toothless mouth like he can’t get enough air, crying big tears down the wrinkles of both cheeks, just soaking his pillow” .
While it is the case that to gasp may be a transitive verb, the mouth is what is doing the gasping. People might gasp, but they do not “gasp their mouths.” “Like” is used conjunctionally, and the sentence is a non-parallel construction. A less analphabetic way of writing the sentence would be: “The old man is gasping through his big toothless mouth, as if he couldn’t get enough air, crying big tears that stream down the wrinkles of both cheeks and soak his pillow.”
8.) “And he’s STILL dying, the old man’s leaving me not knowing the answer to anything. He’s abandoning me while I’m still so f***ing stupid” .
Ignorance is not stupidity. Ignorance is the absence of knowledge, whereas stupidity is the inability to process ideas. chuckpalahniuk thinks that stupidity and ignorance are interchangeable and that “stupidity” comes and goes. In the case of chuckpalahniuk, however, stupidity is a chronic condition.
9.) “The old goobers stop chewing on their tobacco” .
Educated people know that to chew means “to bite on” and that “to chew on” is therefore an analphabetism. The sentence should read: “The old goobers [if one must use that idiotic pseudo-word] stop chewing their tobacco.”
10.) “And finally one old barbershop codger, he says in barely a tobacco whisper, so soft you can hardly hear him, he asks, ‘Who’s there?’” .
While it is true that smoking can degrade the vocal system, “tobacco whisper” is an asinine coinage. Perhaps one of chuckpalahniuk’s disciples could write a teleplay entitled Tobacco Whisperer, modeled on the Jennifer Love Hewitt vehicle Ghost Whisperer. Notice that two subjects are not enough for the pseudo-author chuckpalahniuk. He adds a third.
11.) “In grocery stores or department stores, Monkey offered cubes of sausage skewered with toothpicks” .
To whom, precisely, did Monkey offer cubes of sausages skewered with toothpicks? Does the narrator not know in which realms Monkey offered cubes of sausages skewered with toothpicks? The phrase should read, “grocery stores AND department stores,” not “grocery stores OR department stores,” unless the narrator is unaware of the kind of spaces in which Monkey offered cubes of sausages skewered with toothpicks.
12.) “Monkey offered dollops of apple pie served in tiny paper cups, or paper napkins cradling sample bites of tofu” [Ibid.].
This is a railway accident of a sentence. A dollop is a small amount of soft food, and yet the crust of apple pie, as every infant knows, is hard. Commas should not be used to separate dependent clauses, and “sample bites” is tautological.
13.) “Monkey hadn’t noticed at first, perhaps her nose had been blunted by selling perfume and cigarettes, but the cheese smelled disgusting” .
If Monkey’s actual nose had been blunted, this could mean that Monkey had an aquiline nose that had been flattened in the act of selling perfume and cigarettes.
14.) “Yet all night Monkey lay awake in bed, listening to Rabbit doing it with Mink in the next motel room, and fretting that, despite her advanced degree in Communications, she’d be stuck below a glass ceiling, getting sniffed by Moose for the rest of her career” .
Though I suppose it is possible that rabbit couple with mink, it seems unlikely, given that rabbit are lagomorphs and mink belong to the weasel family. Do I really need to point out that “glass ceiling” is a mind-deflating cliché?
15.) “In Miss Chen’s English class, we learned, ‘To be or not to be…’ but there’s a big gray area in between. Maybe in Shakespeare times people only had two options” .
chuckpalahniuk appears to have stumbled into someone else’s interesting idea that being is not an absolute concept. Indeed, transitional forms between being and nonbeing are thinkable. Perhaps holograms and other forms of virtualization exist between being and nonbeing. After this ill-worded yet provocative suggestion, chuckpalahniuk, predictably, writes about something entirely different: “Griffin Wilson, he knew that the SATs were just the gateway to a big lifetime of b*******.” chuckpalahniuk is like a stupefied bumpkin who gapes at an idea that is too profound for him and then quickly diverts his attention to the Chick-fil-A across the street. “Shakespeare” is a dolt’s only reference point to “the past,” as “Hitler” is a dolt’s only reference point to “evil.” chuckpalahniuk’s condescension is astounding. The difference between chuckpalahniuk and Shakespeare is analogous to the difference between a puddle of fermented wolverine urine and the Atlantic Ocean.
16.) “The problem with being Talented And Gifted is sometimes you get too smart” .
To unmuddle some of the confusions of this utterance: “Talented” and “gifted” should not be separated, and there is absolutely no reason to capitalize “and.” In the squalid wastelands of Mr. Palahniuk’s Planet, intelligence is regarded as a vice and stupidity is regarded as a virtue. This explains the writer’s appeal to high-school stoners of all ages.
17.) Every book by chuckpalahniuk is a frognado of idiocy.
ANALOGY BLINDNESS by Joseph Suglia
Over the years, I have invented a number of words and phrases. Genocide pornography is one that I am especially proud of (cf. my essays on Quentin Tarantino); anthropophagophobia is another word that I coined, which means “the fear of cannibalism” (cf. my interpretation of Shakespeare’s As You Like It). I would like to introduce to the world (also known as Google) a new linguistic term:
analogy blindness (noun phrase): the inability to perceive what an analogy represents. To be lost in the figure of an analogy itself, while losing sight of the concept that the analogy describes.
The Analogist: Polygamy is like going to a buffet instead of a single-serve restaurant. Both are inadvisable.
The Person Who Is Blind to the Analogy: People love buffets!
The Analogist: Being taught how to write by Chuck Palahniuk is like being taught how to play football by a one-legged man.
The Person Who Is Blind to the Analogy: A one-legged man who knows how to coach football? That’s great!
The Analogist: You should not have reprimanded her in such a rude manner for taking time off from work. You treated her as if she were guilty of some terrible offense, such as plagiarism.
The Person Who Is Blind to the Analogy: But plagiarism is bad!
Derived from Hui-neng: When the wise person points at the Moon, the imbecile sees the finger.
On SNUFF (Chuck Palahniuk) by Joseph Suglia
If it sustained itself over countless eternities, a roomful of typing monkeys would eventually recreate every library in the world, reproducing every word in every volume. This theorem, known as the “infinite-monkey hypothesis,” could also be applied to Snuff (2008) by chuckpalahniuk. After vomiting eight completely worthless books, each a static repetition of the one before, chuckpalahniuk has finally generated something worthy of being read, much in the same way that an eternal scriptorium of monkeys would also generate at least some books that are worthy of being read.
While I am not an admirer of his previous fiction, Snuff does something that chuckpalahniuk’s earlier efforts failed to do: It addresses the conditions of its possibility and reception. Here we have a hive of drones waiting to consume the body of their pornographic priestess. They are very much like those who consume Snuff–an unintelligent, slovenly, shallow, hastily written, messily constructed McFiction sandwich larded with an impasto of moldy tartar sauce.
The words “dude” and “kid” are used more than any others, the font is so large that your grandmother could read it through her cataracts, and the “research,” such as it is, extends no further than Google. Not merely is chuckpalahniuk’s language impoverished in relation to that of other published writers; he is not even able to write on the level of a sentient adult. Indeed, the “author,” a forty-six-year-old man at the time he disgorged this vomitous book, writes as if he were any unremarkable twelve-year-old American boy. Here are some representative examples of chuckpalahniuk’s prose:
“Those tests that Shelia had dudes take, the clinic reports most dudes had to bring, none of that’s foolproof” (128).
“The locker-room smell of some dude’s bare feet, we breathe that smell like [sic] those cheeses [sic] from France that smell like your sneakers in high school that you’d wear in gym class all year without washing them” (52).
“High school,” indeed.
It is depressing that chuckpalahniuk has yet to craft a style. One might claim that his infantile, ungrammatical manner of expression IS a style, that he is only miming the illiterate stupidity of his characters. If that is the case, why does every one of chuckpalahniuk’s characters sound exactly like the next, giving the form and body of his work the disturbing appearance of an unsynchronized Christmas carol sung by a chorus of stuttering lobotomy patients? chuckpalahniuk’s syntax is irritating, tedious, inane, and torturous to read: SUBJECT + PRONOUN + VERB + OBJECT.
If read as a work of art, one will fail to do justice to this book. Snuff is by no means art; it is a cultural production, and like all cultural productions, resonates with the time and place in which it was written. Despite his intellectual and rhetorical shortcomings, chuckpalahniuk has succeeded in producing something that perfectly captures the cultural moment.
DAMNED by Chuck Palahniuk
The English language contains approximately 600,000 words, if you believe that words are things that are housed in dictionaries. What of neologisms? What of inartful? Microsoft Word underlines inartful in red, and you won’t find it in any dictionary that I’ve ever come across, but President Obama used that word (if it is one) and used it well, and it seems right. What about sacrality? Jean-Francois Lyotard used that “word.” Is it a word? What of words that are no longer in currency? What of paleonyms? What of sireniform and egrote? What of names? Are names words? Is elbow one word or two (a noun and a verb)? What of plurals and possessives? Are head, head’s, heads’, and heads four separate words? Or are they variations of a single word? On what basis could we say one or the other? When does a word become a word? If a linguistic sign is spoken or written, does it then become a word? Let us say, as a hypothesis, that a word is a word if it is articulated and employed. If meaning is predicated on usage, as Wittgenstein believed, shouldn’t all words be used? The English language is rich and various, full of nuance and synonymy. Why, then, do so many English speakers limit themselves to the most common Anglo-Saxon vocabulary? When someone employs “too many” words of French-Latin origin, that person will usually be accused of using “big words.” There is no such thing as a “big word,” however, unless we are talking about morphology. There are familiar words, and there are unfamiliar words. The familiar words in English are of Anglo-Saxon origin; the less familiar ones are mostly Latinate. You will hear simple-minded English speakers tell you that Latinate words should be avoided, as if William the Conquerer’s French Latin were somehow a corrosion of a pure and original idiom. English, however, would not be English were it not the happy marriage of Germanic Anglo-Saxon and French Latin.
“Chuck” Palahniuk dwells within a micro-subdivision of the ever-expanding multiverse which is the English language. He “knows” approximately as many English words as a subnormal ten-year-old American boy. This explains why he writes on the level of a subnormal ten-year-old American boy and why he is beloved by so many subnormal ten-year-old American boys, his dwindling Hitler-Jugend. His ovine followers are entranced, as was I, by David Fincher’s visually captivating film Fight Club (1999) and mistakenly equate Fincher’s brilliant vision to that of “Chuck” (they refer to the writer by his given name, projecting an imaginary familiarity with the Leader who has bilked them out of their allowance money). Many of them are failed or failing elementary or high-school students, white, crypto-Christian, reactionary, American, and male. (Yes, there are chuckettes. But the chuckettes outgrow Palahniuk more quickly than the boychicks and the boychucks do.) And many of them, too many of them, think of themselves as writers: “If Chuck can be a famous writer, so can I…”
And this is the most nauseating thing about “Chuck” Palahniuk: He engendered a band of adolescents who think they have facility in literature because they read Choke. He is a slovenly, lazy writer who has given birth to a band of slovenly, lazy “aspiring writers” who think that fiction is EZ-2-write.
D.H. Lawrence once said of Herman Melville that his weakness as an author was that he felt his audience in front of him. “Chuck,” non-artist, writes juvenilia to appease a juvenile audience that, as I suggested above, still misidentifies “Chuck” with filmmaker David Fincher. If he thinks that horror fiction is selling, “Chuck” will read one book by Shirley Jackson and another by Ira Levin and upchuck what he believes to be horror fiction. If he thinks that young-adult novels are selling, he will read one book by Dale Basye and upchuck a very bad, very inept Dale Basye pastiche. Damned is such a pastiche, yet another atrociously written, publicly edited novel by the Tarzan of American letters.
* * * * *
Damned, it’s about a girl called Madison Spencer. Madison Spencer’s a real bad girl. She, like, uses big words so that people think she’s smart and stuff. But she’s not really smart. She just uses big words which is real dumb. Hell is a place for people who are deluded, pretentious poseurs and use fancy words and stuff:
“Yes, I know the word excrement” .
“I comprehend the term passive-aggressive” .
“Yeah, I know the word construct” [Ibid.].
“Yes, I know the word absentia [sic]” .
At the end of the book, this girl, her name’s Madison, she knows that, like, she’s just like the simple people. A simple person just like you and me. And she learns to talk simple just like the simple people later on in the book. A simple person. Just like you. Just like me. Just like Chuck. She’s in Hell ’cause she uses big words but at the end of the book she becomes good when she uses simple words like the simple people do:
“Even now, I hesitate to use words such as eschew and convey and weltschmerz [sic], so thoroughly is my faith shaken. The actual nature of my death reveals me to be an idiot, no longer a Bright Young Thing, but instead a deluded, pretentious poseur. Not brilliant, but an impostor who would craft my own illusory reality out of a handful of impressive words. Such vocabulary props served as my eye shadow, my breast implants, my physical coordination, my confidence. These words: erudite and insidious and obfuscate, served as my crutches” .
She just an idiot like us simple people too. So, like, at the end of the book and stuff, she don’t use big, fancy words anymore and talks real simple and good like the simple people do. She was bad when she used the big words. Now that she don’t use the big words she real good. Just like us. Just like Chuck.
Two things in the passage cited above immediately strike the attention:
1.) Palahniuk-Howard believes that insidious and convey are “big words.”
2.) In a paragraph that denounces “big words,” the word illusory is employed–which the non-literate would consider a “big word.”
Sloshing through this slush, it is easy to see why Doubleday delayed the publication of Damned for five months. Even after Gerry Howard edited (i.e. recreated) the manuscript, it is still unpublishable. What we are left with is a fetid and fetal scrawl that is far below the level of your neighborhood writers’ workshop.
If Hell were a library, Damned would be burned on the ninth floor.
* * * * *
Why, precisely, is Palahniuk’s Hell a place where The English Patient (1996) and The Piano (1993) are endlessly spooling and screening? Why are showings of THESE films considered “punitive presentation[s]” ? What exactly do these films hold in common?
The answer: They both limn the elegant bodies of beautiful women. The lovely, flowing, alabaster skin of beautiful women. The svelte, exquisitely sculpted, rotund bodies of Juliette Binoche, Holly Hunter, and Kristin Scott Thomas. Whereas the female body is seen by many of us as a locus of fecundity and as a wonderland of infinite delights, for Palahniuk, the body of a woman is Hell. I am not exaggerating. In Damned, “the actual terrain of Hell”  is the body of a woman, with all of its creases and crevices and folds, all of its loops and lobes.
Did you hear that? Palahniuk’s Hell is the body of a woman.
* * * * *
The time has passed when “Chuck” could be taken seriously as a serious novelist, postmodern or otherwise (though phrases such as “attachments to a fixed identity”  demonstrate that he still has postmodernist aspirations). It is now generally recognized that this forty-nine-year-old Average American Male writes insufficient young-adult fiction and that his books belong in the ‘Young Adult’ section of libraries and bookstores, or perhaps in the ‘Special Interest’ category. It is saddening that D students wasted their youth on hasty fictions agonizingly scribbled out by a dopey yokel.
As I suggested above, the Palahniuk cult is dissolving, though there remain fanatic boys and apostolic Lumpen “writers” who still slavishly cry out their Leader’s given name in the same way that religious zealots cry out the name of their tombstone messiah: “Chuuuuuuccckkk… I will dress up in a wedding gown for youuuuuuu…!” At the core of Palahniuk’s die-hard following are rabid mall rats who are ripe for fascist indoctrination. In general, however, the Cult has moved from proselytization to disillusionment and is slowly shifting toward its eventual decontamination.
We live in a sad society in which opportunistic hacks are hailed as “artists” and genuine art is ignored. It is time for the intelligent to stand up and denounce these hacks and to show them for what they truly are: money-sucking subliterate robots.
Dr. Joseph Suglia
RANT (“Chuck” Palahniuk) by Joseph Suglia
Even “Chuck” Palahniuk’s most devoted followers will have a hard time getting through Rant (2007), a book about thrill-seeking that is devoid of a single thrill. As insipid as they are, at least Palahniuk’s other books are EZ-2-Read. Rant, however, is not merely stupid–it is also deadeningly, mind-numbingly tedious. While trudging through its pages, the essence of boredom was revealed to me.
RANT is compacted of endlessly babbling voices. Each voice narrates a piece of Buster Casey’s life, a Typhoid Mary who has spread rabies across the United States. But there is nothing new to be learned about Casey after the sixth page (Pages One through Six are titled, imaginatively, “An Introduction”) and what we do know is never vividly or convincingly described. To be absolutely explicit: The plot doesn’t move. It stagnates. There is no progression. No motor drives the narrative. Nothing is narrated between Pages Seven through 319 that hasn’t been narrated in the first six pages.
Anything that seems to be remotely original comes from somewhere else. The book’s epigraph was pilfered from Atom Egoyan’s Exotica (1994), the oral-biographical structure was pillaged from Stephen King (Carrie), the “Party Crashers” narrative was fobbed wholesale from J.G. Ballard’s Crash, a narrative that dominates the book to such an extent that it would have been better titled Ballard for Kindergarteners or Ballard Made EZ. (Casey is Vaughan from Crash. Yes, there is repetition in Crash, but it is repetition with purpose, repetition with nuance, repetition with difference. Here, there is only the infinite repetition of the Same.) The Tarzanesque pseudo-sentence “How the future you have tomorrow won’t be the same future you had yesterday” (Pages Four and 253) was pocketed from French poet and thinker Paul Valery (“The problem with the present is that the future is no longer what it used to be”). The illiterately worded statement “History is, it’s just a nightmare” (p. 60) was lifted directly from Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. (Not that Palahniuk has read Valery or Marx, mind you. He has admitted that his information largely comes from talking to those he meets at parties and from his followers.) Even the rabies motif was thieved. David Cronenberg’s Rabid (1976), anyone?
Rant is littered with pop-nihilistic syllogisms, statements of the obvious that are presented as “deep truths”: “Rant meant that no one is happy, anywhere” (p. 12). Who doesn’t know that car-salesmen mimic the body language of potential clients?
The subhuman prose is even more galling than the book’s content. Nearly every other sentence contains a double subject. For instance: “The flight attendant, she asks this hillbilly what’s it he wants to drink” (p. 2). A slightly less awkward, slightly less annoying, grammatical way of writing the “sentence” would be: “The flight attendant asks a hillbilly what he would like to drink.” Palahniuk, however, insists on multiplying the subjects in his sentences ad nauseam, with unbearably irritating results. Palahniuk’s defendants claim that he isn’t really as dimwitted as he seems to be, that his narrators are merely functionally illiterate. If that is the case, they must explain why Palahniuk interviews in a functionally illiterate manner, why he writes “essays” in a functionally illiterate manner, and why every character in his universe is functionally illiterate, including those who hold doctorates. If Palahniuk is merely impersonating a lobotomized orangutan on heroin, why would he write essays and speak in exactly the same simian language?
And so we have the grating misusage of the word “liminal”–over and over and over and over again… We have Phoebe Truffeau, Ph.D., who uses phrases such as “prohibitions to [sic] bestiality” (p. 82). We have teachers who say things such as “That Elliot girl, she told me the Tooth Fairy left [the coin] in exchange for a tooth she’d lost” (p. 52) and “Money you don’t work to earn, you spend very quickly” (p. 54). We have Lowell Richards, teacher, who uses the phrase “indirectly and obliquely” (p. 99). Whenever Palahniuk tries to write as “the smart people” do, he reveals himself as a half-wit.
And we have unspeakably hideous sentence fragments such as: “The ice melt and disappear” (p. 2). Whenever Palahniuk tries to revise a cliche, such as Andy Warhol’s overly cited declaration “In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes,” he comes up with a monstrosity: “In the future, everyone will sit next to someone famous for at least fifteen minutes” (p. 5). Palahniuk’s revision makes no sense: I’m assuming that “everyone” includes “the famous,” which implies, of course, that in the future, the famous will also sit next to the famous.
Perhaps most offensively, Rant croaks out, in a particularly infantile passage, that AIDS is a “disease” that has been “spread” by a single carrier–that it is a “disease” like any other disease–when, in fact, AIDS is a syndrome of diseases, a pandemic, for which no single individual is accountable.
Allegedly, “Rant” refers to the sound that babies make when they vomit. Now, I’ve never actually heard a baby make such a noise, but perhaps one should take the “author” at his word. The title seems perfectly appropriate. Simplistic, stupid, superficial, tedious, and derivative, Rant is the verbal equivalent to chunks of infantile regurgitate.
The same could be said of all of Palahniuk’s “works,” which are not based on the imagination (the “author” seemingly has no imagination whatsoever), but rather on whatever he is leafing through at the present moment. As I stated above: Palahniuk has admitted that his books are collages of interviews he has had with random people in bars and at parties, as well as the four or five non-fiction books he leases from his local public library every time he sits down to write a “novel.” The rest of the information is “Googled.”
Regrettably, Palahniuk is an incompetent “borrower.” There is often the question, in his books, of relevancy. In Survivor, there is a longish passage on lobster-eating that was apparently lifted word for word from a book on dining etiquette. What, precisely, does this passage have to do with Survivor‘s narrative? Answer: Absolutely nothing.
Palahniuk wrote Lullaby in three weeks. I’m not entirely certain how much time it took him to disgorge Rant. My guess would be two weekends. I don’t say this to praise Palahniuk, as if he were capable of fashioning a well-crafted novel in two weekends with the dexterity of a Picasso, who could toss off a painting in an afternoon. Rant is writing-workshop trash. It reads as if it were a live-journal or Web log written by a subnormal high-school stoner, retched out and fraught with galling errors.
Palahniuk’s followers worship their leader as if he were a god. But God is not an artist.
Neither is Chuck Palahniuk.
Dr. Joseph Suglia