Friday, May 16, 2008

Yossarian Lives!

Currently I'm reading Joseph Heller's classic Catch-22, which is about an Assyrian named Yossarian who happened to be caught up in his duties as a fighter bomber for the Allies in WWII. The funny thing about him is he believes everyone is out to get him, even the very cells in his own body. Here's a quote I found amusing:

"There were lymph glands that might do him in. There were kidneys, nerve sheaths and corpuscles. There were tumors of the brain. There was Hodgkin's disease, leukemia, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. There were fertile red meadows of epithelial tissue to catch and coddle a cancer cell. There were diseases of the skin, diseases of the bone, diseases of the lung, diseases of the stomach, diseases of the heart, blood and arteries. There were diseases of the head, diseases of the neck, diseases of the chest, diseases of the intestines, diseases of the crotch. There even were diseases of the feet. 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."

When you look at your body this way, it's easy to think you're only kept alive by chemical matter, which is not what we fully are. It's funny to read about a character who thinks this way, but if you meet a real person, it's actually very sad. There's more to living than the repetitive execution of body processes.

I'm enjoying the book so far, though it's taking me quite a while to read it. If you get ahold of the 1994 Simon & Schuster Edition, do save Mr. Heller's introduction for last. ;)


In case you don't know it yet, Catch-22 stands for a lose-lose situation--like the expression "damned if you do, damned if you don't." It got its name from the catch in the rules regarding exemption from war for the soldiers in the story. The rule was that if you're crazy, you could go home. But if you request that you go home on the grounds that you're crazy, it proves you're not crazy. And those who keep logging in flights are crazy, but they can't go home either because they're too crazy to ask. (And if they ask, then they're not crazy after all.)

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