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Catch-22 by Joseph Heller – Yossarian Lives!

August 15, 2011
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

There was a time when reading Joseph Hellers classic satire on the murderous insanity of war was nothing less than a rite of passage. Echoes of Yossarian, the wise-ass bombardier who was too smart to die but not smart enough to find a way out of his predicament, could be heard throughout the counterculture. As a result, its impossible not to consider Catch-22 to be something of a period piece. But 40 years on, the novels undiminished strength is its looking-glass logic. Again and again, Hellers characters demonstrate that what is commonly held to be good, is bad; what is sensible, is nonsense.

Yossarian says, Youre talking about winning the war, and I am talking about winning the war and keeping alive.
Exactly, Clevinger snapped smugly. And which do you think is more important?
To whom? Yossarian shot back. It doesnt make a damn bit of difference who wins the war to someone whos dead.
I cant think of another attitude that could be depended upon to give greater comfort to the enemy.
The enemy, retorted Yossarian with weighted precision, is anybody whos going to get you killed, no matter which side hes on.
Mirabile dictu, the book holds up post-Reagan, post-Gulf War. Its a good thing, too. As long as theres a military, that engine of lethal authority, Catch-22 will shine as a handbook for smart-alecky pacifists. Its an utterly serious and sad, but damn funny book.

A Big Help For A Reading Assignment
Why did this 570-page book take me a month to read? Is it because I only read on the commute, is it because I often had work-related stuff to read on the commute, or is it because its a tricky book to read? Paragraph by paragraph, Catch 22 is probably the funniest book Ive ever read, some really hilarious bits. Its difficult to describe its hilarity, somehow, but the example below provides a pretty good description of its general wackiness. This is from a scene when the chaplain is being taken away by a colonel and a major and he asks What have I done?

Why dont you keep your trap shut and let us ask the questions? said the colonel.
Dont talk to him in that say, said the major. It isnt necessary to be so disrespectful.
Then tell him to keep his trap shut and let us ask the questions.
Father, please keep your trap shut and let us ask the quesiotions, urged the major sympathetically. It will be better for you.
It isnt necessary to call me Father, said the chaplain. Im not a Catholic.
Neither am I, Father, said the major. Its just that Im a very devout person, and I like to call all men of God Father.
He doesnt even believe there are atheists in fox-holes, the colonel mocked, and nudged the chaplain in the ribs familiarly. Go on, Chaplain, tell him. Are thre atheists in foxholes?
I dont know, sir, the chaplain replied. Ive never been in a foxhole.
The officer in front swung his had around swiftly with a quarrelsome expression. YOuve never been in heaven either, have you? But you knnow theres a heaven, dont you?
Or do you? said the colonel.
Thats a very serious crime youve committed, Father, said the major.
What crime?
We dont know yet, said the colonel. But were going to find out. And we sure know its very serious.

Taken as a whole, its a bit hard to figure out whats going on, although by the time you get to the end of the book you do start to realise that the reason why it doesnt make sense is that he tells some parts of the story backwards: youll learn an outcome that puzzles you because it came from out of nowhere, but throughout the rest of the book its referenced often enough that you begin to piece together what actually happened. Hellers thesis is fascinating, if a little adolescent: everything and everybody is insane, especially during war. But because he takes it to such an extent – youd have to be crazy to want to fight, youd have to be crazy to want to kill, youd have to be crazy to fly air force missions, you can only get out of the war if youre mentally unstable but if you were rational enough to want to get out of the war you could not claim insanity; also systems are insane, bureaucracy is insane, commerce is insane, the military system is insane – it provides him with so much material that he has no problem filling a whole book about the insanity of a single army unit. In the end, it seems that I enjoyed the book in spite of myself. Now I want to see the movie.

For More 5 Star Reviews and The Lowest Price Visit:
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller


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