kortina.nyc / notes
26 May 2024 | by kortina

Heller // Catch-22

I first read Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 in either high school or college, I’m pretty sure I read it once as a young adult, and I just heard a reference to Colonel Cathcart’s “feathers in his cap / black eyes” so I decided to read it again and was not disappointed.

I did kind of forget how much of nothing (other than pure absurd antics) takes place in the first half of the book and this got me wondering about the book’s longevity, but the second half of the book got far more dire and reminded me why it’s a classic.

To me, this book is about the absurdity of dogmatically following modernist logic, even when it’s clearly immoral or deadly – Milo Minderbinder’s M & M Enterprises which buys eggs at 7 cents and sells them at 5 cents for a profit comes to mind as perhaps the best embodiment of the failure of systems that operate logically at a micro level and then bubble up into absurd outcomes.

Notes and quotes…

All of Chapter 19 (on Colonel Cathcart) is hilarious and brilliant.

I like this phrase “immoral logic” – to me, this is what the book is about.

7542 “Colonel Korn, I want to talk to you about the crash this morning. It was a terrible thing to happen, terrible!”

Colonel Korn was silent a moment, regarding the chaplain with a glint of cynical amusement. “Yes, Chaplain, it certainly was terrible,” he said finally. “I don’t know how we’re going to write this one up without making ourselves look bad.”

“That isn’t what I meant,” the chaplain scolded firmly without any fear at all. “Some of those twelve men had already finished their seventy missions.”

Colonel Korn laughed. “Would it be any less terrible if they had all been new men?” he inquired caustically.

Once again the chaplain was stumped. Immoral logic seemed to be confounding him at every turn. He was less sure of himself than before when he continued, and his voice wavered. “Sir, it just isn’t right to make the men in this group fly eighty missions when the men in other groups are being sent home with fifty and fifty-five.”

“We’ll take the matter under consideration,” Colonel Korn said with bored disinterest, and started away. “Adios, Padre.”

8029 Yossarian left money in the old woman’s lap—it was odd how many wrongs leaving money seemed to right—and strode out of the apartment, cursing Catch-22 vehemently as he descended the stairs, even though he knew there was no such thing. 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.

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