Monday, 25 April 2011


Image via wikipedia
Joseph Heller's first novel, released in 1961, was Catch-22. A biting satire of war, the military and bureaucracy, the book quickly became regarded as a classic as well as one of the most highly acclaimed works of the 20th century. It tells the tale of Captain Yossarian, a bombardier in the US Air Force stationed in Italy during the Second World War, a man who desperately wants to go home and get away from the madness of the war. It is however, I shall concede, a slightly tough read as it is told from quite a few perspectives and non-chronologically. But is well worth putting the effort in. These people from clearly disagree though:
Just because a book is a classic doesn't mean it is good (It kinda does actually... That's why it becomes a classic. Because it is both critically hailed, and popular). Maybe at some point it was good and maybe in the future it may well be good again, but presently it just seems a bit over rated. (I'm sorry, but books don't just stop being good. They can stop being relevant, but the anti-war, anti-bureaucratic message is as important today as it ever was. Maybe you're just too thick to 'get it'?)
Here's another with clear anger management issues:

I wasted three weeks of my life reading this book (I bet you didn't though. It's not like you read for every minute of every hour of every day. You have lost some number of hours. That is all. And you'd have only wasted them anyway.). The main reason I persevered is that everyone (even the people giving it five stars) seems to say the beginning is difficult and it take a while to get going (Actually, I've never found that, to be honest. It does take a while to get used to the seemingly haphazard chronology, but if you're intelligent it shouldn't take that long to grasp what's happening). In my opinion, if it's a good book you shouldn't have to trudge through the first third of it (I certainly never felt I was 'trudging through'.)(otherwise maybe only give it 3 stars?). (Maybe they felt that the start didn't drag as much as you imply, or that the second two thirds more than made up for any slow start?)
Well, I read it. I lost count of the times I threw the thing at the wall in frustration. (Really? You threw it at the wall that often that you literally lost count? Why didn't you mark notches on the bed post?)

I finished it. I wish I'd never picked the damn thing up in the first place. (If it's been thrown at the wall as often as you suggest, the book probably wishes you'd never picked it up too...)
And another who seems to be unsure of the age of the book:
Catch-22 is an anti-war book for the easily led and the ignorant (I think you'll find the ignorant usually read Dan Brown...). It's for people who just say "War is bad" without really thinking about why it's bad. (I think most people know why war is bad. It probably has something to do with all the death and whatnot. Just spitballing here...)
The book is basically Dilbert in World War II (It is a bit actually. Of course, since Catch-22 beat Dilbert into existence by some 28 years, you're argument is somewhat weak.). As in the comic strip, all the people in charge are unbelievably stupid, don't care about the people they command, and are extremely selfish (Since Heller based his novel on his own personal experiences in WWII, I think its fair to say these people do somewhat exist, though obviously the novel versions will be highly exaggerated.). The common soldiers are of course much smarter than the commanding officers and try their hardest to get out of work (Well, that is where much of the humour comes from). Their unwillingness to fight is justified (by the book, anyway) because their commanders are just so evil and stupid (Well they are. If Yossarian was a member of any other squadron he would have been sent home for a rest some time ago). Everyone's behavior is cartoonish and annoying (Cartoonish was intentional. It is, after all, a blackly comic book. I found none of the characters annoying).
This edition of the book includes a preface by the author in which he, instead of saying anything useful, writes mostly about how everyone thinks his book is wonderful. Well, it's not. (There are so many people who seem to think that they are the ultimate deciders of what is good or bad. Maybe we should have a big Royal Rumble to see who wins that right...)
Finally, we have this guy who, I suspect, may be a somewhat right-wing American...:
 There are many myths that persist in modern life. One myth is that war is "meaningless", "useless" or "insane." (Okay then, what is the meaning or use of the deaths of millions in war?) Another myth is that Catch-22 is a good book (Oh I see. All those critics and authors haven't actually read the book, it's just a myth they subscribe to. Well, thanks for telling me that. Jackass). The reality of this second myth was brought home to me when I attempted to read this book (Hmm... I don't like that 'attempted' in there...). I gave up in disgust after 80 pages (Then what the holy fuck are you doing on here reviewing it then? I gave up on Moby Dick at a similar point - I didn't have the patience - but as a result I refrain from commenting upon it. You can't possibly give a fair and balanced review from such a small extract). I felt as though I was reading a children's fairy tale rather than a serious piece of literature (Really? It's not exactly a child-friendly book...). This is a horrible and insulting book (In what way is it insulting?). The "plot" (if one can call it a plot (Yes you can. Because that's precisely what it is)) is pointless (Well you would think that. Having read just 80 shitting pages! How the fuck do you know where the plot goes, you didn't give it any chance to develop. Prick) and the writing is sarcastic and juvenile (It is sarcastic. It's called satire, look it up. I think you'll find that it is a widely recognised technique of 'serious literature'. It is juvenile in places, but so is the military, so what are you complaining about?). We are told by fans of the book that the author intended it to be read this way, as a clever statement about "the insanity of war." (Well we say that because its true. That was kind of the whole point of the novel, really)
What a load of rubbish. War is ugly and brutal, but it is not "insane." (Except the very concept of war is insane. Killing ordinary people doing a job to free people is, at the very least, stupid. Those who die on the front have played no part in the politics that began the war. Why should they be the ones to suffer?) Many American wars were fought because people believed passionately in a noble cause and were willing to fight to defend that cause against those who would vanquish it (Yeah. Just look at Vietnam. Or Cambodia. Or the Gulf. Or Iraq. Or Afghanistan. Or Libya...). Among these were the Revolutionary War (democratic government (They didn't like some laws.)), the Civil War (individuals' rights vs. states' rights (That's an incredibly simplistic view. There were economic causes that were just as important as rights.)) and World War II (the defeat of fascism (That'll be why they joined in 1939, and not two years later when they were attacked then...)). Catch-22 is an adolescent little book which is applauded by people who believe that nothing is worth fighting for. (Curse us pacifists! How dare us hold a contrary view to yours?!)
I think that'll probably do, eh? Till next time!


  1. Whoever critiqued these reviews has assigned himself an unjustified position as a sophisticate with a refined, unmistakeably superior position. I see nothing in his responses but the generic objections of a nonentity attempting to establish his reputation as an intellectual. He exudes the naïvety and self-assuredness of a pretentious college freshman. His self-assuredness is only permitted by his naïvety, as he is unaware that he comes off as a plaque-wielding activism activist who's cause is any cause that arouses and opposes. A simpleminded, obstinately antiwar humanist whose single brush leaves him viewing everything monochromatically. Incidentally, I enjoyed Catch-22. But I do not, however, appreciate the current intellectually barren movement whose mission is to eradicate all forms of critical thought, of which this joker seems to be a part. This is the kind of person who impresses his friends with his generic, stereotypically liberal opinions, but would suffer a humiliating beating in any formal debate (or discussion with any intelligent individual for that matter).
    What's sad is that the lummox started a blog entitled 'Weeding out the Idiots". I guess now it wouldn't be too far-fetched to predict that Stephen Hawking will start an aerobics fitness franchise in 2012, after all, if we can dream it we can do it... right?

  2. Thank you for your kind words.

    I do, however, take issues with several of your comments:
    First, my 'superior position' is a literary device, I do realise that my opinions are no more valid than anyone else's. I take up the role for humourous effect.
    Secondly, your accusations of pretentiousness would perhaps carry more weight if you didn't also suffer from similar problems (see your next three sentences for examples).
    Thirdly, you accuse me of choosing my beliefs based on other people's reactions. This is not in any way the case. I take up the anti-war humanist mantle because that is what I truly believe. I am left-wing because that is what makes most sense to me. I am anti-war because I feel that we get only one life and it is not right to end another's.
    Fourthly, I certainly do not wish to 'eradicate all forms of critical thought' I have enjoyed many reviews that I have disagreed with. If an argument is well thought through and not based on inaccuracies then I am perfectly happy for it to exist. What I do not like are reviews based on partial readings (as above) or 'reviews' that offer no critical thinking whatsoever. I did leave out many one star reviews of Catch-22 for the very reason that they were sensible, well made points that contributed to the overall discussion. I felt that the reviews I mocked contributed little to nothing to the discourse.
    I also find offensive your assertations that I must have 'stereotypical' views and that I would be humiliated by any formal debate. I can assure you that my opinions are my own and just as unique and varied as yours or anyone else's. And having engaged with many debated in the past with many people who are far more intelligent than I from many topics from theology to politics I have yet to suffer a 'humiliating defeat'.
    And as for your final point, the title was chosen for its pithy nature and availability. It is also somewhat tongue-in-cheek, so excuse me if I don't go and change it.

    I would also like to draw your attention to the lack of personal insults in this comment. Something that cannot be said of yours. Perhaps you should try to remove this from your writings in future.

    Good day.

  3. Concerning your anti-war position and your (rhetorical) question regarding the meaning of death in war -- Heller was actually pro-WWII and believed it was a means to prevent the deaths of millions -- See M.C. Scoggins's "Joseph Heller's Combat Experiences in Catch 22." Contained in it are excerpts from interviews with Heller himself.

    And just concede that your little montage of critiques is peppered with passive insults... "Maybe you're just too thick to 'get it'?" Please deny that that was a jab at his/her intellect. "...but if you're intelligent it shouldn't take that long to grasp what's happening." Was that not a vitriolic insinuation?

    But all pettiness aside, I appreciate your quick response. I had not expected you to respond, actually. I stand by my remarks, and to address your final comment: my post was intended to be insulting -- I achieved exactly what I'd set out to achieve.

  4. What Joseph Heller's opinions were is neither here nor there. I read into his book a deep anti-war message. Once a book is published the reader can take from it what they think they see, no matter what the author's intention.

    Again, the insults are a part of the persona I have constructed. Though, obviously, I am aware that others may not see it the way I intended. I would also draw your attention to the sentence below the blog title where it is stated: "we'll mock you. Idiotically."

    I am aware your initial post was deliberately insulting. I hoped that by calling your attention to it you would realise the irony of complaining about my supposed superiority whilst falling into exactly the same trap yourself.

  5. Indeed! I do the same thing myself, for example: when I'd finished reading 'Anne Frank', it was clear to me the protagonist's strong approval of the Nazi agenda. My peers didn't agree, but I just waved my 'poetic license' card in their faces. My opinion was just as valid as theirs! You see, with that card I'm exempt from any justified insults because, well, there aren't any. Any attempt to insult me would be an infringement upon this 'license' of mine and therefore be wrong by principle, but of course since every opinion is held in equal measure, any opinion discrediting mine would be valid(I feel as though there might be a Catch 22 somewhere in here...)! But whatever, man, Anne Frank was a closet Nazi... literally...
    Anyway, I thought it would be tasteless to stop responding to you without providing any closure. This is me providing closure. [Words of closure].
    Feel free to reply, however. If it's compelling enough I'll respond!

  6. Ah. So you can't actually engage in a serious debate with me so you resort to childishness. What I said remains true. Except I would add that any view is valid provided you can back it up with evidence. I can back my anti-war reading of Catch-22 up. Indeed, I wrote an essay about it. Could you do the same for your fatuous example? If you would like more information on this topic I would suggest reading the essay 'Death of the Author' by Roland Barthes (1967).

    Your refusal to engage in any sort of debate or discuss the content of my replies to your accusations is, frankly, embarrassing.

    And that last comment was not closure. It was comedy.

    So much for me being humiliated by any formal debate...

  7. It seems you mistook my aim. I in no way intended my response to be taken as an invitation to engage in debate. I hadn't even considered the possibility of such miscommunication until now. One would assume that an unapologetic barrage of insults would be taken for its explicit value, rather than as a tacit invitation to civilized discourse. A bruised ego on your part and a disinclination to relinquish your claim to intellectual potence could account for why this managed to elude you. In all fairness, were I in your position, I too would be disinclined to being bested on my own blog. But I shouldn't reach, perhaps I did come off as having an intent to initiate something that remotely resembles a formal debate. The vitriol you had inspired in me when I first read this article subsided before you posted your first response, unfortunately you were unable to discern this in my second post and continued under the assumption that you were contending an eager, equally as blood-thirsty opponent. Your belief that all opinions are equal is what spurred me to reply. I'm incapable of denying myself the opportunity to shatter, or at the very least reduce this flimsy notion to the absurdity that it is. That lazy excuse for stupidity has successfully diffused through even the thinnest crevices and provides the inept solace whenever their ignorance is met with competent opposition. Darwin himself would be entranced by the reproductive success of this meme, which continues to propagate at a fibonaccian rate -- far outstripping intellectual honesty and adherence to "truth". It's a peeve of mine. The rest of your post was too tenuous to be deserving of any attention, but I suppose it's well within your rights to ask me to be an engaged interlocutor.

    With enough quote manipulation, I can make anyone look like a Nazi, and so can you.

    I've enjoyed this conversation. Though you were unsuccessful at dispelling many of my judgements (you've shown that you can criticize people who have a chance to defend themselves), it allowed me to confirm my notions about the other side.

  8. I forgot to thank you for providing that reference for me. I'll be certain to take a look at it.

  9. I think you have a severely inflated sense of personal importance - your opinions mean literally nothing to me. I do not base my opinions on the internet or the people therein, so your attempts to 'shatter' my beliefs were laughable and doomed to failure from the beginning. Nor am I impressed by your continuing, pretentious attempts to seem intelligent by using long words. Instead you come off as an adolescent with open in another window.

    And if you feel that I have been bested then you are far more delusional than I had thought. But I have grown tired of this conversation. It's getting late here and the initial fun has worn off as you have proven yourself to be undeserving of my attention.

    Thank you for your ridiculous postings that have given myself and my friends much amusement, but I shan't be feeding you anymore.



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