July 23, 2011
July 22, 2011
Rhyming Dining - Five Day Plan
This is me. The pic is courtesy of the lovely Tan XLVII from B3ta.com. Thanks!
Being a typical woman I have pretty much tried every diet going. From the D-Plan to the F-Plan, low fat, wheat free, weight-watchers & Atkins... News flash... NONE of them work. I am also a self-confessed obsessive compulsive, so I have decided to devise my own diet plan in the hope of dropping a few pounds before the Christmas party season requires me to fit into that little black dress I bought 3 years ago.
The OCD Diet doesn't require that you count calories or grams of fat. There is no restriction on quantities or carbs, sugar or salt. The one single requirement is that you eat only foods in combinations that rhyme.
In the time honoured tradition of “scientific research” I have created a 5-day plan menu you can enjoy at home – and for the next 5 days I will be living on that diet and posting my progress here... starting with the dreaded weigh-in.
DAY 1 - MONDAY
Breakfast... Cheerios & Mini Heroes
1 bowl of Cheerios
a handful of Cadbury's Mini Heroes (shelled)
Just throw them all into a bowl together.
Very tasty – if a little dry with no milk. I did begin to feel slightly nauseous halfway through the bowl and I almost lost a filling when I came across an unexpected toffee eclair, so consequently ate less than I do normally in the morning. Result.
Lunch... Steamed Sardines & Broad Beans
1 can of sardines
1 portion of broad beans (shelled, or canned depending on season)
Drain sardines and place in a steamer along with the broad beans. Steam gently for 10 minutes, or until the beans are tender but not too soft. Serve immediately (preferably before you lose your nerve).
I know a lot of people don't like broad beans but actually, I am a big fan. I am not, however, a fan of fish – especially not oily fish – so the smell of this cooking actually made me gag. Dished up it is perhaps the most uninviting meal I have ever seen. And it tastes like shit. Seriously, really bad – even my cat wouldn't eat the leftovers.
Dinner... Lemon Sole Swiss Roll
1 lemon sole
1 Swiss Roll (n.b. If you are the homely kind you can make your own Swiss Roll, but I couldn't be arsed to be honest)
A few spoons full of jam (optional)
Grill the lemon sole until cooked. Allow to cool. Unwrap the Swiss Roll and carefully deconstruct it until it is lying flat on the work surface. Flake the fish evenly across the surface of the jammy sponge (adding extra jam will help it stick back together again). Next, carefully re-roll the cake base. Slice & serve.
This actually tastes a lot nicer than it sounds. The delicate flavour of the sole is completely drowned out by the sugary sweetness of the jam & cake, so apart from a slightly obscure texture, if you close your eyes it actually feels like you're just eating cake... only with added protein and that good-for-you-fat everyone is talking about at the moment.
Breakfast & Dinner were OK, but lunch was pretty dire actually. I am a little concerned that I have eaten quite a lot of sugar and not many vegetables. I will try and fix that tomorrow – if I ever get to sleep tonight. SUGAR RUUUSH!!
DAY 2 - TUESDAY
Breakfast... Hog Roast on Toast
1 slice of bread (brown or white)
Ideally spit roast the hog slowly over a charcoal fire. I live alone in a flat, so have opted instead to roast a pork chop in the oven – which is just the same but on a smaller scale. Next, lightly toast the bread on both sides. Place a large slice of hog (or the chop) on the toast & serve.
A very tasty breakfast indeed, though massively more than I usually eat in the morning. I feel totally ready for the day ahead – but a little apple sauce wouldn't have gone amiss.
Lunch... Boiled Peas & Cauliflower Cheese
1 portion frozen peas
1 pre-made cauliflower cheese (again, if you're feeling homely you can make this yourself, but life is too short for that much washing up at lunchtime to be honest)
Follow the instructions for heating the cauliflower cheese. 5 minutes before it's ready throw the peas into a pan of boiling water. Drain the peas and serve with the cauliflower cheese on a dish of your liking.
Wow.. this feels just like a normal meal. I like both peas & cauliflower cheese, and they compliment each other perfectly as the cheese sauce prevents the peas from rolling off your fork. It doesn't feel like I am on a diet at all! I also feel very good about heading in the right direction for my 5-a-day balanced diet - and, well... it just looks cheerful too doesn't it?
Dinner... Ham, Spam & Jam Flan
1 sponge flan base (I used individual ones, but when catering for a family use a large one)
1 pack of ham
1 can of spam
1 jar of jam (flavour to taste, but I have opted for tradition strawberry because I already had it in the cupboard)
Slice the Spam and arrange attractively in the flan base together with the ham. Presentation is important, so make sure you take your time and fan the sliced meat elegantly across the base. If you're in a hurry you could just dice & sprinkle. Next spread the jam evenly across the top of the meat. Refrigerated before serving.
This dish is a real winner in terms of rhymability. It also looks pretty awesome if you put a little effort in - and pardon me, but who the hell knew Spam smelt so damn good!?! Sadly it tastes like shit. It's also missing vegetables, again (I really wanted to add a yam, but they don't sell them at Tescos). I just about managed half a flan before I began to feel physically ill.
A good start to the day with breakfast and lunch both highly palatable. The excess of cauliflower for lunch did give me chronic wind in the afternoon though, which very wasn't popular with my co-workers – and after a disastrous dinner I went to bed feeling hungry and unhappy.
DAY 3 - WEDNESDAY
Breakfast... Demi Sec Ready Brek
1 bottle of sparkling Demi Sec
Ready Brek mix
This dish can be served hot or cold. A word of warning though - sparkling wine tends to fizz a bit crazily when you heat it up, so make sure you use an over-sized pan. It's also worth noting that heating the Demi Sec destroys the alcoholic content, which kind of goes against the grain for me. In the interests of science I have prepared and consumed it in both ways today. Simply add the hot or cold Demi Sec to the Ready Brek and mix to a consistency you like. Serve immediately.
In need of cheering up after last night's failure I was overjoyed with this start to the day – though I have to admit the cold and slightly fizzy version was a little weird on the tongue. The hot version was surprisingly tasty, and well accompanied by a couple of glasses of the left over Demi Sec (it is a travesty that they would put alcohol into something that tastes this crap, but after the week I have had so far, anything with booze in it will do). I do feel a little squiffy heading into work now though, so have left the car at home.
Lunch... Stir Fried Pork Pie
1 pork pie
Stir fry oil (pretty much any oil will do. I'm quite posh so am using olive oil)
Simply slice the pork pie and fry in a hot wok.
This was a very greasy meal – although not too bad taste wise. The heat from the wok melted the layer of fatty jelly you get inside a pork pie, which made the pastry a little soggy, hence the poorly presented serving. I'm pretty sure we'll see this on the menu at fish & chip shops in Scotland once word gets out though.
Dinner... Lambs Heart Treacle Tart
1 pre-made pastry case (sweet or savory.. and no, seriously, don't bother to make your own as you won't be eating much of this anyway)
1 pack of lambs hearts
1 can of treacle syrup
Dice and lightly sauté the lambs hearts. Leave to cool. Next, spread evenly across the pastry base (I have chosen the sweet version, which in hindsight was a bit of a tactical error given that this is supposed to be a “diet”). Now drizzle the treacle over the heart & bake in a medium oven for 20 minutes. Allow to cool before serving (unless you want third degree burns on the roof of your mouth).
I could only find Black Treacle in Tescos, so this dish looks exceedingly scary. It tastes even scarier. I strongly suggest you drain all the blood off the heart before applying it to the pastry base. This was a bit like eating an abortion suffering from leprosy. I only managed one mouthful before I was actually physically sick. The evening was only marginally rescued by the fact that I found half a bottle of Demi Sec in the fridge to take the taste of vomit away before bed time.
I am beginning to become dissolution with dinner time. Every time I walk into the kitchen I gag. And I realise that yet again my diet today has been very high in fat, protein, sugar & alcohol, with absolutely no vegetables or fruit included.
DAY 4 - THURSDAY
Breakfast... Honey Loops & Tomato Soup
1 bowl of Honey Loops
1 can of tomato soup
I was in two minds about how to prepare this – hot or cold? I am not going to try it both ways like yesterday, as to be honest the prospect of eating Honey Loops steeped in tomato soup is far from appealing. Fuck science. To get it over and done with I just opened the can of soup and poured it straight over the Loops.
After last night's abortion (quite literally) I woke up feeling drained and hungry – I am pretty sure I had a nightmare about being chased through treacle by angry lamb's fetuses. So as disgusting as this looks, I am determined to start the day off with a decent amount of food in my belly. And to be honest, once you get over the fact you are mixing 2 ingredients that should never, ever be served in the same time frame, it wasn't too bad. The flavour of the Honey Loops was totally overpowered by the tangyness of the tomato soup. I just wish I had taken the time to heat it up and I could have pretended they were just croûtons.
Lunch... Chips, Skips & Strawberry Whips
1 pack of Skips
Oven ready chips
A handful of Strawberry Whips
Follow the oven chips instructions to bake until golden brown. Open Skips and arrange attractively on a plate with the chips & whips.
This was a bit like being at a finger buffet. The chips were in dire need of some tomato ketchup, but I did burp a little sick into my mouth half way through the meal that was tinged with the taste of tomato soup from this morning, which went some way towards filling that gap. Altogether a not-unpleasant meal (apart from the moment of sick).
Dinner... Chicken Supreme & Chocolate Ice Cream
1 chicken supreme ready meal (you could make your own, but who knows what goes into chicken supreme? That thought actually scares me a little.)
2 scoops of chocolate ice cream
Follow the instructions on the package to heat up the chicken supreme. Dish out onto a plate and plop 2 scoops of chocolate ice cream on top. Serve immediately.
Chicken supreme is rather tasty. Chocolate ice cream is a food of the gods. The 2 should never, ever be combined. Ever. It doesn't actually taste too horrendous – I mean they eat chocolate sauce with meat quite a lot in some countries – but the ice cream melts way too fast and gets merged in with the general mush of the chicken supreme. A total and utter waste of a perfectly good scoop of ice cream.
Another disappointing end to the day. Luckily there was enough chocolate ice cream left in the tub to cheer me up a little while I watched a movie before bed. I know that's not strictly speaking in keeping with the diet plan, as I didn't eat it with anything that rhymed with it – but I've been so good all week I felt I deserved a little detour... besides, it wouldn't be a real diet if I didn't cheat right?
DAY 5 - FRIDAY
Breakfast... Belgian Waffle & Sautéed Offal
1 Belgian Waffle
Some offal (hearts, kidneys, livers, brains, whatever)
Dice and sauté the offal until cooked through. DRAIN THOROUGHLY OF BLOOD (I am not getting caught out again!). Warm the waffle under the grill & then serve with the diced offal on top.
I woke up this morning with a sense of dread, as well as a churning and distinctly unhealthy feeling in the pit of my stomach. When I planned this diet last week I hadn't quite banked on how appalling the heart-tart-fuck-up would be – and in the interests of economy I had planned on using the remaining lambs hearts to complete this dish. Looking at it sitting festering on my plate I am absolutely certain I am going to vomit when I take a mouthful... I was right.
Lunch... Apple Strudel Super Noodles
1 homebake apple strudel
1 pack of super noodles (any flavour will do – I chose chicken as they are my favourite)
Follow the instructions on the package to prepare the apple strudel. Remove from oven and leave to cool as you prepare the super noodles (also follow pack instructions). Cut the apple strudel into manageable slices (which is really fucking hard as it happens) and fan attractively around the dished up noodles.
Not a combination you would usually expect to find on your plate, but actually not too bad at all. I don't know if it is because my taste buds are becoming desensitized to the onslaught of conflicting flavours I have been bombarding them with this week, or if some part of me has given up the will to live a little. I feel it's probably a bit of both – and perhaps the beginnings of a mental disorder brought on by severe malnutrition due to the fact I have hardly eaten any fresh fruit or vegetables all week.
Dinner... Baked Steak in a Cadbury Flake Lake
Several Cadbury Flakes
Place the steak in an oven proof dish and crumble several flakes around it (exact number will depend on the size of your dish & steak, but ideally the end result should leave an island of meaty goodness floating in a lake of melted chocolate. N.B. Being too stingy with the flakes will result in either an undercooked steak or a dish full of smoking and burnt chocolate that is impossible to clean off.. & yes, I am talking from experience here). Bake in a medium oven for 10-12 mins, or until steak is cooked to your liking.
It's Friday & the end of my diet, so I thought I'd push the boat out with something a little fancy tonight. Drawing once again on the “meat & chocolate sauce genre”, this is OCD haute cuisine at it's very best. It smells amazing as it's cooking – and looks rather fancy too, though the flakes didn't quite melt to create the lake I had envisaged. It begs the question, what have Cadburys done to the genetic makeup of the chocolate in their flakes?? Sadly I feel a little too nauseous to fully appreciate the meaty, chocolaty goodness of this meal. All I really want right now is some plain boiled rice and an early night.
Having (pretty much) stuck to this diet all week I can honestly say that compared with other diets I have been on it was a resounding success. I feel like shit. I am lethargic and depressed. I find myself thinking about food constantly and want to kill anyone I see eating anything that isn't on my menu. I have even been dreaming about food – only unlike other diets where my dreams involve gorging myself on forbidden fruits, this week I have mostly been dreaming about being chased by various alarming produce through lakes and rivers of treacle & chocolate. There is one final test to complete this experiment... the ultimate litmus test of any successful diet.. the holy grail of the nutritional dictatorship... the dreaded weigh-in. I was 9st 11lbs at the start of this week.... /drum roll
Up yours Atkins & f-you F-Plan! I have lost a total of 3lbs this week, which is more than I ever did on your diets – although admittedly they didn't make me chunder my guts up on 2 out of the 5 days, at least I lost some weight! And I didn't even have to go bulimic or any shit like that to get there. Now if you'll excuse me I am off to Maccy D's to celebrate – where I am going to order every flipping thing on the menu that does NOT rhyme with each other.
What the Doctors say....
"Following an eating plan like this is utterly ridiculous and very unhealthy. Now get out of my office and stop wasting my time"
*N.B. This is not my real Doctor... he wouldn't let me take his photograph*
via secret member sf
July 21, 2011
22 Going on 50
Half a century later, the world is full of Catch-22s.
By Richard King
On November 11, 1961, readers of the New York Times were confronted with a huge advertisement for a novel, published the previous day, by a little-known writer named Joseph Heller. Running from the top to the bottom of the page and covering five of the paper’s eight columns, the ad showed an angular, panic-stricken figure, apparently in military uniform, in flight from some unspecified threat. “WHAT’S THE CATCH?” the caption screamed – a reference to the novel’s title, which, in itself, threw no light on the matter. Readers would have to buy the novel and work their way through 50-odd pages in order to find the answer to that question. I dare say it was worth the effort.
There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a 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 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.
No doubt Heller’s early readers experienced a similarly awed reaction on encountering the logical paradox, or sinister bureaucratic dodge, delineated in this wonderful passage. Indeed, it’s rather sad to think that for most of the novel’s subsequent readers, no such gratification was forthcoming, the element of surprise having been removed by the fact that the novel was so successful. Certainly we can all think of versions of the dilemma, even if we haven’t read the book. How many times do we hear of someone who cannot get a job because he has no address and cannot get an address because he has no job? Who has not heard of the trials by ordeal where death is the only firm proof of innocence? And is there not a whiff of Catch-22 about George W. Bush’s determination to protect American liberties by eroding them through the Patriot Act? With the possible exception of George Orwell’s “doublethink,” no concept so neatly describes these phenomena as the one first set out in Heller’s novel. Yes, that’s some catch, that Catch-22.
Though it seized the public imagination with a force that is rare in literary fiction, Catch-22 was not unanimously praised when it first appeared in 1961. Whitney Balliett, writing in the New Yorker, declared the novel a facetious mishmash: “Heller wallows in his own laughter and finally drowns in it. What remains is a debris of sour jokes, stage anger, dirty words, synthetic looniness, and the sort of antic behavior the children fall into when they know they are losing our attention.” Similarly, a reviewer in the New York Times described the novel as “an emotional hodgepodge” and declared that it “gasps for want of craft and sensibility.” Of course, these were just the initial reactions of those whose job it was (and is) to churn out short reviews on deadline, a discipline that doesn’t always favour the kind of high-end literary novel that reveals its riches gradually.
But even today there are many critics, some of them of no small reputation, who regard Catch-22 as grossly overrated. Of these, perhaps the most distinguished is the American critic Harold Bloom, who, in his preface to a collection of essays dedicated to Heller’s novel, wrote: “It is neither apocalyptic nor a masterpiece, but a tendentious burlesque, founded upon a peculiarly subjective view of historical reality.” (In a later edition of the same book, he added: “It will not last, and there’s an end on it.”) Nevertheless, Catch-22 has sold millions of copies and gained the endorsements of many fine critics. Why, then, does this remarkable novel elicit such divergent reactions?
The answer is partly literary and partly ideological, and is bound up inextricably with what we think Catch-22 is. Do we, for example, read it as a war novel or as a novel of political protest? As a satire on World War II or as a satire on the 1950s? As an ontological investigation or as a simple bureaucratic farce? For my part, I think the novel partakes of almost all of these descriptions and that it contains one fundamental flaw that no amount of subtle misreading or critical casuistry can ultimately disguise, though that hasn’t stopped some critics from trying. For all that it is a comic novel, Catch-22 has a serious intention, and that intention, it seems to me, is undermined by the novel’s setting, which entrains a failure of moral logic almost as conspicuous as the logical paradox on the book’s front cover. Heller’s novel is a breathtaking performance but the performance is rather let down by the conception. Or that, at least, is how it looks to me, 50 years after its publication.
But let us reacquaint ourselves with Heller’s topsy-turvy world, with its double binds and double vision, its ludicrous set pieces and verbal brilliance. This world is, to be sure, a zany place. Its presiding genius is John Yossarian, a U.S. bombardier of Assyrian extraction stationed on the island of Pianosa in Italy’s Tuscan archipelago toward the end of WWII. As a fighter in the Italian Campaign, it is Yossarian’s role to fly missions over Italy, a role he is ambitious not to fulfill on account of his “morbid aversion to dying.” When he takes to the air it is with profound reluctance. “He had decided to live forever or die in the attempt, and his only mission each time he went up was to come down alive.” His mission, once down, is to avoid going up again. In this, he is generally unsuccessful, not least because of the bizarre provisions of the piece of bureaucratic sophistry from which the novel takes its title. His only hope is to fly enough missions in order to qualify for a military discharge. But Colonel Cathcart, the group commander of the Pianosa base, constantly raises the number of missions Yossarian must fly in an attempt to endear himself to top brass. Faking the symptoms of various diseases, Yossarian takes refuge in the Army hospital. When not in the hospital, and not flying missions or thinking up ways to avoid flying missions, he spends his time on leave in Rome sleeping with Italian prostitutes.
The novel’s structure is sedimentary. That’s to say that particular events are described repeatedly and from different angles and only slowly acquire solidity. The plot is notoriously difficult to follow. Heller’s narrative style is digressive, such that he will often begin by describing one event or character and then drift off and describe another. Moreover, it’s often quite difficult to know in what order key events take place, as the narrative jumps around in time. (As with Homer’s Iliad — a story to which Catch-22 constitutes a sort of comic parallel — the novel begins in media res.) This situation isn’t helped by the fact that there are no dates in the book (the only clue to the passing of time is the increasing number of combat missions the airmen are required to fly) or by the fact that many incidents and conversations echo one another (déjà vu is a key motif). Many of the early reviewers complained about the book’s repetitiveness, and one can certainly see their point, even if one doesn’t share their judgment. Catch-22 does sometimes read as a cross between Beckett and Abbott and Costello.
Such movement (as there is) is tonal and emotional. The early chapters are crammed to bursting with instances of linguistic lunacy, brought off with exquisite rhythm and poise. Heller’s language is a game of snakes and ladders in which the snakes and ladders are one and the same. Sentences unpick themselves; propositions are self-negating: "Nately had a bad start. He came from a good family … And if that wasn’t funny, there were lots of things that weren’t even funnier … People who met him were always impressed by how unimpressive he was …” These oxymoronic utterances mirror the almost Escher-like world in which Yossarian finds himself, a world where the safest place is the hospital (as long as nobody tries to cure you), where superiors refuse to see you if they’re in but are perfectly willing to see you if they’re out, and where a pilot cannot be grounded as insane unless he asks to be grounded as insane and cannot be deemed insane if he does so. In the back-to-front world of Catch-22, even grammar is complicit in the madness.
As the novel progresses, its humor darkens and the atmosphere of antic hilarity is joined, though never entirely supplanted, by a tone of sober desperation. Yossarian’s casual misanthropy gives way to flashes of fellow feeling, such that by the end of the book he begins to seem like a frustrated idealist. Certainly his fear of death is revealed as related to the deaths of his comrades, for which he feels some responsibility. On one mission, he fails to drop his bombload and decides to fly back over his target, a maneuver that costs one man his life. (In an attempt to cover up the debacle, Yossarian’s superiors give him a medal.) Then there is the case of Snowden, who is killed on a mission over Avignon, and whose death forms the emotional centre of the book. “Where are the Snowdens of yesteryear?” Yossarian asks the idealistic Clevinger toward the beginning of Catch-22, a question that elicits understandable puzzlement. Not long thereafter Snowden’s fate is revealed, though the details of the young man’s evisceration are vouchsafed to us very gradually. Only in the last few pages of the novel is the incident described in full. The following passage comes as Yossarian is treating Snowden for a wound in his leg:But Snowden kept shaking his head and pointed at last, with just the barest movement of his chin, down toward his armpit. Yossarian bent forward to peer and saw a strangely colored stain seeping through the coveralls just above the armhole of Snowden’s flak suit. Yossarian felt his heart stop, then pound so violently he found it difficult to breathe. Snowden was wounded inside his flak suit. Yossarian ripped open the snaps of Snowden’s flak suit and heard himself scream wildly as Snowden’s insides slithered down to the floor in a soggy pile and just kept dripping out. A chunk of flak more than three inches big had shot into his other side just underneath the arm and blasted all the way through, drawing whole mottled quarts of Snowden along with it through the gigantic hole in his ribs it made as it blasted out. Yossarian screamed a second time and squeezed both hands over his eyes. His teeth were chattering in horror. He forced himself to look again. Here was God’s plenty all right, he thought bitterly as he stared — liver, lungs, kidneys, ribs, stomach and bits of the stewed tomatoes Snowden had eaten that day for lunch.
This is the novel’s heart of darkness, but there are many other distressing passages. On the whole, prostitution is treated light-heartedly, though very occasionally the scene will darken to reveal the grim reality at its core. (“Vengeful neighbors had shaved her hair to the gleaming bone because she had slept with Germans.”) Then there is Yossarian’s walk through Rome toward the novel’s end — a scene of appalling squalor and cruelty that draws explicitly on Dostoevsky. Finally, there is the subtle way in which Catch-22 is redefined, or defined more widely, as the novel progresses — transformed, in fact, from an expedient dodge to an unchangeable law of human history. The vaudevillian back-and-forth of Yossarian’s attempt to have himself grounded becomes, eventually, an old woman’s assertion: “Catch-22 says they have a right to do anything we can’t stop them from doing.” Catch-22 is not just a rule; it is the hinge in Heller’s unhinged universe.
This darkening of tone in Catch-22, and the way in which Yossarian’s character is imbued with greater depth and subtlety, allows us to discount immediately one criticism that is sometimes made of the novel — namely that it is nihilistic. In fact, the novel is profoundly moral, though whether or not it is morally profound is a question we will touch on later. Nor is it an anti-war novel, though many are the readers who have assumed that it is, for perfectly understandable reasons (another problem we’ll touch on later). Heller has said on several occasions that he was not against WWII, in which he served as a bombardier, and also that he never had a bad officer. So what was Heller trying to say in this crazy epic — this Sillyad — and did he succeed in saying it?
At its simplest level, Catch-22 is a sort of existential satire, one in which war is employed as a metaphor for the struggle for meaning in a meaningless universe. Yossarian’s most important relationship is with R. O. Shipman, the base chaplain, who is present on the first and last pages of the book. Provoked in part by Yossarian’s example, the chaplain suffers a crisis of faith, the narrator’s thrilled description of which is an eloquent statement of one of the book’s themes: “Where the devil was heaven? Was it up? Down? There was no up or down in a finite but expanding universe in which even the vast, burning, dazzling, majestic sun was in a state of progressive decay that would eventually destroy the earth too.” This “progressive decay” is of particular concern to Yossarian’s hospital buddy, Dunbar, who is named, I suspect, for William Dunbar — the 15th-century Scottish poet whose “Lament for the Makars” employs the refrain Timor mortis conturbat me: “fear of death disturbs me.” Dunbar’s ambition is to prolong his life, a goal he pursues by “cultivating boredom.” (“Dunbar was working so hard at increasing his life span that Yossarian thought he was dead.”) “The spirit gone, man is garbage,” thinks Yossarian, as Snowden lies dying in the plane. The consciousness that man is alone in the universe suffuses the novel’s bleaker passages.
Such gods as exist in Heller’s world are more like the gods of Greek mythology — capricious, jealous, violent, competitive — and their part is taken by the colonels and generals who send the soldiers into battle. Thus we come to the principal target of Heller’s satire in Catch-22: the nature of power and conformity. It is the battle of the individual against society — or “the contemporary regimented business society” as the author termed it in a subsequent article — that Heller seeks to explore in the book, which is, again, no more anti-war than Moby-Dick is anti-whaling. Rather, it is intended as a satire on the age of affluence that succeeded the war, and of the kind of mind-set that went along with it — a mindset represented in the novel by the ludicrous Milo Minderbinder, the squadron cook who rises to become a renowned entrepreneur and racketeer and whose frankly Byzantine business practices are the source of much of the novel’s comedy. More generally, Heller wants to satirize the nature of bureaucracy, which he takes to be a dehumanizing influence. Two characters are crucial in this regard: Mudd, who is officially alive, and Doc Daneeka, who is officially dead. In fact, Mudd is dead and Daneeka alive, though the system is so inflexible that neither can escape his official designation. When, toward the end of the novel, the revolting Aarfy murders a prostitute, the police arrive and arrest Yossarian for failing to carry the proper papers. In Catch-22, the flesh-and-blood person has less reality than his official file.
Needless to say, these themes emerge from a specific political and social context. The book is peppered with anachronisms such as loyalty oaths, IBM machines, and agricultural subsidies. One obvious target is McCarthyism, the perverted moral logic of which — guilty until proven innocent — is immediately recognizable in the novel’s interrogation scenes, which, like much else in Catch-22, darken as the novel progresses. But if the book is relevant to what happened in the 1950s, it is equally relevant to what was about to happen in the ’60s. To a 1960s counter-culture predisposed to question all forms of authority and the U.S. war in Indochina, Catch-22 was a lucky dip of philosophical insight and political penetration, while Yossarian’s desertion, which occurs in the last chapter, seemed to grant a moral amnesty to those considering draft evasion. It is, I think, to this co-option of Catch-22 by the counter-culture that conservative critics such as Norman Podhoretz are really responding when they seek to dismiss it as an anti-military jeremiad. To be fair, the author did precious little to discourage this co-option himself, perhaps on the understandable assumption that to do so would be bad for business. But if the popularity of Catch-22 with the counter-culture was good for sales, it also served to throw its failings — and one failing in particular — into relief.
For the novel is not set in Vietnam, or indeed in corporate America. It is set in the Tyrrhenian Sea. More important, it is set in the midst of a conflict the moral justification for which, on the Allied side, should not be in doubt, though that is not to say that immoral things were not done in its name. (They certainly were, and I note in passing that Catch-22, like Slaughterhouse-Five, the novel with which it has most in common, deals with the bombing of civilian targets.) For the U.S. in particular, the notion that the Second World War was a “good” war is partly retrospective, but it is a judgment that most U.S. citizens (and non-U.S. citizens) would now accept as true. And herein sits the problem for Heller. If the Second World War saw the U.S. at its best, why would he choose to set his vision of the U.S. at its worst in the Second World War?
To say that this projection backwards unbalances the novel is to put it mildly. Despite the obvious artfulness of its plot, or the skill with which such plot as it has is revealed over nearly 600 pages, Catch-22 seems irrevocably split between two different visions of the world — a dislocation that no invocation of “tragicomedy” can quite disguise. Nor is this a question of characterization, of the juxtaposition of “flat” and “round” characters that occurs throughout Catch-22. This, in itself, is not a problem, though there is, I think, too great a gap between, say, the highly improbable Milo, who barely exists in two dimensions, and Yossarian, whom three can barely contain. The real problem is not with the way Heller chooses to describe his world but with the nature of the world described — a problem connected to the uneasy fit between his novel’s setting and its intention.
Let us stay with Milo for a moment. One crucial bit of ridiculousness emerges when the business-savvy cook bombs the base on Pianosa in order to fulfill a business contract (at this point he is fighting for both sides of the War). The action leads to many deaths. Milo is court-martialled but permitted to go free after invoking the logic of capitalism and revealing how much profit his actions have made for the “syndicate” in which “everyone has a share.” Not a subtle instance of satire, but not entirely out of key with the novel’s more absurdist passages. Now consider the following strophe, not devoid of physical comedy but certainly not subsumed by it, in which an underage flyer is cut in half by the wing propeller of a B-25 while fooling around on a raft in the water:Even people who were not there remembered vividly exactly what happened next. There was the briefest, softest tsst! filtering audibly through the shattering, overwhelming howl of the plane’s engines, and then there were just Kid Sampson’s two pale, skinny legs, still joined by strings somehow at the bloody truncated hips, standing stock-still on the raft for what seemed like a minute or two before they toppled over backward into the water finally with a faint, echoing splash and turned completely upside down so that only the grotesque toes and plaster-white soles of Kid Sampson’s feet remained in view.
What follows is a scene of panic and mayhem. Bits of Kid Sampson rain down from the sky and the chapter ends with the fearless McWatt, the pilot of Yossarian’s plane and the man responsible for Sampson’s death (he was flying dangerously low over the coast), crashing his B-25 into a mountain in a fit of suicidal guilt. The scene is comic, but traumatically so, and in point not only of the things described but also of the men’s reactions to them (“Everyone on the beach was screaming and shouting”) broadly realistic in tone. To be sure, the chapter appears to exist in a different physical and moral universe to the one in which Milo bombs his own men (none of whose deaths is described at all) and contrives thereafter to beat the rap with some unlikely bluster about the American Way — a chapter that may strike us as a failure of decorum when set against the scenes involving the gruesome deaths of Kid Sampson and Snowden, with their heavy emotional toll on the men. What, then, is the source of this incongruity?
The answer lies, in my opinion, in Heller’s own experiences of the War, which, while indispensable to the novel, serve to some extent to unbalance it. Heller, like Yossarian, was a bombardier in the closing phases of the Italian Campaign. One only has to read the vertiginous passages in which the bombing missions are described — passages that, like the whaling scenes in Moby-Dick, bring the book alive – to sense just how clear those experiences were in Heller’s mind. (“With a grinding howl of engines, he flipped the plane over on one wing and wrung it around remorselessly in a screaming turn away from the twin spires of flak Yossarian had spied stabbing toward them.”) But there is one scene that comes straight from Heller’s experience, and it happens to be the key scene in the book. Here is Heller in 1967, in an article for Holiday Magazine:On August 15, the day of the invasion of southern France, we flew to Avignon again. This time three planes went down, and no men got out. A gunner in my plane got a big wound in his thigh. I took care of him. I went to visit him in the hospital the next day. He looked fine. They had given him blood, and he was going to be all right. But I was in terrible shape; and I had 23 more missions to fly.
This, of course, is the source of the scene in which Snowden is killed by a chunk of flak. And while the real-life gunner was not fatally wounded, it’s clear that this incident had a huge effect on the author of Catch-22, who, for many years after the War, refused to fly in an airplane. Nor do I think it outlandish to suggest that this incident, which became the novel’s centerpiece, was not, in the end, amenable to or congruent with its satirical vision. It was an open psychological wound that would seep through the author’s satirical flak jacket.
Most novelists write from experience, and it is clear from his statements that Heller needed the experience as a bombardier to spur him into a serious and sustained creative effort. But the novel he wanted to write was a satire, to which that experience proved resistant. In Catch-22, in other words, the satire and the setting are fundamentally at odds: the playfulness of the scenes with Milo, which are really a kind of moral slapstick, does not sit well with the book’s darker passages. In a sense, its author is in a double bind, a victim of his own Catch-22: He wanted to write a novel protesting the moral chaos of the 1950s but the only experience vivid enough to carry such a novel forward was a time of (relative) moral clarity. The American critic Robert Merrill has written that Heller has done everything possible to dissociate his satire from the war against Hitler — an odd thing to argue when you consider that the novel is set in the midst of the war against Hitler! And while necessity is not nobility and many ignoble things were done by the Allied powers in the course of the war effort, you won’t find many people these days willing to argue that that effort was wasted. In his final chapters, Heller attempts to give Yossarian’s desire to desert — a desire on which he follows through, inspired as he is by the ingenious Orr, who has faked his own death and fled to Sweden — a dignity that the act itself does not warrant. Indeed, he even attempts to paint it as an act of solidarity. Suffice it to say, the effort doesn’t convince.
In Heller’s second novel, Something Happened, the absurdity and alienation of Catch-22 is relocated to corporate America. Its embodiment is the novel’s protagonist Bob Slocum, who is lost in a world of pointless bureaucracy. Like Heller, and like Yossarian, Slocum was a flyer in the Second World War — a bombardier in the Italian Campaign — and this experience is sharply at odds with the sense of existential drift that has overtaken him in subsequent years. (“It was after the war that the struggle began.”) It is tempting to conclude that the essential problem with Heller’s first and greatest novel is that it attempts to transfer this sense of alienation to the very time in the author’s life when no such sense of alienation existed. The result is a sort of ungainly crossbreed. Catch-22 is a magnificent novel, but an oddly disjointed work of art.
Nevertheless, it continues to resonate, and has resonated since it first hit the shelves in November 1961. When Nixon’s attorney told the Supreme Court that you cannot impeach a president without evidence, and that collecting such evidence is a Federal crime, one knew where to look for the appropriate analogues, just as one knows where to look today when politicians attempt to justify the curtailment of our civil liberties in the name of the struggle against intolerance. Catch-22 is a tool to think with, to press into service whenever the cause of political perspicuity demands it. Heller has given us a concept, and a language, with which to lampoon obfuscation. In that sense, the novel does hit its target and will go on hitting it for centuries to come. For if there’s one thing the powerful cannot abide, it’s the feeling that they are not taken seriously. • 20 July 2011
| || |
May 18, 2003
¶ Amelia is first and foremost Stan Davis' daughter, born when he designed the typeface in 1964 for an international typeface contest. The contest was sponsored by the Visual Graphics Corporation (VGC) and judged by some of the leading designers of the day. While sometimes linked to (so called) "liquid" typefaces, MICR or chequebook fonts, Amelia's structure sets it apart from all others, before or since. As Stan, who now lives in Saugerties, NY, writes: "Somehow, Amelia has imparted meaning. It was simultaneously used by the Beatles and others as a rock anthem, a symbol of the sixties, science fiction, the corporate world, psychology and (among a host of others) computers, to which, I might add, in hindsight, it anticipates."
¶ Stan is upset by the fact that MyFonts is selling bastard versions of Amelia, designed by Linotype and Bitstream. In his own words, to me: "Bitstream and Linotype have stolen my "Amelia" font (their renditions of it are pathetic). My digitized version of Amelia and other fonts I designed are available at firstname.lastname@example.org." He provides more information later: "As for how Bitstream and Linotype came by my fonts, I have no direct knowledge but I can give you some idea of the formative process of Amelia and other fonts I have designed. Some time after I digitized Amelia (in Fontographer) from my original drawings, I compared the letter forms with the pirated versions and, not surprisingly, found them wanting. It's strange and ironic that these bastard versions apply the same typographic tricks Amelia was designed as a departure from. Amelia was conceived in the early sixties at a time when hope was in the wind. It looks to the East for inspiration but is firmly rooted in the classical tradition it turns on end." So, here we have an original designer thoroughly upset by the piracy [in his own eyes] of two large foundries.
¶ Always on the side of the artists and creators, I decided to dig a bit further, and discovered various versions of Amelia on the market. I have not seen the original, but it seems that A770Deco (shown below) is closest to it. The versions are:
¶ A quick look at the basic alphabet shows that Amy stands out by its gross deviation from the original: it has thicker strokes, and loses it completely in letters such as the K. In fact, the principal thread in Amelia is the rounding of all corners, the liquid effect. That principle is not applied uniformly in most versions: the numbers 5, 6 and 9 show that Amy, and the Linotype and Bitstream versions are inconsistent. The overall color suggests that we have four groups, A770Deco and BarbarellaSF in the front group (truest to the original, and consistent in their applications), PerkleDisplaySSi (related, but as we will see below, lacking in the details), AmeliaBT and LinotypeAmelia (probably developed from the same source, but bastard liquid faces), and Amy (all by itself, a Corel monster).
¶ Stan must have liked the octagonal look of B's bowl. The Bitstream, Linotype and Corel versions take the liquidism too far here, and round out the bowl.
¶ The corners of the bridge are more "liquid" in the A770Deco group.
¶ The square angle in the first three faces show a lack of understanding. PerkleDisplaySSi fumbles the ball by not having a truly vertical leg of the P.
¶ This letter clearly shows who is related to whom. SSi's tail did not survive Paul King's outline manipulation. Amy's tail is too short as well.
¶ It is inconceivable that these fonts were developed independently---there are too many coincidences. I must agree with Stan Davis that the Bitstream, Linotype and Corel versions are unacceptable bastards, that lower the value of his creation. MyFonts claims that the Bitstream font it is selling was created by Stan, yet the version sold is the imperfect Bitstream bastard. I am sure Stan wants it removed, but what can he do? Does any of the Bitstream profit go to Stan--I doubt it. Same comments for the Linotype face, but Linotype goes a step further---it has trademarked the name of Stan's daughter, and uses it for its own bastard. They have thus made the bastard immortal. So, if you want the original face, and if you want to support its creator, please get it from directly from Stan Davis at email@example.com.