from the amazing series in The New York Times found here
Chuck Palahniuk shot to fame in 1999 with David Fincher’s now-classic screen adaptation of his novel “Fight Club,” an incendiary exploration of violence and masculine alienation that one critic, in a not atypical sentiment, denounced as “a film without a single redeeming quality, which may have to find its audience in hell.” Since then, in novels like “Choke,” “Rant” and “Snuff,” Mr. Palahniuk has continued to explore the outer limits of human behavior, delivering shocks that have divided the critics while inspiring rabid fan devotion and more than a few public faintings. (Nearly 70 people had passed out at readings of his story “Guts,” he once boasted.)
In a recent e-mail conversation, Mr. Palahniuk, whose novel “Damned” appears in paperback next week, talked about the future of transgressive fiction, his preferred self-cure for “short-term insanity” and the written word’s unique pathways to shock.
Q. You’ve been called a literary “shock jock” by fans and detractors alike. Is shocking readers something you deliberately set out to do?
A. It’s never my intention to offend a reader or listener; I’m too addicted to external approval. When I write, one of my basic goals is to preserve and communicate the incredible stories I hear from people, true stories from real people. By finding a common theme between several anecdotes, often told to me decades apart, I can create a collage of kinetic, visually bold images that combine to illustrate a bigger truth. When I take a year to write a story, I’m doing so because I find it emotionally moving. If you were to read that story every day for a year, you’d move past any initial shock and also find the heartbreak. Culture that’s harder to accept, initially, tends to be culture that lasts longer.
Q. In the documentary “Postcards From the Future” (2003), you said that “transgressive fiction” died after Sept. 11, and that maybe it was time for social commentary in art to become “charming, seductive and entertaining.” Has transgressive fiction come back since then? Or has it become more difficult for art to be as shocking as the world itself?
A. “Transgressive fiction” has become an oxymoron. Almost all the dynamic, edgy storytellers have moved to film, and books have fallen into that twilight of pre-death where live theater limps along. The most successful books now serve us as sedatives, confirming the values and worldviews their readers already hold. They’re the books we read as sleeping pills at bedtime. When was the last book banned? Oh, how I miss the great book bonfires of my Christian youth! That’s when books had some power! When they had to be burned like witches.
Q. You have said that one of your goals in writing is to shock yourself. But how easy is it for other people to shock you?
A. To be honest, my best writing happens when I need some place to put my short-term insanity. And it’s a vast comfort when other people tell me secrets that put my suicide-watch moods into perspective. The sudden release of tension: the revelation that I’m not suffering alone, that everyone endures this, it occurs like the punch line of a joke. So much is resolved so quickly that I have to laugh or gasp. When people give me that gift I can’t wait to pay it forward and have that same wonderful effect on someone else.