Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Joseph Heller added a new phrase to our language, "Catch-22". You might remember when Heller's hero, Yossarian, is asked to fly on more dangerous World War Two bombing missions, the only way to get out of doing so is to plead insanity. But if you are insane, you wouldn't want to stop flying so you must be sane to want to stop, in which case you have to keep flying. That's Catch-22.
Or, in Heller's own words:
"There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's 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."
Of course, we've all read the book and watched the movie. I've just now picked up the sequel, "Closing Time", but you don't have to have read "Catch-22" to enjoy "Closing Time", which is a fully independent companion work, a comic masterpiece in its own right, in which Heller spears the inflated balloons of the American consciousness - the absurdity of their politics, the decline of their society and their great cities, the greed and hypocrisy of their business and culture - with the same ferocious humour that he used against the conventional view of warfare in "Catch-22".