This is an interruption from regular programming. I feel a powerful need to show my affection and respect for one of my favorite books ever- Catch 22. So, bear with me thru a coarse course of unadjusted and broken academia infused by drunken poetics. 😋

In the book there’s no linear plot, there is only a timeline. It’s set in World-War 2 and not built against its weakening and tapering downward the end, but when Americans occupied Italy, and the war roared still. A bunch of crazy soldiers who dissociate into a multi-character narrative are bound in tight continuity, as they struggle to keep themselves in what seems like a losing game, nit for their country but they themselves. The protagonist can be Yossarian. A funky-women crazed-friendly-disco minded- and tired bombardier who lives his life under the expansive shadow of innumerable eccentric characters, and every connection he sparks with any is just a pleasure to read.

Catch-22 works so well under so many moods and it captured so many feelings. It’s always funny but with undertones of politics, and death, and poignancies. Multiple scenes do an amazing job of capturing something, which wavers like a cloudily fluffed beard that the sky wears as the sun wiggles itself down in burnished vigor. I’ve had so many happy times with that book, it was one great month after another, and it was one waste after a splash of bigger realizations.

There are two scenes that stand out to me, and I hope to express it in a way that is able to be sensed by all. And I can only try..

  1. The Soldier that Saw Everything Twice. Yossarian is in the hospital with only one other soldier in his room. This soldier sees everything twice, and owing to some natural insanity and impulse, Yossarian soon makes the same claim. The doctors believe him (it’s a novel, you can’t be cautious all the time about logic). The greatest part is here on; the soldier dies, and Yossarian is asked by a stranger doctor to pretend to be him, so that the dead soldier’s family can have a proper goodbye. “We’re all in this business of illusion together”, the doctor says in tones of damp darkness, and with grains of cigarette ashes fired as specks from his lips into sickening air. Yossarian complies in minor worry, troubled by the chances of truth and what he would have if there was an expose on his falsifications. The doctor knew, and he promised to not ostracize anything to fulfill his chance of getting his way. A hardly baffled and only disgruntled in inexpressive pretense Yossarian lays still on the hospital bed, as shades are drawn, and the lights dim and his eyes become reflective of what he will have to feel in the backwash of the upcoming encounter. The family looks at Yossarian, and they accept his name as Yossarian, they accept that they may have forgotten their son in the long absences inside each other’s existence. They talk, and its unimportant. Until they lash out on the man up above, heeling the world on the galaxy’s edge, and punishing young, innocent soldiers who were only born to serve their countries. “Ma, make him feel good” says the brother. And she asks him to dress warm before sunrise.

A few words later the father says “Soon, you’re going to die” He makes Yossarian promise to tell the man up above, about how unforgiving the people down below are at his tyrannical will, he makes him promise once and twice. And the mother asks him to dress warm, and she seems to know something about it.

To me this showed a side of death, that you get to experience in another body, in another mind, and it doesn’t belong to you, and you don’t even want it in the first place, but you see it- there is a place for you, when you’re not anywhere, and that place is only the final moment, where you have to remember to be comfortable, because the drinks all day, and the talks that extinguish at the grope of a tight handle, will only resonate for a second, and that too in a second far away.

  • The second is pretty simple, I guess you need to read the book to actually understand it. A friend of Yossarian’s, or maybe only a sheer colleague dies during a mission. Yossarian, as a form of subconscious protest and soulful rebellion, states that he may never wear a uniform again. And so, he marches nakedly thru the camp, with a distinguished chest, and a look indifferent to funny glares. In heat drenched memories he attempts to recognize and recall the deceased. Then he climbs up a tree, during sundown, and he watches his funeral. He just watches it. Doesn’t stir up any emotion, doesn’t gravitate the weight that grazed the fields of sadness that rippled out of the speculation of loss, and its consequential happening. Then an actual friend who has made a mistake with his syndicate, which has brought him to a loss for the first time in his trade, settles besides Yossarian, fully dressed I his olive-clad uniform and discusses the business. Yossarian releases words out of his mouth, and his friend from his, and they have what may be called a conversation. So, where did their thoughts fly, somewhere in the warmth of distance, or in the craze of ignorance. They disappeared majorly in a fanciful notion or an abstract speech of formality that is borderline okay.

Something about this just whispers and grabs me in direct, honest, capable community. I don’t know how else to be descriptive about something quite so crucial. A subjectivity intersects us at various readings of our often scripted lives, or the shadowy escape of books, movies, and songs, which are indulgent in serotonin producing embraces. Nothing quite buried me to sleep on nights homeless in the array of scattered thoughts, as the carefully cut clarity of this book.

There it is. Off I went.

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It's all a matter of rust and shine, to serve a distinction between to have and to have not.

32 thoughts on “Catch-22”

  1. There are few things I enjoy more than a written explanation of why a piece of writing grabbed someone’s interest as though s/he had been grabbed physically and made to pay attention.

    And how I enjoyed your highlighting the grab-making power of two excerpts – small ones even.

    I have to say, though, Poet, that more than these excerpts themselves, I liked your explanation of WHY these excerpts and this book, or a song, or a film can have this hold on you – on any of us (why the arts enrich and sometimes expand our lives….)

    ‘A subjectivity intersects us at various readings of our often scripted lives,…..’

    Exactly. If we are fortunate, we read or hear or see something which become a ‘subjectivity’. We recognize him, her, them as people operating autonomously in the world, off the inert page, off the screen, off the canvas and into our imaginations. And our empathy takes off.

    Our world is richer………

    What a concise, imaginative sentence you wrote there, Poet! A proper homage to this book of the complicated experience of war……….Sarah

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is truly complicated-war. There’s another conversation in the book, where an old Italian men tells a young American soldier, that Italy is far more prosperous and will last a lot longer than America. The soldier deems this blasphemous and reminds the old man that he is under his country’s captivity, and was previously under the Germans.
      “Yes, and then your people came in while we were here, and you kicked the Germans out. But soon you will leave too, and we will still be here…..
      You put too much stock in winning wars”

      Liked by 1 person

      1. This statement by the Italian shows that Joseph Heller was not an ideologue or being simple about war. The huge popularity of this book was, as you know, because of the revulsion against the Vietnam War: people took Catch 22 to be an anti-war screed. Heller continuously denied that it was and said that he thought that WW2 was a necessary war in which he was glad he participated.

        This quote indicates that he accepted that not all wars are just ones and that he understood his country’s temptation, because of her overwhelming strength of arms, to ‘resolve’ problems by war. Not good.

        And we are the anguished witnesses now…..

        You may find the exercise too personal and if so, desist: but this book has clearly marked you.

        Can you give an example or two how your thinking has changed because of this book. Even something that you will or will not do because of this book?


        Liked by 1 person

      2. Really? But all the characters in the book seemed to resist their responsibility. Maybe that was more of a statement ot the human mind then it was to the concept of war.

        My thinking changed in many ways because of this, but not in terms of war but instead on emotions. The fact that we will all are under siege to routine, and might never evade it, and lonesome desolation always takes us by the hand, and turns on the television to programs of reality, that you can choose to ignore because it is so screened and only on a TV show. Not here. And if I’m here, where are you?

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Perhaps he grew more certain with his role in the war. He began to identify it’s importance, and the momentous response that it ignited within him that he couldn’t replicate during the rebellion for the Vietnam war.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. I have always had the understanding that, while this book was about a particular war, and while it came to be understood because of its publication date, about another war, war as such, for this author, was a metaphor.

        The place, our world, is crazy. The fact that our species cannot correct for certain of its own tendencies, some of which are leading to an ecological destruction which threatens itself, is crazy.

        And the author was trying to determine how a person can live in this craziness without himself or herself going crazy.

        That is my understanding of why this book continues to appeal because there are generations now who have never known war and – hopefully – never will………………………Sarah

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I loved reading that book. I definitely think you have to have a certain kind of mind to read it though because a lot of my fellow English major students said they didn’t get it and couldn’t read it. I found that interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve been picking this one up and putting it down for a while now, currently working my way through some Hemingway, but I do think Catch-22 may be next. This post helps reassure that it’s time. Great read, thanks for the insight.


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