Thursday, January 11, 2007

Catch 22

Not many books achieve the phenomenon of creating a phrase that goes on to enter the lexicon (Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four being unbecomingly greedy on this front). Fewer still achieve that with their title, but Catch 22 captures so many foibles of human nature so perfectly, that it’s no surprise really that the phrase Heller chose to represent the inescapable dilemma, should make it as a widely recognised idiom.
"There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle."
"That's some catch that catch 22," He observed.
"It's the best there is." Doc Daneeka agreed.
The book was ground-breaking book when published and is no doubt still considered dangerous and subversive in certain circles. After all if we start to pick at the veneer of the illusion of moral imperative in ‘wartime’, where does it lead?

Early in the book there is an exchange between Yossarian and Clevinger:
"They're trying to kill me," Yossarian told him calmly.
"No one's trying to kill you," Clevinger cried.
"Then why are they shooting at me?" Yossarian asked.
"They're shooting at everyone," Clevinger answered. "They're trying to kill everyone."
"And what difference does that make?"

Clevinger really thought he was right, but Yossarian had proof, because strangers he didn't know shot at him with cannons every time he flew up into the air to drops bombs on them, and it wasn't funny at all. And if that wasn't funny, there were lots of things that weren't even funnier."
I guess the last thing any war-effort needs is someone 'taking it personally' and observations like that are as poignant today as they were when the book was first published.

The book is a pleasure to read and unusually for me, it had me laughing out loud in places. The serious message of the book is put across in a non-preachy manner, with the lighter note of the start, gradually giving way to a darker tone, with the absurdities increasingly having serious consequences. Similarly, the use of a company of diverse archetypes gives Heller the perfect framework for exploring different extremes of human madness.

Out of the six of us at Book Group tonight, I'd summarise that four of us enjoyed it and two really struggled. Regular readers of this blog may be able to predict who one of those was. I think we're yet to have a book she actually reports having enjoyed, but to be fair she had at least obtained a copy of this one and read the first few chapters.

Even more positively from my point of view, my resolution to try and rise above the irritation I feel in her presence seems to be working. Still a way to go, but a positive buddha-like achievement already, let me tell you.

1 comment:

Caroline said...

and i for one am proud of you my love.