Catch-22

Catch-22: “A novel (1961) by Joseph Heller (1923-1999) about the experiences of Captain Yossarian of the 256th (Army) bombing squadron in Italy during the Second World War. Yossarian’s main aim is to avoid getting killed. ‘Catch-22’ has become part of everyday speech to indicate a ‘no-win’ situation. Heller originally defined Catch-22 in chapter 5 of the novel:

‘There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified the concern for one’s own 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 to ask; and as soon as he did. He would no longer be crazy have 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’ 

Heller’s original title had been Catch 18, but his editor Robert Gottlieb pointed out that they were publishing Leon Uris’s Mila 18 in the same season. Heller later recalled:

‘I thought of Catch-Eleven, because it’s the only other number to start with an open vowel sound, I guess we doubled that.’

A film version (1970) with Alan Arkin as Yossarian was directed by Mike Nichols. Heller’s novel Closing Time (1994) features some of the same characters in later life.”

Excerpted from: Crofton, Ian, ed. Brewer’s Curious Titles. London: Cassell, 2002.

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