Thursday, October 26, 2006

Catch 22

Catch-22 [kach-twen-tee-too]
(i) A frustrating situation in which one is trapped by contradictory regulations or conditions.
(ii) Any illogical or paradoxical problem or situation; dilemma.
"That's some catch that catch 22," He [Yossarian] observed.
"It's the best there is." Doc Daneeka agreed.

Indeed the best catch in arguably one of the best novels ever written. How many works of fiction can boast of pushing a term into the common vocabulary as an accepted bridge? Not many. OK, maybe some but I can’t be asked to do the research involved to illustrate a simple point, namely – Catch 22 by Joseph Heller (God Knows, Something Happened, Closing Time, Picture this) kicks ass and there is every reason under the Sun why you should read this book.

The theme of Catch 22 has a lot to do with 20th century madness and the desire of the ordinary man to survive the insanity around him. The story takes place on the fictional island of Pianosa, west of Italy, during the World War II and follows Captain John Yossarian and a number of other characters on the island serving in the U.S.A Air Forces. Yossarian, however, comes across as the only real protagonist in the novel.

The title of the novel has to do with a military rule that is introduced to the serving men; a rule that is so absurdly paradoxical and double binding that it is genius. It grants the military the right to do anything that they can be stopped from doing. But the essential catch that gave the novel its legendary status was the catch that Doctor Daneeka explained to Yossarian. When Yossarian asks the doctor why he can’t be grounded on the grounds of insanity, the doctor explains that Catch-22 specifies that a concern for one’s safety in the face of danger that were immediate and real was the process of a rational mind. Anyone crazy could be grounded. All they had to do was ask and as soon as they did that, they would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Someone would have to be crazy to fly more missions and sane if they didn’t but if they were sane they had to fly the missions. If they flew them they were crazy and didn’t have to but if they didn’t want to then they were sane and had to. Logical irrationality at it’s best.

Of course, Yossarian learns later that Catch 22 does not really exist but because the powers that be claim it does and the world at large believes it, it nevertheless has dangerous effects. By the time this revelation comes across, it is too late, and the War has already swallowed some patriotic, unsuspecting, innocent and stupid men. Yossarian wants to steer away from his end and faces quite a struggle from some strange strangers who want him dead for their own reasons.

Please, please read this book because it is one of those books that will really make you smile and understand the hilarity and the sadness of the Bigger Picture. Nowhere else will you find characters like Milo, Hungry Joe, the Chaplain, Major Major Major Major, Hungry Joe, The Soldier Who Sees Everything Twice, Nately, Nately’s whore…all in one book. Some may say that the novel is repetitive but it is one of the redeeming features of the novel and once you get past page 60 you’ll be wondering why everyone does not write with such hilarity, absurdness and satire. Do yourself a favour and read this.
If you want to thank me…you know where to find me.

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