Catch 22 #
Joseph Heller, like many educated Americans served in the Second World War. His novel, like Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, attempts to show the utter senselessness of war. In some ways it owes its heritage to The Iliad.
It is an absurdist novel that refuses to adhere to traditional rules. The time sequence is random, chaotic, circular and therefore confusing.
For a war novel, it begins with Yossarian’s declaration: “It was love at first sight!”
The object of his love is an Anabaptist chaplain. Anabaptists are pacifists who refuse to participate in war.
Colonel Sheiskopf loves parades and practicing for them.
“For Imperial rulers, as well as despots, war is about romance, gallantry and glory. They like nothing more than a carefully pressed uniform, a parade ground and a razor-sharp fighting line. Hitler and other tyrants love the goose step. Thousands of soldiers, in perfect alignment, followed by mechanised artillery and missiles are designed to impress, covering up the real brutal ugliness and chaos of the fog of war.
At most, British soldiers spent two months of the year actually training to fight. The other ten were devoted to parading, attending to their uniforms and waiting on their officers, for whom they were expected to serve as cook, valet, porter and gardener. ‘The actual conditions of warfare were studiously disregarded,’ Amery wrote. ‘Nowhere was there any definite preparation for war, nowhere any dear conception that war was the one end and object for which armies exist. In their place reigned a … hazy confidence that British good fortune and British courage would always come successfully out of any war that the inscrutable mysteries of foreign policy might bring about.' Hero of the Empire: The Making of Winston Churchill - Candice Millard
Catch 22 #
A dilemma or difficult circumstance from which there is no escape because of mutually conflicting or dependent conditions. Ex::
“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.
“That’s some catch, that Catch-22," he observed.
“It’s the best there is,” Doc Daneeka agreed.” “…[A]nything worth dying for … is certainly worth living for.”
‘Catch-22,' Doc Daneeka answered patiently, when Hungry Joe had flown Yossarian back to Pianosa, ‘says you’ve always got to do what your commanding officer tells you to.'
In today’s world:
“How am I supposed to gain experience [to find a good job] if I’m constantly turned down for not having any?"
Déjà vu #
Émile Boirac was a 19th-century psychic researcher and parapsychologist with an interest in clairvoyance typical of the Victorian era. He describes his experience of arriving in a new city but feeling as though he had visited it before. Boirac coined the phrase déjà vu. He suggested that it was caused by a sort of mental echo or ripple: that his new experience simply recalled a memory that had previously been forgotten.
In Catch-22, Joseph Heller described déjà vu as “a weird, occult sensation of having experienced the identical situation before in some prior time or existence”.
Just as déjà vu is a borrowed French term meaning ‘already seen’, jamais vu means ‘never seen’. It refers to a moment where you fail to recognise a person, place, situation or word that you know is familiar. Déjà vu is so extreme it’s hard to tell what’s real any more Related terms include: déjà vécu (already lived) déjà visité, or ‘already visited’. Freud attributed them to possible repressed fantasies.
Employing absurdist logic, wildly comedic, yet fiercely serious, disengages our emotions, in an attempt to make us think.
“He was going to live forever, or die in the attempt.”
“Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.”
“Some men are born mediocre, some men achieve mediocrity, and some men have mediocrity thrust upon them.”
“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?”
“The enemy is anybody who’s going to get you killed, no matter which side he is on.”
“He (Clevenger)knew everything there was to know about literature, except how to enjoy it”
“[They] agreed that it was neither possible nor necessary to educate people who never questioned anything.”
“It doesn’t make a damned bit of difference who wins the war to someone who’s dead.”
“Insanity is contagious.”
“What is a country? A country is a piece of land surrounded on all sides by boundaries, usually unnatural. Englishmen are dying for England, Americans are dying for America, Germans are dying for Germany, Russians are dying for Russia. There are now fifty or sixty countries fighting in this war. Surely so many countries can’t all be worth dying for.”
“It was miraculous. It was almost no trick at all, he saw, to turn vice into virtue and slander into truth, impotence into abstinence, arrogance into humility, plunder into philanthropy, thievery into honor, blasphemy into wisdom, brutality into patriotism, and sadism into justice. Anybody could do it; it required no brains at all. It merely required no character.”
You know, that might be the answer – to act boastfully about something we ought to be ashamed of. That’s a trick that never seems to fail.
Power, to some, is measured and exercised through the evasion of accountability. As Tacitus stated: “crime, once exposed, has no refuge but in audacity”
Though Lord Acton had papal infallibility and the absolute powers of monarchs in mind when writing to Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887, his warnings apply to all people invested with great power:
….Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely…… There is no worse heresy than the fact that the office sanctifies the holder of it.”
Richard Flanagan claims the inescapable lesson of history is that power given up will be abused and is extremely difficult to regain. War takes away power, especially from soldiers who are expected “Not to question why, but to do and die”. Yossarian puts up an spirited and heroic resistance to the deprivations of war – especially soldiers’ inherent freedom.
“What a lousy earth! He wondered how many people were destitute that same night even in his own prosperous country, how many homes were shanties, how many husbands were drunk and wives socked, and how many children were bullied, abused, or abandoned. How many families hungered for food they could not afford to buy? How many hearts were broken? How many suicides would take place that same night, how many people would go insane? How many cockroaches and landlords would triumph? How many winners were losers, successes failures, and rich men poor men? How many wise guys were stupid? How many happy endings were unhappy endings? How many honest men were liars, brave men cowards, loyal men traitors, how many sainted men were corrupt, how many people in positions of trust had sold their souls to bodyguards, how many had never had souls? How many straight-and-narrow paths were crooked paths? How many best families were worst families and how many good people were bad people? When you added them all up and then subtracted, you might be left with only the children, and perhaps with Albert Einstein and an old violinist or sculptor somewhere.”
*“Why are they going to disappear him?’
I don’t know.’
It doesn’t make sense. It isn’t even good grammar.”
“The country was in peril; he was jeopardizing his traditional rights of freedom and independence by daring to exercise them.”
“The Texan turned out to be good-natured, generous and likable. In three days no one could stand him.”
“You have a morbid aversion to dying. You probably resent the fact that you’re at war and might get your head blown off any second.”
“I more than resent it, sir. I’m absolutely incensed.”
“You have deep-seated survival anxieties. And you don’t like bigots, bullies, snobs, or hypocrites. Subconsciously there are many people you hate.”
“Consciously, sir, consciously,” Yossarian corrected in an effort to help. “I hate them consciously.”
“You’re antagonistic to the idea of being robbed, exploited, degraded, humiliated, or deceived. Misery depresses you. Ignorance depresses you. Persecution depresses you. Violence depresses you. Corruption depresses you. You know, it wouldn’t surprise me if you’re a manic-depressive!”
“Yes, sir. Perhaps I am.”
“Don’t try to deny it.”
“I’m not denying it, sir,” said Yossarian, pleased with the miraculous rapport that finally existed between them. “I agree with all you’ve said.”
“Be glad you’re even alive.’
Be furious you’re going to die.”
Major Major had been born too late and too mediocre. Some men are born mediocre, some men achieve mediocrity, and some men have mediocrity thrust upon them. With Major Major it had been all three. Even among men lacking all distinction he inevitably stood out as a man lacking more distinction than all the rest, and people who met him were always impressed by how unimpressive he was. …………
“From now on I’m thinking only of me.”
Major Danby replied indulgently with a superior smile: “But, Yossarian, suppose everyone felt that way."
“Then,” said Yossarian, “I’d certainly be a damned fool to feel any other way, wouldn’t I?” “I want to keep my dreams, even bad ones, because without them, I might have nothing all night long.”
“Do you know how long a year takes when it’s going away?' Dunbar repeated to Clevinger. ‘This long.’ He snapped his fingers. ‘A second ago you were stepping into college with your lungs full of fresh air. Today you’re an old man.’
‘Old?' asked Clevinger with surprise. ‘What are you talking about?’
‘I’m not old.'
‘You’re inches away from death every time you go on a mission. How much older can you be at your age? A half minute before that you were stepping into high school, and an unhooked brassiere was as close as you ever hoped to get to Paradise. Only a fifth of a second before that you were a small kid with a ten-week summer vacation that lasted a hundred thousand years and still ended too soon. Zip! They go rocketing by so fast. How the hell else are you ever going to slow down?’ Dunbar was almost angry when he finished.
‘Well, maybe it is true,' Clevinger conceded unwillingly in a subdued tone. ‘Maybe a long life does have to be filled with many unpleasant conditions if it’s to seem long. But in that event, who wants one?'
‘I do,’ Dunbar told him.
‘Why?’ Clevinger asked.
‘What else is there?”
“There is no disappointment so numbing…as someone no better than you achieving more.”
“When I look up, I see people cashing in. I don’t see heaven or saints or angels. I see people cashing in on every decent impulse and every human tragedy.”
“Well, he died. You don’t get any older than that.”
“mankind is resilient: the atrocities that horrified us a week ago become acceptable tomorrow.”
“There’s nothing mysterious about it, He’s not working at all. He’s playing. Or else He’s forgotten all about us. That’s the kind of God you people talk about, a country bumpkin, a clumsy, bungling, brainless, conceited, uncouth hayseed. Good God, how much reverence can you have for a Supreme Being who finds it necessary to include such phenomena as phlegm and tooth decay in His divine system of Creation? What in the world was running through that warped, evil, scatological mind of His when He robbed old people of the power to control their bowel movements? Why in the world did He ever create pain?”
He was a self-made man who owed his lack of success to nobody.
You have deep-seated survival anxieties. And you don’t like bigots, bullies, snobs or hypocrites. Subconsciously there are many people you hate."
“Consciously, sir, consciously,” Yossarian corrected in an effort to help. “I hate them consciously.
Morale was deteriorating and it was all Yossarian’s fault. The country was in peril; he was jeopardizing his traditional rights of freedom and independence by daring to exercise them. Destiny is a good thing to accept when it’s going your way. When it isn’t, don’t call it destiny; call it injustice, treachery, or simple bad luck.
He was never without misery, and never without hope.
Where were you born?"
“On a battlefield," [Yossarian] answered.
“No, no. In what state were you born?”
“In a state of innocence.
There was no telling what people might find out once they felt free to ask whatever questions they wanted to.
He had decided to live forever or die in the attempt.
Prostitution gives her an opportunity to meet people. It provides fresh air and wholesome exercise, and it keeps her out of trouble.
Let’s take a drive into the middle of nowhere with a packet of Marlboro lights and talk about our lives.
What would they do to me,” he asked in confidential tones, “if I refused to fly them?”
We’d probably shoot you," ex-P.F.C. Wintergreen replied.
We?" Yossarian cried in surprise. “What do you mean, we? Since when are you on their side?"
If you’re going to be shot, whose side do you expect me to be on?" ex-P.F.C. Wintergreen retorted
Who’s they?" He wanted to know. “Who, specifically, do you think is trying to murder you?”
“Every one of them,” Yossarian told him.
“Every one of whom?”
“Every one of whom do you think?”
“I haven’t any idea.”
“Then how do you know they aren’t?”
“Because…” Clevinger sputtered, and turned speechless with frustration.
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 drop bombs on them, and it wasn’t funny at all.
Catch-22 did not exist, he was positive of that, but it made no difference. What did matter was that everyone thought it existed, and that was much worse, for there was no object or text to ridicule or refute, to accuse, criticize, attack, amend, hate, revile, spit at, rip to shreds, trample upon or burn up.
And anything worth dying for,’ answered the sacrilegious old man, ‘is certainly worth living for. Sure, that’s what I mean,’ Doc Daneeka said. ‘A little grease is what makes this world go round. One hand washes the other. Know what I mean? You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.’
Yossarian knew what he meant.
That’s not what I meant,’ Doc Daneeka said, as Yossarian began scratching his back. -You have no respect for excessive authority or obsolete traditions. You’re dangerous and depraved, and you ought to be taken outside and shot! ……….. To Yossarian, the idea of pennants as prizes was absurd. No money went with them, no class privileges. Like Olympic medals and tennis trophies, all they signified was that the owner had done something of no benefit to anyone more capably than everyone else.* …………. Clevinger had a mind, and Lieutenant Scheisskoph had noticed that people with minds tended to get pretty smart at times. ……… Whatever his elders told him to do, he did. They told him to look before he leaped, and he always looked before he leaped. They told him never to put off until the next day what he could do the day before, and he never did. He was told to honor his father and his mother, and he honored his father and his mother. He was told that he should not kill, and he did not kill, until he got into the Army. Then he was told to kill, and he killed. He turned the other cheek on every occasion and always did unto others exactly as he would have had others do unto him. When he gave to charity, his left hand never knew what his right hand was doing. He never once took the name of the Lord his God in vain, committed adultery or coveted his neighbor’s ass. In fact, he loved his neighbor and never even bore false witness against him. Major Major’s elders disliked him because he was such a flagrant nonconformist.
When I grow up I want to be a little boy.
I’m not running away from my responsibilities. I’m running to them. There’s nothing negative about running away to save my life.
Actually there were many officers’ clubs that Yossarian had not helped build, but he was proudest of the one on Pianosa. It was a sturdy and complex monument to his powers of determination. Yossarian never went there to help until it was finished; then he went there often, so pleased was he with the large, fine, rambling shingled building. It was a truly splendid building, and Yossarian throbbed with a mighty sense of accomplishment each time he gazed at it and reflected that none of the work that had gone into it was his.
When people disagreed with him he urged them to be objective.
History did not demand Yossarian’s premature demise, justice could be satisfied without it, progress did not hinge upon it, victory did not depend on it. That men would die was a matter of necessity; WHICH men would die, though, was a matter of circumstance, and Yossarian was willing to be the victim of anything but circumstance. But that was war. Just about all he could find in its favor was that it paid well and liberated children from the pernicious influence of their parents.
I am miracle ingredient Z-247. I’m immense. I’m a real, slam-bang, honest-to-goodness, three-fisted humdinger. I’m a bona fide supraman.
Themes The Army is one of the most heirarchical institutions in the world. New recruits soon lose their individuality and become part of a machine. “Yours is not to question why, but to do and die”. Thjey soon connect and relate to their comrades.
General Washington, insisted that the rabble in the army needed to be respected, too: a democratic army required democratic measures.
“The genius of this nation, “is not to be compared with that of the Prussians, Austrians or French. You say to your soldier, ‘Do this!’ and he does it; but I am obliged to say, ‘This is the reason why you ought to do that’ and then he does it.”
Bureaucracies have become so commonplace and ingrained that we seldom question their purpose and authority, yet, according to anthropologist and anarchist, David Graeber, they inform every aspect of our existence – “bureaucracy has become the water in which we swim”.
According to Dom Amerena, the best artistic satires occur in Kafka’s The Trial and in Heller’s Catch-22. Graeber claims bureaucracies derive their power from the veiled threat of state sanctioned violence against non-compliance or even criticism.
Some critics suggest that corporations and institutions have become the new evil “robber barons” with no public interest in mind. Some have found symptoms of psychopathy, e.g., the callous disregard for the feelings of other people, the incapacity to appreciate human relationships, the reckless disregard for the safety of others, the deceitfulness (continual lying to deceive for profit), the incapacity to experience guilt, and the failure to conform to social norms and respect the law.
Institutions, we treasured and trusted, have betrayed us to satisfy the venal, self- serving and power-crazed appetites of an unprincipled, unrestrained, vainglorious and cynical few.
In the 1950’s President Eisenhower was the first to warn us of the subtle incremental dangers of transformative power grabs like the rise of The Military Industrial Complex. Since then multitudes of other powerful bulwark organisations have risen that threaten our democracy by assuming untrammeled power; including, but not limited to: multi-national mining companies, the American Rifle Association, Monsanto, Drug and Medical Supply Companies, the telecommunication industry, the legal/judicial industry.……..
The more monolithic bureaucracies become, the more they are reinforced by their remoteness; their schizoid disconnection from grounded reality. Incestuous institutions like the Catholic Church, the legal judicial fraternity or global corporations can become moribund due to calcification or entrenchment. When Doc Daneeka was asked:
‘What is your business?'
‘I don’t know what my business is. All they ever told me was to uphold the ethics of my profession and never give testimony against another physician.
A self serving careerist mind set develops that they exist for themselves rather than for the greater good of the public. Some believe that their institution exists simply to provide them with a job; not the other way around. Subject to groupthink, they become reluctant to hear opposing views or to work with anyone perceived to be on the outside. Some live high up in an ivory tower; embedded in a bubble world doubling as an echo chamber. The peer review process becomes dysfunctional.
Only a seismic paradigm shift can change entrenched mind sets. What we need are not only better individuals; we need a better system to make up for individual flaws, rather than a culture and practice of concealment. Good leaders reset the cultural norms by making staff accountable and thus raising the standards.
All professions harbor individuals of varying degrees of incompetence for different reasons. It is in the long term interest of all professions to weed out the worst offenders. They are a danger – cause injury, not only to the public, but by undermining the faith, confidence and authority of the institution. The reputation of one Judge/Priest/individual is not more important than maintaining the public confidence of the entire institution. …..
Canada’s Military #
The Canadian Armed Forces, as an institution, has a necessarily coercive culture. Leaders must have a high degree of authority and control over their subordinates in order for the military to be effective when it is called into action. But the checks and balances meant to stifle the ugly side of that coercion—an instinct to demonstrate power with subjugation, humiliation and harm—are deficient.
More than a dozen current and former military members tell Maclean’s of a deep distrust in the institutions that are supposed to bolster them, and of a belief that bad actors within the system will protect perpetrators and ostracize or punish complainants. All believe in the potential of the Forces, and that good men and women serve in its ranks. But few are optimistic about senior leadership’s willingness to tackle the cultural and systemic problems that undermine their efforts.
A recent report from former Supreme Court justice Morris Fish found that even if a majority of actors that interact with the military justice system acquit themselves honourably—from military police to lawyers to prosecutors to judges—there are myriad actual and perceived gaps in their independence from the chain of command. Too many safeguards hinge on the personal integrity of the senior officers in charge, the report found. Too little power is afforded to oversight bodies that would either legitimize or countermand decisions. And a grievance system that would ostensibly provide redress to military members who are wronged is in disrepair.
Post Modernism #
Literature communicates through word associations, symbols, metaphor, images, allusions and sounds that resonate in different ways to different people. Yet extracting meaning from text is aided by tools of intellectual application and formal awareness of these techniques. Naïve readers search for validation of personal identity and impression, rather than new perspectives, knowledge or insights.
Rather than limiting oneself to technical tools and close reading, we are better off embracing an immersive experience of engagement, to escape into an imaginative realm of other possibilities. Affective responses can be just as illuminating as cognitive expertise.
It attempts to empower the individual. As Margaret Atwood advises: “Refuse to be a victim; engage in dialogue with the world. Question assumptions, authority, even historical absolutes, even Aristotle”.
The origins of the post modern novel, according to Oscar Wilde maintains, “Life imitates Art” – Art for Art’s sake, contrary to Aristotle, who wrote: “Art should imitate life”.
Fiction creates its own world, with a conspiracy between artist and responder: both are conscious of the fictive nature of the story but willing to suspend disbelief. The past is an invention of the present and a projection of the future.
Joseph Heller and Kurt Vonnegut both struggle with deriving meaning from a senseless World War II. Vonnegut spends twenty years processing the meaningless bombing of Dresden for no practical purpose, yet telling his story, Slaughterhouse Five, to vent his outrage and shame. In doing so he invents a narrative and character that repudiates the traditional heroic war novel.
Heller’s Catch-22 does much the same through an absurdist approach. In both the main characters exist in a period of time, but are not a part or product of that time – they are alienated.
Both question the prevailing orthodoxies of language (cant, euphemism, casuistry). They question the logic of decision making. The novels refuse to follow normative time sequences. Catch 22 is so disjointed and circular in events (da je vu) as to be almost incomprehensible. The past and present become so intermingled in our consciousness. History is not a continuum but a chaotic melange/montage of different periods and sensibilities that co-exist and contradict each other.
“Catch-22” is crazy funny, slapstick funny. It sees war as insane and the desire to escape combat as the only sane position. Its tone of voice is deadpan farce