Thursday, October 25, 2012



Yossarian looked at him soberly and tried another approach. "Is Orr crazy?"

"He sure is," Doc Daneeka said. 

"Can you ground him?" 

"I sure can. But first he has to ask me to. That's part of the rule." 

"Then why doesn't he ask you to?" 

"Because he's crazy," Doc Daneeka said. "He has to be crazy to keep flying combat missions after all the close calls he's had. Sure, I can ground Orr. But first he has to ask me to." 

"That's all he has to do to be grounded?" 

"That's all. Let him ask me." 

"And then you can ground him?" Yossarian asked. 

"No. Then I can't ground him." 

"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 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. 

- Joseph Heller, Catch-22 

Joseph Heller (1923-1999), novelist and playwright, is today best remembered for his satirical novel (and my fav book) Catch-22. Note that the book title is spelt with a hyphen. Himself aware of living in the shadow of that book, he said in later years “When I read something saying I've not done anything as good as Catch-22 I'm tempted to reply, ‘Who has?’ “ 

Catch 22 – a paradox in which the attempt to escape makes escape impossible – has developed an extended meaning so that it now refers generally to a no-win situation. Even in the book it is used in various situations to enforce authority and to take advantage of helpless weaker people: 

"Catch-22 states that agents enforcing Catch-22 need not prove that Catch-22 actually contains whatever provision the accused violator is accused of violating." 

"Catch-22 says they have a right to do anything we can't stop them from doing." 

Yossarian, the main character, eventually comes to realise that Catch 22 does not actually exist, but that people believe it does because more powerful people say so.   Insofar as it does not exist it can’t be repealed.

Catch-22 was written in 1955 and published in 1961. A chapter was published in 1955 under the title Catch-18

That title was changed to Catch-22 after numerous alternatives were rejected: 

  • Heller’s agent felt that Catch-18 would be confused with a WW2 novel published at that time, Leon Uris’s Mila 18
  • Catch-11 was suggested but it was thought that this might be confused with the 1960 movie Oceans Eleven
  • Catch-17 was rejected as being too similar to the movie Stalag 17
  • Catch-14 was rejected by the publisher as not being a funny number. 
  • Catch-22 was selected as having the right syllables and because it sounded repetitive, reflecting repetition which occurs in the book.
An example of catch 22:

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