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In Fight Club, Tyler Durden seems to know all kinds of facts and information. Tyler is especially knowledgeable in the making of homemade explosives and soap.

The narrator tells us that Tyler is full of "useful information" during a soap making session where Tyler shows him how to make soap:

TYLER: Once the tallow hardens, you skim off a layer of glycerin. Add nitric acid, you've got nitroglycerin. Then add sodium nitrate and sawdust, you've got dynamite. Yeah, with enough soap, one could blow up just about anything.

NARRATOR: Tyler was full of useful information.

The narrator always seems to be interested and amazed at all of these facts that Tyler knows.

Is it ever explained how Tyler knew all of the "useful information" that he did?

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    I kind of assumed that it was from internet research during insomnia. – Erik Mar 31 '17 at 19:48
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    Books? nitroglycerin is 19th century technology. Soap is prehistoric. – Yorik Mar 31 '17 at 20:45
  • @Yorik Okay...sure. I don't know how to make either of those things, though. Just because they have been around forever doesn't mean that everyone knows how to make them. – steelersquirrel Apr 1 '17 at 1:40
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    @user22792 Very true, although Tyler makes soap, and it would make sense that in order to to provide the best quality soap he would need to research the process as much as he could. It's probable that he came across the connection as part of his day job. – Longshanks Apr 1 '17 at 11:26
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    @Longshanks Thank you for a comment that makes sense :) – steelersquirrel Apr 1 '17 at 13:03
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+100

The Narrator was never cured of his insomnia.

In fact it would seem that going to the support-group meetings served to bring out Tyler Durden as the secondary, and maybe even dominant personality from that point onward. In effect it allowed the Tyler Durden personality free reign every night and sometimes even longer.

Often when Tyler Durden fights or is otherwise engaged, The Narrator is watching on the sidelines which means that Tyler Durden could have operated freely even during the day as The Narrator took the role of the passive observer.

It would have been during these episodes that Tyler Durden stole a Ferrari from the airport, found the abandoned paper mill, conceived Fight Club and laid the groundwork for Project Mayhem, in effect, learning how to make explosives from household items and recruiting an army of disillusioned and susceptible individuals

Throughout the movie there are subliminal messages suggesting the situations where the Tyler personality comes out for an instant, and possibly strengthening the delusion of The Narrator:

Here's a flash of Tyler Durden at the moment the physician suggest a testicular cancer support group if he wants to see real pain:

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And once again during the very first support-group meeting, which as previously stated, is what I believe allowed the Durden personality free reign.

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And here he flashes again at the very instant The Narrator is nodding out infront of the copier:

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Bottom line, the Tyler Durden personality had ample time to learn the appropriate skills and setup Project Mayhem. Not only while The Narrator slept but also during the day and this became even easier when the foot-soldiers moved in and were ordered never to discuss Project Mayhem.

  • Great answer! Thank you! I was getting worried when I started getting unnecessarily snarky comments on this question that I wouldn't get a great answer, but I was excited to get such a nice answer :) – steelersquirrel Apr 4 '17 at 13:58
  • Don't sell yourself short. Your question has received 9 upvotes. This is considered quite the success. I'm happy you enjoyed my answer :) – Dannie Apr 4 '17 at 14:01
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Is it ever explained how Tyler knew all of the "useful information" that he did?

Short answer: there is nothing in the movie which explicitly explains or demonstrates how Tyler Durden is so informed. Presumably it is because the Narrator (Jack), given his insomnia, has a lot of time on his hands to research these things. Little is shown to indicate that Jack would even be aware of anything related to Tyler's knowledge other than soap and human fat which are only mentioned in passing. Both are things he deals with in his job as a recall coordinator: the soap as a traveller staying in hotels, and the human fat is encountered during an insurance claim for a car wreck (the "recall formula" scene).

The narrator always seems to be interested and amazed at all of these facts that Tyler knows.

Long answer: in the opening of the film, the following dialogue occurs which really spells out how Tyler Durden's knowledge and Jack's fascination by it functions in the film:

Narrator: I know this because Tyler knows this.

Tyler: (Looking at the timer on his belt) Two and a half. Think of everything we've accomplished.

Narrator: Suddenly I realize that all of this, the guns, the bomb, the revolution, has got something to do with a girl named Marla Singer.

The "something" is that all things "Tyler" all get back to Jack's inability to relate to and maintain an emotionally intimate relationship with a woman. In particular, a woman with whom he has a lot in common. Why does Jack need to construct an alter-ego which can research "off-limits" topics? Is this a defense mechanism to keep himself safe in a perennially adolescent fantasy world (instead of pursuing a potentially disappointing yet mature romantic relationship?) Yes.

Jack's inability also fits in with his existential angst, ennui, and loneliness in a capitalist and consumer-driven culture from which he feels disconnected (dissociated) and in which he feels trapped. Given his disconnection from the world, he cannot make sense of the things which he is fascinated by and Tyler becomes a convenient fiction for him to explore the world outside of the constraints of his job and the imperatives of consumption and capitalist profit. In this sense, Marla is symbolic of Jack's general disconnection from his own humanity as well as his feelings of adult inadequacy, e.g. the hardships of delayed individuation in a society without rituals for establishing and confirming member status as a valued adult. Note that he says "a girl named..." and not "a woman". The naming of things is also an issue: who does the naming (other people? Corporations?)? It is worth noting that the Narrator's name "Jack" is never explicitly used.

"I know this because Tyler knows this" is a feature of Jack's dissociative identity disorder while the two dialogue. In the opening scene, which is at the end of the movie's timeline, however, Jack has begun to figure out what is going on, so he is also realizing that he is Tyler and thus, whatever Tyler knows, he knows.

Tyler's comment, "Two and a half" while actually referring to the time left before the bombs go off is also an allusion which can be read as the 2.5 characters comprising the relationship between (1) Jack, (2) Marla and Tyler (the 1/2 character). "Everything we've accomplished" is also Tyler telling Jack, "you've accomplished your goal of starting a relationship", i.e. it's time for me to go if you want to find your place in the world and have a chance at making this relationship with Marla succeed. A few moments earlier Jack says:

Narrator: That old saying, how you always hurt the one you love? Well, it works both ways.

"All of this ... has got something to do with a girl named Marla Singer." Jack hurts Marla. Marla hurts Jack. How to break this co-dependent cycle and relate as two mature adults? Likewise, society hurts Jack. Fight Club and the bombing are Jack's way of hurting society. Not such an easy cycle to break, but possibly one ameliorated by maturely accepting yourself as an adult and making peace with your lot in life? Finding a mate can go a long way towards making and maintaining this peace. Conversely, making peace with your life can help a lot to grow a secure and sustainable relationship. "It works both ways."


Narrator: For six months, I couldn't sleep.

...and, without sleeping, he's has a lot of time on his hands. Presumably, he's been researching things which are outside the purview of his corporate and consumer lifestyle. Having this knowledge compartmentalized in the Tyler Durden persona simply helps him to rationalize self-destructive decisions (such as ignoring his doctors advice to lighten up and get a good night's sleep.) Remember, he does get a good night's sleep after an emotional release into Bob's "bitch tits". Instead of seeing he needs a woman in his life and rising to the challenge of improving himself in order to obtain a healthy relationship, Jack rationalizes that he can maintain his status quo of insomnia and "recovery addiction."

What caused his insomnia? The movie shows a Starbuck's coffee cup as he mentions this and we here "couldn't sleep" echo repeatedly. Also, he travels frequently, presumably crossing time zones and suffering jet lag. As Jack's doctor informs him, however, there is nothing "wrong" with him which would be causing insomnia. Given his inability (and/or desire) not to follow his doctor's recommendation to "lighten up" his condition worsens resulting in his dissociative identity disorder. It is worth noting that the condition is a neurosis (and not a psychosis) as he is able to sleep after his emotional release at the support group for survivor's of testicular cancer. While his condition might not be caused by a physical disorder, the "Starbuck's world" which the movie portrays arguably also has something "wrong" with it:

Narrator: When deep space exploration ramps up, it will be the corporations that name everything: the IBM Stellarshpere; the Microsoft Galaxy; Planet Starbucks.

Did something happen six months ago? We don't know. We do see here that Jack suffers from anxiety at the thought of a world where corporations (and their profit motives) "name" everything (instead of humans, like parents naming a child or lover's naming their relationship a marriage). Presumably, however, Jack's mental disorder arises in this six month time period and is exacerbated by being stuck on "Planet Starbucks". The things Tyler reveals to Jack about the world also function as commentary upon the "wrongness" of the "Planet Starbuck's", e.g. that the best (!) soaps can be made from liposuction fats (i.e. the irony of clean and healthy skin recycling the waste of a pursuit of superficial "perfections" only to sell those same undesirable fats back to the beauticians); or, that things as ubiquitous as gasoline and frozen orange juice concentrate can make napalm; or, that it feels "good" to get in a bloody bare knuckle fight; or, that the many ways those in the service industries can exact their revenge, etc.

We can presume that his alter-ego has had plenty of time to research trivia prior to revealing himself to Jack on the airplane. While this "research" might be irrelevant to Jack's work-a-day lifestyle, Tyler is free to explore and obsess over whatever fascinations Jack might otherwise suppress while trapped on "Planet Starbucks". Given the early scene where he describes his own consumerist obsessions (the Ikea furniture in his apartment and "artisanal" foods), obviously he is a tenacious devourer of information.

Narrator: If you wake up in a different time and a different place, could you wake up as a different person?

On one level, that Tyler knows all these things about soap and bomb making which Jack doesn't simply functions to demonstrate what a different person Tyler is. From the outset, the movie encourages us to imagine that Tyler is an actual person and not an alter-ego.

As for the stuff he's so knowledgeable about, only the fat and the soap have any real set-up. Shortly after Tyler passes Jack on the airport walkway, Jack's monologue mentions the "single-serving" shampoo/conditioner combos and tiny soaps available to business traveller's, but that is about it. Shortly after, Jack's work associate mentions the "fat burned to the polyester seat" in a car accident.

Insurance Investigator: The father must have been huge. You see where the fat's burned to the seat? The polyester shirt? Very, "modern art."

As these things get repeated, all of this adds up to setting up the viewer so that they do not question the associations and suspend any disbelief until Tyler's character can be revealed. Given that such things are a part of Jack's work-a-day world, it makes sense that they are there as fodder for Tyler's mischievous investigation. Prior to their meeting on the plane (about 22 minutes into the film) there is nothing else which sets up homemade explosives or other specific aspects of Project Mayhem (other than their function as metaphor for Jack's self-destructive predicament.)

In the film's resolve, Jack is with Marla, presumably having rid himself of the need for an alter-ego replete with all sorts of trivia and plans of conspiratorial mayhem, and, otherwise ready for a mature, adult relationship.

  • 1
    Maybe you should cut back your answer to focus on the question, there's too much side information about the relationship between Jack and Marla. – Luciano Apr 5 '17 at 12:11
  • @Luciano Thanks for the input. See my edits, I think they help explain the connection between Marla (as character & metaphor) and Jack's fascination by & need for Tyler's (his own, compartmentalized) knowledge. – Mr. Kennedy Apr 5 '17 at 12:54
  • I get that. It's just that it's a really, really long answer and OP asks for so much less... and it has a lot of assumptions and hypothesis instead of hard facts from the movie / scripts / directors quotes / etc. – Luciano Apr 5 '17 at 13:08
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How do you know that? You heard it in a movie. And Jack Is seen reading various magazines and watching tv when insomniac. He, the Tyler, learned it and later used to create another personality with strange knowledge

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