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January 30, 1987 - Image 8

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1987-01-30

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Page 8- The Michigan Daily - Friday, January 30, 1987
Heller discusses novels and politics

By Alan Paul
Joseph Heller must be considered
one of the leading contemporary
American authors. His first novel,
Catch 22 , was published in 1961
and steadily grew in popularity
from a cult classic to become one
of the most widely read novels of
the 60s and 70s both here and in
Catch 22, ostensibly set at the
end of World War Two and concem -
ing an American bombing squad-
ron, has lost none of its power over
the years. The black comical obser -
vations about the insanity and ab -
seurdity of the military, corporate,
snd bureaucratic worlds are every bit
as relevant today as they were in
In 1970, a star studded screen
version of Catch 22, directed by
Mike Nichols, was released. Heller,

who will speak Sunday night at
8:00 at the Power Center, is also
the author of Something Happened,
God Knows, and Good as Gold. I
spoke with him by phone from his
New York apartment.
Daily: Will you be speaking or
giving a reading?
Heller: I'm not sure. (laughs) It
will be a combination speech and
D : Are you working on
anything now?
H: Yes, I'm writing a novel and
I'll probably finish it by this
D: Can you reveal anything a -
bout it?
H: No. (laughs) It's not that its
a secret but I just don't describe my
books very well.
D: In 1971, at the time you
published the dramatization of
Catch 22, in the introduction it's
evident that you were involved in

some fairly radical politics...
H : No, they weren't really
radical at all. By that time even the
conservatives objected to the war.
D: Well, are you still fairly
politically active?
H: No, I'm not and I haven't

simple and determined enough." It
seems that that description could
almost fit Ronald Reagan.
H: I would say yes. I would also
say without going into specifics
that it charecterizes a good many
people and their attitude towards

'Conquering territories
has become an uneco -
nomical Way of building
a national economy.'
-Author Joseph Heller

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been active since then and I wasn't
all that active at that time. My feel -
ings then were not out of harmony
with the feelings on most campuses
and since that time the campuses
and I have been fairly quiet.
D : You also wrote in that
introduction that Milo shows "how
virtue and vicousness can exist
within one soul if that soul is

profit making. In Catch 22, unless
I've forgotten, Milo is not a greedy
person. He does make benefits. He
raises the standard of living of the
squadron. I believe I never estab -
lished that the money is for him -
self. I don't account for it any other
way but he's very much different
from the stereotype of the capitalist
that appeared in the novels of the

1920s and '30s.
D: Yes, his motives are ambig -
H: Well, there's no conscious -
ness in his evil. His motives are al -
most pure in terms of his own rea -
soning. There's an obliviousness to
the consequences.
D: That's obviously something
that's in the mindset of the multi -
national corporation.
H: Yes. I do think Milo may
have been a forerunner of the in -
fluence of national corporations.
And also of an attitude of nothing
matters much apart from making
profits, regardless of all other con-
sequences. That becomes the object -
ive that transcends all others.
D: Is it disturbing to you then
that the power of multinational cor -
porations seems to be growing?
H: No. very few things disturb
me as much as they did when I was
younger. (Laughs) Actually, I've
heard somebody say, they may be
talking foolishly but, that one of
the biggest influences for peace, for
avoiding another large scale world
war, would be the multinational
corporations. I can't really com -
ment on that any further though.
This is not in the book but it's'hard
to imagine ever going to war with
Japan again. Or to picture Japan
ever going to war again. It doesn't
have to to get everything it wants.
Conquering territories has become
an uneconomical way of building a
national economy.
D: Right. Well...conquering
them militarly. There are other
ways of conquering an area.
H: Yeah, that's what I mean. Fi -
nancially, it's wasteful.
D: Isn't what's going on now
with Irangate or Contragate or
whatever a perfect example of a
Catch 22?
H: Absolutely. I would say
very much so, including the fact
that the government is giving
information to both Iran and Iraq. If
it were somebody else, somebody
competent, you might think that
this is part of a very good plan to
have them destroy each other and
keep them involved in war but I
don't think anybody in Washington

thinks that coherently with that
amount of continuity. I also think
in Good as Gold here and there
there's a characterization of the
president that I thinks fits Reagan.
One of the ways it does is that the
president never actually appears in
the book and Reagan... never ap -
pears as president.
D: I was also thinking about
where you say that Catch 22 means
the government can do anything,
even what it theoretically prohibits
itself from doing.
H : Well, it doesn't say the
government. The line is, "They
can do anything to us we can't stop
them from doing." I don't think
this is really a situation we face
here as they do in Russia. I don't
think the government threatens
people individually here. I think
what our government is doing is
not doing it to us directly, it's that
(laughs) these are the side effects.
D: Although Catch 22 was
written about World War II, it was
obviously and painfully applicable
to Vietnam.
H: It was written during the
Korean War and the attitudes don't
really fit World War II... I tried very
hard to set it in World War II but...
it's really more typical of the Cold
War and the Korean War. The book-
has been criticized... because I don't
have Yossarian condemn World War
II. It's a good criticism.
D: Do you think the fact that
there were things happening in
Vietnam which seemed to be
parallels accounted for some of the
popularity of the book?
H: Oh, of course. The popular
ity does not seem to abate. I do feel
that at any time, if I wanted to, I
could take things from Catch 22
and read them and without even
introducing them, (they) would cor -
respond with something that's very
much in the news.
D: Speaking of news, what do
you think of the mass media?
H: I like the media very much,)
more so than any time in the last
thirty or forty years. They've re -
mained just as conservative as ever
See JOSEPH, Page 9

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