Title

Stereotyping 1970s Karate Film in Chuck Palahniuk’s Pygmy

Subject Area

Literary Criticism

Abstract

Most of the negative criticism concerning Chuck Palahniuk’s 2009 novel Pygmy focuses on language. Corey Redekop writes, “Presented as ongoing communiqués from Agent 67 to his masters, Pygmy is written in a pidgin-English dialect that is initially off-putting. [. . .] The concept is not entirely successful (why would Pygmy write reports in English rather than his native tongue?), but it can lead to some offbeat and memorable descriptions of western culture.”1 Woodhead Cameron states, “Pygmy’s voice is so robotic and sloppily imagined that it deadens and oversimplifies, as well as proving an annoying distraction from, Palahniuk’s satire.”2 A reviewer in Publisher’s Weekly comments, “[. . .] read aloud, Pygmy’s peculiar speech patterns sound like bad beatnik poetry.”3 Unfortunately, these critics do not understand Palahniuk’s plan behind Pygmy’s problematic language.

As in most of his other novels, Palahniuk applies parody in Pygmy.4 The narrator, a thirteen-year-old Asian exchange-student who plans to carry out terrorism during a science fair, speaks in the stereotypical broken English associated with Asian speakers in American popular culture. Because of increased sensitivity to political correctness and cultural diversity, no mainstream media would dare risk accusations of discrimination or prejudice, not to mention jingoism or xenophobia, by portraying any Asian characters in this manner without making sure the parody is explicit.

In Pygmy, Palahniuk relies upon caricatures of Asian martial artists in 1970s karate films to address American cultural assimilation. In his typical transgressive style, Palahniuk demonstrates how Pygmy moves from being ostracized and in turn marginalized, implied clearly by his name, to privileged and heroic status that puts him in the center of his extremely conservative small-town American community. In my paper, I plan to explain how Palahniuk accomplishes this goal by applying the literary theories of Edward Said and Linda Hutcheon.

Palahniuk imitates the syntax of the language in the English-dubbed karate films, the best including the martial arts master Bruce Lee. This speech is characterized by inverted subject/verb arrangements, omitted articles and infinitives, and graphic adjectives and adverbs. An illustration of this is when Pygmy arrives: “Only one step with foot, operative me to defile security of degenerate American snake nest. Den of evil. Hive of corruption. Host family of operative me waiting, host arms elbow bent to flutter host fingers in attention of this agent. Host family shouting, arms above with wiggling finger. [. . .] Host mother present as blinking chicken, chin of face bony sharp as beak, chin tucking and swivel to turn never still [. . .] Looped around one bony claw, keys of automobile rattle and swinging” (2-3)5 Another example is a few pages later: “Location former alcohol products provided behind refrigerator glass, only distribute with aged identification, current now instrument of keyboard sounding random notes generated gas forced through bellows, control using hand and foot of venerate living skeleton. Same esteemed madam soon rotting corpse encounter at magic door Wal-Mart” (21-22). Immediately following is a karate scene parodying the Asian kung-fu film: “Hand of operative me begin compact fingers of worship leader, to grind, bones collapse, skin muscle press so wring of moisture, squeeze as fabric rag soaked in blood. Could be with pointed knee, sock-block, explode worship leader rib cage. Could be, crash head into reverend head, butt-bang, contusion brain. Instead, merely this agent say, ‘Meet repeat soon, please, licking viper of evil’” (22-23). Martial arts scenes are differentiated by hyphenated action verbs containing onomatopoeia in italics followed by references to particular moves, such as “zing-blam Leaping Hyena” (94) or “paw-raw, pounce Clawing Cougar” (223).

1Redekop, Corey. “Palahniuk Running On Empty With 10th Novel.” Winnipeg Free Press 17 May 2009: D7. Newspaper Source Plus. Web. 2 Sept. 2013.

2Cameron, Woodhead. “Pygmy.” The Age 4 July 2009: 26. Newspaper Source Plus. Web. 2 Sept. 2013.

3”Pygmy.” Publisher’s Weekly 2 Mar. 2009: 40-41. Literary Reference Center. Web. 2 Sept. 2013.

4Palahniuk has provided parody in other novels such as Snuff, Tell-All, Haunted, and Damned.

5Palahniuk, Chuck. Pygmy. New York: Anchor, 2009.

Brief Bio Note

Dr. David McCracken is a professor of English in the Department of Communication, Language, Literature, and Religion at Coker College in Hartsville, South Carolina. Dr. McCracken teaches American literature, contemporary fiction, and freshman composition classes.

Keywords

American literature, Contemporary fiction, Transgressive fiction

Location

Room 218

Presentation Year

2015

Start Date

3-27-2015 4:30 PM

End Date

3-27-2015 5:45 PM

Embargo

5-23-2017

This document is currently not available here.

Share

COinS
 
Mar 27th, 4:30 PM Mar 27th, 5:45 PM

Stereotyping 1970s Karate Film in Chuck Palahniuk’s Pygmy

Room 218

Most of the negative criticism concerning Chuck Palahniuk’s 2009 novel Pygmy focuses on language. Corey Redekop writes, “Presented as ongoing communiqués from Agent 67 to his masters, Pygmy is written in a pidgin-English dialect that is initially off-putting. [. . .] The concept is not entirely successful (why would Pygmy write reports in English rather than his native tongue?), but it can lead to some offbeat and memorable descriptions of western culture.”1 Woodhead Cameron states, “Pygmy’s voice is so robotic and sloppily imagined that it deadens and oversimplifies, as well as proving an annoying distraction from, Palahniuk’s satire.”2 A reviewer in Publisher’s Weekly comments, “[. . .] read aloud, Pygmy’s peculiar speech patterns sound like bad beatnik poetry.”3 Unfortunately, these critics do not understand Palahniuk’s plan behind Pygmy’s problematic language.

As in most of his other novels, Palahniuk applies parody in Pygmy.4 The narrator, a thirteen-year-old Asian exchange-student who plans to carry out terrorism during a science fair, speaks in the stereotypical broken English associated with Asian speakers in American popular culture. Because of increased sensitivity to political correctness and cultural diversity, no mainstream media would dare risk accusations of discrimination or prejudice, not to mention jingoism or xenophobia, by portraying any Asian characters in this manner without making sure the parody is explicit.

In Pygmy, Palahniuk relies upon caricatures of Asian martial artists in 1970s karate films to address American cultural assimilation. In his typical transgressive style, Palahniuk demonstrates how Pygmy moves from being ostracized and in turn marginalized, implied clearly by his name, to privileged and heroic status that puts him in the center of his extremely conservative small-town American community. In my paper, I plan to explain how Palahniuk accomplishes this goal by applying the literary theories of Edward Said and Linda Hutcheon.

Palahniuk imitates the syntax of the language in the English-dubbed karate films, the best including the martial arts master Bruce Lee. This speech is characterized by inverted subject/verb arrangements, omitted articles and infinitives, and graphic adjectives and adverbs. An illustration of this is when Pygmy arrives: “Only one step with foot, operative me to defile security of degenerate American snake nest. Den of evil. Hive of corruption. Host family of operative me waiting, host arms elbow bent to flutter host fingers in attention of this agent. Host family shouting, arms above with wiggling finger. [. . .] Host mother present as blinking chicken, chin of face bony sharp as beak, chin tucking and swivel to turn never still [. . .] Looped around one bony claw, keys of automobile rattle and swinging” (2-3)5 Another example is a few pages later: “Location former alcohol products provided behind refrigerator glass, only distribute with aged identification, current now instrument of keyboard sounding random notes generated gas forced through bellows, control using hand and foot of venerate living skeleton. Same esteemed madam soon rotting corpse encounter at magic door Wal-Mart” (21-22). Immediately following is a karate scene parodying the Asian kung-fu film: “Hand of operative me begin compact fingers of worship leader, to grind, bones collapse, skin muscle press so wring of moisture, squeeze as fabric rag soaked in blood. Could be with pointed knee, sock-block, explode worship leader rib cage. Could be, crash head into reverend head, butt-bang, contusion brain. Instead, merely this agent say, ‘Meet repeat soon, please, licking viper of evil’” (22-23). Martial arts scenes are differentiated by hyphenated action verbs containing onomatopoeia in italics followed by references to particular moves, such as “zing-blam Leaping Hyena” (94) or “paw-raw, pounce Clawing Cougar” (223).

1Redekop, Corey. “Palahniuk Running On Empty With 10th Novel.” Winnipeg Free Press 17 May 2009: D7. Newspaper Source Plus. Web. 2 Sept. 2013.

2Cameron, Woodhead. “Pygmy.” The Age 4 July 2009: 26. Newspaper Source Plus. Web. 2 Sept. 2013.

3”Pygmy.” Publisher’s Weekly 2 Mar. 2009: 40-41. Literary Reference Center. Web. 2 Sept. 2013.

4Palahniuk has provided parody in other novels such as Snuff, Tell-All, Haunted, and Damned.

5Palahniuk, Chuck. Pygmy. New York: Anchor, 2009.