Fight club where knowledge packs the punch

12th November 2010 at 00:00

The first rule of Write Club is: you don't talk about Write Club. Write Club happens after classes on Wednesday afternoons at the state school I teach at in London. At recent meetings, discussion subjects have included the merits of Johnny Cash records, the concept of collective guilt in Camus's The Stranger, and the reasons that religious icons look "spaced out, Miss" in biblical paintings (it's divine fervour, I explained, not drugs).

Some students lie on the floor, some ask questions; all listen, and all are there out of choice. I have been running Write Club for a little over a year now. It's something different every week. Building on the club, we held a special day last Friday where we took pupils out of lessons so they could work with a group of authors, journalists and a comedian. Others, some disconcertingly famous, have pledged their support at future events.

But a more typical session will involve 41 kids voluntarily spending an hour discussing the reason why Shakespeare's comedies aren't funny.

Some people have likened the club to Dead Poets Society, but I have always hated that film, so I much prefer to think of it as being in the spirit of the one I semi-stole the name from: Fight Club.

I should qualify this. In Dead Poets Society, a group of high society boys grapple with the horrible fate of being too damn rich and cared for, and having mean parents who cruelly demand results from an expensive education and expect them to, like, go to college and get a job once school is done rather than appearing in lame interpretations of A Midsummer Night's Dream (bastards!).

Robin Williams then lurches into shot and teaches the kids the revolutionary concepts of poetry and they all become cool. One gets laid. One takes up smoking and drinking. And one kills himself. And all because of poetry. Or, less succinctly, the idea that the language and spirit of poets furnishes young readers with the language and spirit to fight the power. Or at least the trust fund.

Fight Club, on the other hand, says little meaningful about poetry and reading, but it does make the far wiser point that if you really want to rebel against the system, you have to own the system.

This was always, in a small way, the point of Write Club. It is a secret - or, now, "secret" - members-only club, dedicated to the proposition that the world is awash with mind-boggling riches waiting to be discovered by those willing to explore. It's about finding things you like and you don't like and being able to say why.

The message of Fight Club - and, I hope, of Write Club - is not that knowledge is revolt, but that knowledge is power. The doom-mongers who suggest that future generations are illiterate oafs might be pleasantly surprised by the massive thirst for intellectual stimulation and challenge evident in the club's meetings.

And that really is rebellious and heartwarming. And possibly even worth standing on a desk for. Though if I ever do, I hope someone shoots me, or at least makes me watch Robin Williams's back catalogue.

Chloe Combi teaches at a comprehensive in London.

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