50 years later, ‘Catch-22’ still resonates


Hyper-cynical anti-war novel “Catch-22” turns 50 next month, and Joseph Heller must be chortling in his grave over how ‘apropos’, the phrase he coined remains today — from the US jobs crisis to a bottomless war in Afghanistan.
In addition to a fresh edition of the novel, publishers have rolled out new books to coincide with the anniversary — including a major Heller biography and a memoir by his daughter.
The absurdist, often cartoonish story, about a hard-to-kill World War II pilot stationed on a small Mediterranean island and trapped in a perverse bureaucratic cycle, has sold more than 10 million copies and introduced to the English lexicon one of the most penetrating new phrases of the 20th Century.
Released at the dawn of the 1960s, “Catch-22” seemed to foretell the ghastly war in Vietnam, and prophesied a counter-culture spirit that would dominate the last half of the decade.
Despite its slow pacing and repetitiveness, “remarkably, college students are still reading it,” said Tracy Daugherty, a professor of English at Oregon State University and author of this year’s “Just One Catch”, a major new biography of Heller.
“But the basic situation — an average person caught in a maddening bureaucratic nightmare — still resonates, maybe more than ever as our institutions have only grown more bloated,” he said.
The novel’s catch — “anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn’t really crazy” — has rattled militaries worldwide for decades.