Catch-22: Chapters 24-32

Chapters Read: 24. Milo, 25. The Chaplain, 26. Aarfy, 27. Nurse Duckett, 28. Dobbs, 29. Peckem, 30. Dunbar, 31. Mrs. Daneeka, 32. Yo-Yo’s Roomies

Page reached:: 335 of 448 (74.78%).

Status Report: Sorry about the hiatus in status reports, folks. I spent much of last weekend reading Michael E. McCullough’s papers on gratitude in preparation for my Morning News essay on the subject. Then, the library informed me that my copy of Catch-22 was due, and I was unable to renew it because holds had been placed on all available copies. WTF LITERATI!!!!!ยก!! When I initially checked the book out, there were no holds at all, so I can only assume that much of the Greater Seattle Area is frantically trying to jump into NaNoReMo 2007 at the last possible moment, a hypothesis corroborated by the fact that I had to visit five bookstores before I could rustle up a new copy. (“I know we had copy a few weeks ago,” the staff at the first four bookstores told me, “but now it looks like we are out …”)

ANYway …

The article about Catch-22 I linked to last week contained this passage:

The doubling of the digits [in the title of Catch-22 happens] to emphasize a major theme of the book: duplication and reduplication. When the book was first published, critics objected to its monotony and repetition. 'Heller's talent is impressive,' said Time magazine, 'but it is also undisciplined, sometimes luring him into bogs of boring repetition. Nearly every episode in Catch-22 is told and retold.'

Nice of Time to do my summary for me.

For this block of chapters the reader is like a paper boat caught in the eddies, looping around and around, hopefully gathering enough momentum to eventually escape and continue his journey. That’s an observation, not a complaint–though it’s probably best that I took a little break before tackling these hundred pages.

I do have a gripe, though. In my Layer Tennis commentary, I mentioned a concept called douche ecossaise. Literally the term means “alternating between very hot and very cold showers,” but it was later adopted by Le Theatre du Grand-Guignol to describe their macabre performances, which would switch back and forth between humor and horor and, in doing so, enhance the effect of each. was the reigning venue for all things macabre. The sudden shift between horror and humor–two opposing emotional “temperatures”–each heightening the effect of the other. Heller does this to good effect throughout the novel.

But in a few places he takes the joke a bit too far. In chapter 24, he has Milo bombing the American camp and getting off scot free; in chapter 31., he has Daneeka mistakenly reported as dead, and all the folks in the camp refusing to recognize that the doctor walking around in their midst is, in fact, still alive. The first scenario you can attribute to satire (after all, Milo is essentially a metaphor for capitalism, and a business conspiring with America’s enemies to make a buck isn’t exactly far-fetched), but the Doc. Daneeka bolding strides into the realm of farce. In doing so, it lessens the horror of subsequent events, rather than heightens them. Turn your story into a cartoon and no one is going to recoil in shock when characters are killed by falling anvils.

Criticizing a subplot of Catch-22 for being absurd is like complaining that trash compactor on the Death Star is scientifically implausible, I know. But a book as labyrinthine as Catch-22 needs some internal logic to keep things cohesive, and I thought these two vignettes violated what little the novel contains.

Favorite Passage:”What about my wife?” Colonel Scheisskopf demanded with disgruntled suspicion. “I’ll still be able to send for her, won’t I?”

“Your wife? Why in the world should you want to?”

“A husband and wife should be together.”

“That’s out of the question also.”

“But they said I could send for her!”

“They lied to you again.”

“They had no right to lie to me!’ Colonel Scheisskopf protested, his eyes wetting with indignation.

“Of course they had a right,” General Peckem snapped with cold and calculated severity, resolving right then and there to test the mettle of his new colonel under fire. “Don’t be such an ass, Scheisskopf. People have a right to do anything that’s not forbidden by law, and there’s no law against lying to you. Now, don’t ever waste my time with such sentimental platitudes again.”

* * *

19 comments.

  1. By a strange coincidence The Independent – a UK national news paper ran an article today explaining how particular books got the title they did, Catch 22 was originally going to be called Catch 18, there are some really good pieces here

    http://arts.independent.co.uk/books/features/article3194244.ece

  2. Ooops! Well who’d of thought of plagiarism in the UK press…

    My face is red

  3. My copy was also recalled by the library. I guess scores of Albertans are trying to get in on NaNoReMo at the last minute too.

    Instead of buying one I just finished the book and I must say I am glad to be done. I think that Time was spot on when they said Heller has talent, albeit undisciplined. The book has its merit but in the end its demerits won out as far as I am concerned. I can appreciate that there is a good story somewhere in there but Heller’s roundabout prose keeps it just out of reach. Several times I was almost hooked only to be put off by the time I finished the next paragraph.

    Despite not ever liking the book, I do want to see the movie. I have a sneaking suspicion that two hours of film will tell this story better.

  4. It seems to me that holding up the single epsiode of Doc Daneeka’s death as going over the line as far as farce is concerned is like picking one schoolkid out of a group throwing mud at each other and saying “He did it! The others were just playing, but he took it too far!” Think about the various strange occurrences so far – Yossarian getting his medal naked, the behaviour of the hospital staff, Doc Daneeka’s assistants, Major Major Major Major, Bologna – the list goes on.

    Your point about the emotional extremes is well made – they oscillate from asymptote to asymptote, as T. E. Lawrence would say. However, there is a subtle slide from farcical to frightening, based on the characters’ increasingly displayed self absorption and lack of regard for consequences to others. There’s a point that all this is leading up to, and in their own way all these characters are aimed at it.

    Also, I’m sad to say, as an engineer my curiosity was piqued. I read the Death Star piece and thought of plausible answers to each question raised. I couldn’t help it. It’s a dirty, dirty disease, but I just can’t stop myself.

  5. I admit it, we bought the only two copies at the two bookstores in Fremont…

  6. @heathersway: Don’t do it! Don’t do it! Step away from the movie! I really liked the book, but found the movie a bit dated and unsatisfactory. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who really liked the movie.

  7. My own two cents, with reference to war writing. Basically, Heller uses the farcical style not to be funny but to express rage.

  8. Well, first off, I renewed my library copy last night, no problem.

    Second, I have found the horrifying parts of the novel to be much more extreme than the humorous parts. The worst was that last night I finished chapter 30 where Kid Sampson gets mowed down by McWatt.

    I finished it right before bed. I have always had a major aversion to hearing about “When good times go bad.” This is an extreme examples. I had nightmares. And that was after laying awake thinking about it for about an hour.

  9. What, no mention of “Scheisskopf” being, roughly, German for “shithead?”

  10. Scheisskopf. Hee hee!

  11. Two days ago I saw someone on a bus reading Catch-22. I really wanted to ask if they were doing it for NaNoReMo… but that would sure be awkward.

  12. I’m with amy on this one– only just now, after having read the book, did I notice the meaning of Scheisskopf.

  13. I was able to renew, so I may be the only person in West Philly doing NaNoReMo. Still haven’t blogged it, though.

    As I read, it seems familiar to me. Wonder if I saw it as a play when I was a kid?

  14. concept called douche ecossaise. Literally the term means “alternating between very hot and very cold showers,”

    Well, no (she said, nitpickily), not LITERALLY. Literally, it means Scottish shower. And boy would I love to know the cultural exchange that led up to that bit of French observations.

  15. @Syrup – Do you ride the 7 and/or the 4? That might have been me – I’m reading it on the bus every day.

    I did think the book took an unusually dark turn when Kid Sampson was eaten by the propeller and McWatt, er, responded.

    Did anyone else notice the appearance of the term “tickler file” at the beginning of chapter 29? I wasn’t aware that the term was that old. Huh. I guess David Allen didn’t invent every good idea.

  16. Please tell me there is a NaNoReMo in December?
    I don’t want to wait a year.

  17. Scheisskopf is not “roughly” German for shithead. It IS German for shithead.

    They even say it in the book. I think it’s when he becomes a General and is strutting around, someone says “that guy is such a shithead.”

  18. Scheisskopf is not “roughly” German for shithead. It IS German for shithead.

    They even say it in the book. I think it’s when he becomes a General and is strutting around, someone says “that guy is such a shithead.”

    I read this years ago, and discussed it at length with a buddy who had written a paper on it. Our conclusion was that the constant repetitive nature of the writing was a sort of ruse to lull you into a sleep. Not an actual sleep. But one where you just think this book is about making fun of war and dudes trying to get laid. But it definitely turns when Kid Sampson gets “mowed down.” And the graphicness of that scene with people running around with bits of Kid Sampson stuck to them. I had never heard that French term before, but I think it fits nicely.

    Also, I loved the book, and liked the movie. Some of the scenes played much better in the movie. Milo is definitely more sinister.

  19. Hey Matt,

    Believe it or not, I’m still onboard NaNoReMo, as I was 2 months ago. It just takes me so much longer to read it, what with English being my second language and me having little time for reading these days and the book being so thick. I’m up to chapter 30: Dunbar at the moment. I’m reading your posts as I chug along. The reason I avoid comments to your posts is that people are throwing half-spoilers that I hate to come across. For instance, every page now I’m on the lookout for whatever happens to Dunbar because one of the commentators mentioned that this is what will eventually constitute (or start) “the plot”.

    The book is great, and I’m glad I finally got to read it: I started several times before but was always distracted. This time I’m holding to it tightly, so the book travelled to Puerto Rico with me where it got caught in tropical storm, and now it is crooked badly and crackles when ruffled like rheumatic’s knuckles.

    I have to guess (or look up, when I’m not too lazy, but I almost always am) a lot of words. It often looks to me that Heller deliberately adorns the text with obscure words, don’t know why. To make it “elite reading”? To distant the book from its matter? To get readers to exercise their language muscles? Oh well. I classify it as only a minor annoyance.

    Anyway, thanks for NaNoReMo, I’ll finish the book soon (couple more weeks?) and report to the headquarters.