Chuck Palahniuk rocketed to literary stardom with Fight Club, a debut novel that tapped into the frustrated aggressions of young male readers in the late '90s; when it was adapted into a stylish hit film starring Brad Pitt and Edward Norton, Palahniuk's place as a cult icon was assured. In the jangly, trivia-focused, anomie-packed novels that have followed (Survivor, Invisible Monsters, Lullaby, Diary, and more), Palahniuk has gradually evolved as a writer, working away from Fight Club's jumpy style into a smoother narrative state; meanwhile, he's also published some non-fiction, including the Portland guide Fugitives And Refugees and the "true stories" collection Stranger Than Fiction. His latest, Rant, is a dystopian-future novel in the form of a biography. Recently, The A.V. Club asked readers to come up with questions for Palahniuk on any subject but himself and his work. Here, Palahniuk answers 15 of those questions.
Question: Actor Jack Palance was born Volodymyr Palanyuk; any possible, albeit distant, relation? Because that would be awesome. —Andy T.
Chuck Palahniuk: Jack Palance was my distant uncle—that's the family gossip. Growing up, my family knew everything about his face getting burned and scarred in the military and how that mutilation led him to become such a famous "heavy" in films. I prayed for good scars of my own. Not just acne scars.
Q: A few years back at one of your book signings I heard about the real whale from "Free Willy" becoming a chronic masturbator and the zoo officials attempted to placate him by showing him "whale porn." Is that footage of whales, other animals, or what? Was it edited to bring about maximum stimulation (i.e. multiple angles) or was it more of a static, one camera affair? And did the zoo officials' plan work? —feitclub
CP: The whale enjoyed free access to the lavish Suicide Girls website… Consequently it died.
Q: Under what circumstances would you kick a living kitten into a wood-chipper? —eb
Q: What is the most salacious piece of gossip that you know to be true? —Stev D
CP: Where to start… my favorite is about Dolly Parton, but I won't carry tales.
Q: What is the meaning of life? I figure if anyone knows, it's you. —someone
CP: Find joy in everything you choose to do. Every job, relationship, home… it's your responsibility to love it, or change it.
Q: If you could witness any historical event first-hand, what would you choose? —Joe Blevins1
CP: The vast Missoula floods that scoured the Pacific Northwest—either that or Marilyn Monroe's death.
Q: Do you think there can really be true "underground" movements anymore, or is the Internet making everything too readily available to everyone? —MollyPocket
CP: There will always be an underground. Maybe the reaction to the current "public" atmosphere with its confessional memoirs and reality shows will be a backlash of veiled, hidden societies wherein folks swear to keep their involvement secret. If I can imagine it, that's already happening.
Q: If you could force Dick Cheney to watch any movie, TV show, or montage, A Clockwork Orange style, what would it be? —shinobi
CP: The Divine Secrets Of The Ya-Ya Sisterhood. Either that or Steel Magnolias.
Q: What in your opinion, is the best book-to-film adaptation? —the jace
CP: Easy question. Rosemary's Baby. Roman Polanski did a great job of adapting Levin's novel.
Q: Can someone be a brilliant artist without being seriously fucked-up? Can someone be a brilliant artist and be completely sane and well-adjusted? Can the sane and good create art that is meaningful and not simply bland or pretty to look at? —Isaiah Technician
CP: Here's my theory: Anyone who makes a career in writing, music, painting, or whatnot succeeds as being a constant witness, always harvesting from the world. Any "artist" makes a living by expressing what others can't—because they're unaware of their feelings, they're too afraid to express those feelings, or they lack the skills to communicate and be understood. Being fucked-up isn't required. In fact, it tends to cut careers short.
Q: Would you rather burn to death or freeze to death? Alternatively, how would you most like to die? —sneeches
CP: Freeze to death. But if I had total choice—other than death by old age, after 100 years of busy, exciting life—I'd do the sure-fire death by carbon monoxide. If a little charcoal can kill thousands of Japanese every year, then a sleeping pill and a Hibachi can for-sure put me to sleep for good.
Q: As disgusting as it sounds, I have a fascination with the graffiti scrawled on the walls of public restrooms. What is the most interesting/enigmatic picture or saying that you have seen in a public restroom? What does restroom graffiti say about our culture as a whole? —down
CP: First, everyone wants to be heard, to tell their story and be understood. Second, years ago, at Portland State University, an artist used to draw the most amazing pictures inside various public men's bathroom stalls. Each was captioned "Just on the other side of this wall" (referring to the women's bathroom, next door) and showed a female student astride a toilet, busy with whatever. The artist's skill was amazing, and each picture must've taken an hour or more. His hemorrhoids must be legend.
Q: It's the apocalypse. You're allowed one weapon—what is it and why? —nflux
CP: One weapon? Can I get a machine gun with an endless supply of shells? Would you ask Susan Sontag this question? Joyce Carol Oates? What weapon did Grace Paley ask for?
Q: I'm planning on moving to Portland, OR largely on account of you and Fugitives And Refugees (and to finish my M.A. degree). What, outside of that bad-ass book, should I know about the city? —Hiyme
CP: Bring your own job. Portland is quickly becoming one of those lovely, lush Third World countries where kinda-rich people retire with their money. Here, they can live like kings, generating only service-industry jobs and jacking up housing prices. Portland needs to be getting some decent industry and jobs.
Q: Regardless of whether ghosts exist, why do you think they're so important to our culture right now? I ask the question not just in relation to literature (and your excellent books on haunting could be one example, from Fight Club to Lullaby and beyond), but with a view to contemporary horror movies, geopolitics, etc. What attracts us to ghosts, why do we need them, what can they teach us, and why now? —Simon P
CP: Ghosts give us proof of existence beyond the physical reality. If we can prove an afterlife, then we have less pressure to make our physical life last forever. Ghosts give us freedom to laugh at illness, accidents, any form of death. Beyond that, we can relax and play life like a fun, short-term game of basketball. If you knew that your life was merely a phase or short, short segment of your entire existence, how would you live? Knowing nothing "real" was at risk, what would you do? You'd live a gigantic, bold, fun, dazzling life. You know you would. That's what the ghosts want us to do—all the exciting things they no longer can.