Author: Joseph Heller
Dates: 1 May 1923 – 12 December 1999
Title of Book: Catch-22
After he had made up his mind to spend the rest of the war in the hospital, Yossarian wrote letters to everyone he knew saying that he was in the hospital but never mentioning why. One day he had a better idea. To everyone he knew he wrote that he was going on a very dangerous mission, ‘They asked for volunteers. It’s very dangerous, but someone has to do it. I’ll write you the instant I get back.’ And he had not written anyone since.
All the officer patients in the ward were forced to censor letters written by all the enlisted-men patients, who were kept in residence wards of their own. It was a monotonous job, and Yossarian was disappointed to learn that the lives of enlisted men were only slightly more interesting than the lives of officers. After the first day he had no curiosity at all. To break the monotony he invented games. Death to all modifiers, he declared one day, and out of every letter that passed through his hands went every adverb and adjective. The next day he made war on articles. He reached a much higher plane of creativity the following day when he blacked out everything in the letters but a, an and the. That erected more dynamic intralinear tensions, he felt, and in just about every case left a message far more universal. Soon he was scribing parts of salutations and signatures and leaving the text untouched. One time he blacked out all but the salutation ‘Dear Mary’ from a letter, and at the bottom he wrote, ‘I yearn for you tragically. R.O. Shipman, Chaplain, US Army.’ R.O. Shipman was the group chaplain’s name.
When he had exhausted all possibilities in the letters, he began attacking names and addresses on the envelopes, obliterating whole homes and streets, annihilating entire metropolises with careless flicks of his wrist as though he were God. Catch-22 required that each censored letter bear the censoring officer’s name. Most letters he didn’t read at all. On those he didn’t read at all he wrote his own name. On those he did read he wrote, ‘Washington Irving.’ When that grew monotonous he wrote, ‘Irving Washington.’ Censoring the envelopes had serious repercussions, produced a ripple of anxiety on some ethereal military echelon that floated a C.I.D. man back into the ward posing as a patient. They all knew he was a C.I.D. man because he kept inquiring about an officer named Irving or Washington and because after his first day there he wouldn’t censor letters. He found them too monotonous.
Brief Biography: Heller was a satirical novelist, short-story writer and playwright. His writing strategy was not to begin work on a story until he had envisioned both the first and last line. In 1981 Heller was diagnosed with Guillain–Barré syndrome from which he made a substantial recovery. He married his nurse, Valerie Humphries.