The Narrator goes to the Regent Hotel to see Marla after she calls him. She has found a lump in her breast and needs someone to look at it. She is willing to forgive the collagen incident if the Narrator will do this for her.
Marla lies on her bed and the Narrator examines her. While he does this he relates a story of how he once had a genital wart removed when he was in college. The doctors used liquid nitrogen to remove it. They noticed a splotch on his right foot, which they thought was similar to the marks of a new cancer that was afflicted gay men. He tells them it is just a birthmark, much to their disappointment. Still, whenever his foot is exposed, such as when he is at the beach, he covers the birthmark. He doesn't want people to think he might be dying of cancer. He tells Marla amusing stories about his grandparents and their relationship. He says he wants to try to get her to laugh and cheer her up. He decides not to tell her about the last time he spoke to Chloe and how she looked at the time.
The Narrator gives us background information on Marla. After finding the first lump, she went to a clinic. The depressing atmosphere at the clinic convinced her she no longer wanted to know about the lump. After finding a second lump, she began attending the support groups. The Narrator explains that Marla is destitute and has no health insurance. After deciding that she didn’t want to know if she was going to die, she began working at a funeral home. She began going to the support groups to be around "other human butt wipe." It helped to see other people with much larger problems than hers. Some of these people that she met died. Marla tells the Narrator that she would get phone calls from dead people. The phone would ring and no one would be on the other end.
A detective from the arson unit at the police department calls the house to ask about the condominium explosion. The detective suspects that the explosives used were homemade. While the detective speaks to the Narrator, Tyler stands next to him, whispering his philosophy into the Narrator’s ear. The detective asks questions that suggest that the police suspect the Narrator of destroying his own condominium. The detective tells him not to leave town.
Tyler and the Narrator begin blackmailing their bosses to keep paying them under the threat of making their antics as a projectionist and banquet waiters public. Tyler goes to the projectionist union and the Narrator confronts the manager of the Pressman Hotel. Both men confess what they’ve been doing and both stress that they have nothing to lose. The union president beats Tyler up when he hears what Tyler has been splicing pornography into films. The Narrator beats himself to a pulp in front of the manager of the Pressman Hotel. They both threaten to go public if they do not continue to receive regular paychecks. As the Narrator is covered in blood and pleading with the manager to give in to his demands, the security guards he called enter to see their boss standing over a beaten man.
The Narrator discusses acts of vandalism that have been occurring around the city and are being reported in the news. He wonders if they are part of Project Mayhem. The Narrator explains that Project Mayhem has committees that met on different nights of the week. They are: Arson, Assault, Mischief, Misinformation, Organized Chaos, and the Bureaucracy of Anarchy.
Tyler instructs members of Project Mayhem to recruit a new member by starting a fight with a complete stranger and losing that fight. He begins taking proposals from members for more of these “homework assignments.” He places all the proposals in a hat and draws one anonymously. If a member is arrested or laughs during the assignment, they are removed from the committee.
The rules of Project Mayhem are :
1. You don’t ask questions.
2. You don’t ask questions.
3. No excuses.
4. No lies.
5. Trust Tyler.
The Narrator is at fight club one night where he is fighting a handsome young man he nicknamed Angel Face. He knocks this man to the ground and begins to viciously pound his face, destroying it. Afterwards, he says he doesn’t feel better or relaxed. He might need something bigger to achieve the same effect. The next day Tyler invents Project Mayhem.
Project Mayhem is designed to reset the clock for civilization, to downsize humanity enough that the planet can recover. Tyler tells everyone they will get a gun without bullets but will have to kill someone.
The Narrator’s physical examination of Marla is one of the most tender moments in the novel. In it, he exposes his feelings of concern and empathy toward her. He goes to her hotel room despite knowing that he and Tyler were avoiding her altogether. He wants to be forgiven for the collagen incident. The scene is one of intimacy and though it has obvious erotic undertones too, Palahniuk instead emphasizes a camaraderie and understanding between Marla and the Narrator. The Narrator wishes to comfort Marla, to make her laugh and forget her troubles. He tells her a story of his own past, an embarrassing story at that, about a wart that was found on his penis and the ordeal he went through to have it removed, in which the doctors briefly thought he was exhibiting symptoms of Karposi's sarcoma, a cancer associated with early diagnoses of AIDS in the 1980s. It is the only point in the novel in which we learn something deeply personal about the Narrator. That the Narrator shares this information with Marla and not Tyler is also important to consider. The intimacy he has been seeking is something he actually finds with her and we get the sense that he is actually happy in this passage.
As we learn more about Marla, we can see that she is extremely unhappy and possibly disturbed. She seems to develop a preoccupation with death after finding her second lump, and takes a job at a funeral home. She claims she gets phone calls from dead people. Although Marla’s state of mind can be called into question, her impulses are not illogical. She is also capable of empathy and compassion. She clearly cares for the Narrator and he cares for her too. Her dark outlook doesn’t preclude the possibility of any positivity in her worldview.
When Tyler is faced with being "downsized" he turns to blackmail to guarantee a continued paycheck. The Narrator does the same. Both men suffer getting beat up, Tyler at the hands of the union manager, the Narrator at his own hands to frame the manager of the Pressman Hotel. Palahniuk again visits the class frustration that was inherit in the jobs they held. Tyler tells the union manager that he can beat him up but he can't kill him. "You have too much to lose. I have nothing. You have everything", he says. The service class has nothing to lose except their chance at a better life.
That the Narrator inflicts this abuse against himself is also of importance. By beating himself up the Narrator is able to not only shift the power balance between employee and employer but actually reverses it. When the guards come in to see the manager standing over the Narrator, this shift is complete. If the Narrator were to press charges against the manager no one would believe the manager's assertion that the Narrator did all this damage to himself. The Narrator's actions demonstrate the extremity of his will and also signal to the manager that there is nothing he can threaten the Narrator with. This man will harm himself. Threatening him is useless.
Some scholars also see this act of self-abuse as an an attempt by the Narrator to exact control over himself, to impose his own absent father figure upon himself. Because the Narrator exhibits this behavior specifically before an authority figure, a boss in this case, he demonstrates his desire to be his own boss. This demonstration simultaneously displays his control or desire for control over himself as well as his unwillingness to be controlled by an external social construct. Tyler's manifestation as a father figure can be seen as the Narrator's desire to create an authority figure to mentor him and impose a kind of order over him. It is also important to note that this is the only episode in which the Narrator consciously beats himself up, despite the fact that all of his altercations with Tyler are also, in fact, instances of the Narrator beating himself up.
As previous chapters have foreshadowed, an escalation in Tyler’s philosophy was inevitable. The formation of Project Mayhem seeks to move fight club out of isolated basements and parking lots and into greater society. Tyler begins assigning homework assignments to expand Project Mayhem. By challenging a stranger on the street to a fight, Tyler is hoping to empower these total strangers, and to also make them followers of his ideology. If they can feel like they can win a fight they can feel like they can assert some control over their lives. If that happens they will be more likely to join fight club.
Fight club evolves to become a kind of indoctrination club where, with time and effort, members can graduate to the higher echelons of Project Mayhem. Where there was once equality, now Tyler has become the unquestionable focus. The rules of Project Mayhem make this apparent. Fight club allowed the men to independently search for something in themselves and to better know themselves. Project Mayhem casts them in a context that is solely for Tyler’s purposes. In this regard, the organization takes on cult-like qualities, with Tyler as its messianic leader.
Consider also that Tyler creates Project Mayhem the morning after the Narrator viciously beats Angel Face. The Narrator complains of needing something more and expresses frustration over having to recycle his soup cans and account for every drop of oil in order to save the planet. The world in its current state isn't worth saving in his mind. Tyler describes his vision of a new world that returns to a pre-agrarian way of life as his prescription for saving the planet. Tyler sees civilization itself as the culprit, the thing that must be cleansed away. He does not describe how this will be achieved but instead institutes new rules for Project Mayhem, appointing himself its chief and sole architect. To participate in it requires nothing less than total faith and obedience in him. Contrast this ideology with the rules of fight club.
The Narrator makes several references to the phrase "I know this because Tyler knows this." He states that he and Tyler look like identical twins more and more because of their beaten up appearance. Both statements foreshadow the revelation of the true relationship between Tyler and the Narrator.