Sunday, November 4

Catch-22

I had never read this book before. But defective yeti is doing a group read of it this month, so I thought I'd dive in, too.

(His arrival at Catch-22 is almost Hellerian in itself: It's for National Novel Writing Month, which he tried two years ago and didn't achieve. Last year he tried a group read of Moby Dick, which he also didn't achieve, but this year we're reading Catch-22 ;-)

I re-copy my first comment over there below:

i am one of those who just keeps reading it. i'd say i'm about halfway done after starting earlier this week.

the shtick does get old (made-up example: 'Yossarian was the most self-absorbed soldier in camp except for when he wasn't.'). thankfully a plot emerges.

i have decided not to take the book too seriously as a critique beyond war and modern institutions are crazy and when combined warp reality. so i'm not considering Yossarian guilty of anything and trying to resist with Milo and Cathcart. otherwise, reading about Cathcart will make me homicidal.

never read Catch-22 before. great pick. glad i voted for it ;-)

Something I neglected to mention: Reading the book is really making me want to try the movie. I can imagine some of the scenes would work really well.

Reading this book has made me wonder if Heller served in the Army Air Corps (pre-Air Force for those of you who don't know that's a post-WW2 service). Turns out he did, and flew 60 missions (a Yossarian-like number), but he said they were mostly milk runs.

An interesting quote from Heller:

"Everyone in my book accuses everyone else of being crazy. Frankly, I think the whole society is nuts -- and the question is: What does a sane man do in an insane society?"

I figured this was the underlying theme of the book. And I used to be very susceptible to this line of reasoning. It seems such an elegant critique. I totally fell in love with it in the 90s with Terry Gilliam's movies.

But you know what I've discovered in my 30s? Saying society is insane is, in the end, a cop out. Sure, it's compelling, even sexy. But it also undermines useful work, at least. At most, it absolves you from productivity, contribution, or just plain common sense.

I used to say that the world is metaphysically 95-99% objective. Subjectivity has its place, but it doesn't totally subvert objectivity. This is the problem with where modernism ends up and where post-modernism begins and stays: There's no room left for objectivity and, clever philosophy notwithstanding, the world is, by definition, an objective place where useful work is done.

Next connection: Tom is fond of saying that the Boomers make terrible politicians, and maybe this is partially why. Let's connect it with another quote from the Heller Wikipedia entry:

Once it was released in paperback in October 1962, however, Catch-22 caught the imaginations of many baby-boomers, who identified with the novel's anti-war sentiments.

So, following the line of my critique above, are Boomers too susceptible to viewing society as insane and, thus, undermined in their contributions, or downright 'absolved'? If society is insane, Yossarian's self-absorption is positively sane.

Though I am very fond of criticizing the Boomers and really believe that they will try to live forever, thus obstructing the rise of Generation X and out own chance to really screw things up, this critical hypothesis should not be regarded as not applying to Gen X. It very well may and probably does.
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