Sunday, December 13, 2015
My advice to anyone who wants to glimpse the brilliance of Heller in half the time and twice the concentration: read Vonnegut.
The irreverent and critical style of Heller is amazing in some ways, especially considering the uptight milieu in which it gained ascendance, and at times it was quite hilarious and illuminating, but unfortunately too much of it amounts to 500 pages of low-hanging puns and cheap shots to slog through to unearth the gems. Some of his one-liners make his works worthwhile though, and while reading I stay reasonably convinced that he knows what he’s doing and I just need to lighten up. Even so, it is convoluted and laborious for the most part, and I found myself wanting it all to be over after the first hundred pages. I would be embarrassed to say how many days this went on for me, and how many books I started and finished before I put this one to rest. I only hope some of the quotable quotations I put in my back pocket get used in this lifetime, because it is my only justification for the book.
All in all, there just too much great literature that’s current and probably more impactful for someone to waste too much time on this. Hate saying it, but it’s probably past its prime and ready to take its rightful place as one of the ‘classics’ that everyone knows about, but nobody reads.
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
Some of the best lines from the book:
And if that wasn’t funny, there were lots of things that weren’t even funnier. (17)
He had decided to live forever, or die in the attempt. (29)
‘You mean there's a catch?'
'Sure there's a catch,' Doc Daneeka replied. 'Catch-22. Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn't really crazy.'
There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's own 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. (46)
Like Olympic metals and tennis trophies, all [military awards] signified was that the owner had done something of no benefit to anyone more capably than everyone else. (72)
Clevenger was dead. That was the basic flaw in his philosophy. (104)
People knew a lot more about dying inside the hospital and made a much neater, more orderly job of it. They couldn’t ; dominate Death inside the hospital, but they certainly made her behave. They had taught her manners. They couldn’t keep Death out, but while she was in she had to act like a lady…People bled to death like gentlemen in an operating room, or expired without comment in an oxygen tent. (166)
“I’m cold, Snowden had whimpered. I’m cold.”
“There, there,” Yossarian had tried to comfort him. “There, there.” (166)
There were billions of conscientious body cells oxidating away day and night like dumb animals at their complicated job of keeping him alive and healthy, and every one was a potential traitor and foe. (172)
He could start screaming inside a hospital and people would at least come running to try to help; outside the hospital they would throw him in prison if he ever started screaming about all the things he felt everyone ought to start screaming about, or they would put him in the hospital. (172)
Each day he faced was another dangerous mission against mortality. (175)
General Peckem even recommends that we send our men into combat in full-dress uniform so they’ll make a good impression on the enemy when they’re shot down. (219)
You put so much stock in winning wars…The real trick lies in losing wars, in knowing which wars can be lost. (245)
There was no way of really knowing anything, he knew, not even that there was no way of really knowing anything. (The chaplain, 266)
Did it indeed seem probable…that the answers to the riddles of creation would be supplied by people too ignorant to understand the mechanics of rainfall? (285)
He wished that he could be young and cheerful, too. And it wasn’t their fault that they were courageous, confident, and carefree. He would just have to be patient with them until one or two were killed and the rest wounded, and then they would all turn out okay. (regarding Yossarian’s hardened, military cynicism beside the buoyant, courageous young recruits, 349)
He felt awkward because she was going to murder him. (394)
When you added them all up [the good people with the bad] and then subtracted, you might be left with only the children, and perhaps with Albert Einstein and an old violinist or sculpture somewhere. (413)
He felt goose pimples clacking all over him as he gazed down despondently at the grim secret Snowden had spilled all over the messy floor. It was easy to read the message in the entrails. Man was matter, that was Snowden’s secret. Drop him out a window and he’ll fall. Set fire to him and he’ll burn. Bury him and he’ll rot, like other kinds of garbage. The spirit gone, man is garbage. (440)
When I look up [for ideals] , 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. (445)