I never had to read Joseph Heller’s “Catch 22” in high school but chances are if it had been assigned I wouldn’t probably wouldn’t have finished reading it. The novel is a too-long absurdist, occasionally funny, often sickening accurate and poignant, novel set during the Second World War, of a bunch of men screaming louder and louder because no one is listening them, while sexually assaulting most of Italy.
Weaving throughout the narrative exploration of a myriad of damaged soldiers is the emotional and psychological cost of toxic masculinity, on those wallowing in it as well as to everyone they come in contact with.
The greatest expression here of this cultural malignancy is the bureaucracy of war; whereas war is wage to provide a hierarchy for men to exploit one another, and that bureaucracy is then maintained to continue to wage a futile and pointless war that creates victims as much in those who are bombed as those who are bombing. Perhaps those who order the bombings can be said to be immune to the effects of this culture and the war it wages in reality, but they most certainly have a form letter explaining to “Mrs., Mr., Miss, or Mr. and Mrs. —” that it is they who are the real victims in all of this.
But I also have to wonder how the new Hulu adaption of the book will address the cultural and sexual shortcomings of the book in today’s Me Too and Time’s Up movements. Or will that charming and wistful reminiscing of the good old days when a fraternity gang raped two underage girls be excised entirely from the retelling?
It’s certainly a difficult book to read, and one difficult to say was enjoyed, despite the humorous moments. But for its stark, absurd illustration of the power of communication, miscommunication and misdirection to corrupt and damn, and the effects of war, of unchecked and unrestrained aggression it is an important story to experience. And one that, despite being dated in some aspects, is just as relevant today in the lessons that still need to be learned and the warnings to be gleaned.
War, Deceit, Imperial Folly, and the Unbelievably Boring Start to the Story of How American Business Destroyed the World
I’m struggling. Would it be better to read rather than listen to it? I’m not sure if that would matter much—there is so much history and political maneuvering, so many individuals beyond the principle figures that are constantly being introduced and threaded into the convoluted history of European and American interference in the Middle East on the brink of war that I’m constantly listening to portions again but coming away not at all more sure of what is happening.
At a quarter of the way through it still feels like an introduction. Although, as I write this, Anderson is now touching on the beginnings of the Armenian Genocide, the German spy who’s brother and nephew would both go on to be the first and seventh presidents of Israel, and the scathingly passive aggressive letters Lawrence sent his incredibly abusive mother regarding the death of his youngest brother, who was her favorite child.
So, one hopes I spoke too soon and the threads of crumbling empires at war, religious communities searching for political identities and oil-hungry corporations manipulating them all begin to tighten together into a more engaging narrative.