Joseph Heller (1 May 1923 – 12 December 1999) was an American author of novels, short stories, plays, and screenplays. His best-known work is the 1961 novel Catch-22, a satire on war and bureaucracy, whose title has become a synonym for an absurd or contradictory choice.
- See also: Catch-22
- When I read something saying I've not done anything as good as Catch-22 I'm tempted to reply, "Who has?"
- As quoted in The Oxford Dictionary of Literary Quotations (1997) edited by Peter Kemp, p. 303
- The only wisdom I think I've attained is the wisdom to be skeptical of other people's ideology and other people's arguments. I tend to be a skeptic, I don't like dogmatic approaches by anybody. I don't like intolerance and a dogmatic person is intolerant of other people. It's one of the reasons I keep a distance from all religious beliefs. I think in this country and in Australia too there's a late intolerance in most religions, an intolerance, a part that could easily become persecutions.
We have some ultra-orthodox Jewish sects here in New York and I fear them as much as I would fear a Nazi organisation.
- In an interview for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation: "Joseph Heller - Closing Time" (1998) by Ramona Koval
- Everyone in my book accuses everyone else of being crazy. Frankly, I think the whole society is nuts — and the question is: What does a sane man do in an insane society?
- It was love at first sight. The first time Yossarian saw the chaplain he fell madly in love with him.
- Opening Lines
- The Texan turned out to be good-natured, generous and likeable. In three days no one could stand him.
- There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's 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.
"It's the best there is," Doc Daneeka agreed.
- "Open your eyes, Clevinger. It doesn't make a damned bit of difference who wins the war to someone who's dead."
- Clevinger was dead. That was the basic flaw in his philosophy.
- "The enemy is anybody who's going to get you killed, no matter which side he's on."
- 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.
- “From now on I'm thinking only of me.” Major Danby replied indulgently with a superior smile: “But, Yossarian, suppose everyone felt that way?”
“Then,” said Yossarian, “I'd certainly be a damned fool to feel any other way, wouldn't I?”
- "Let someone else get killed!"
"Suppose everyone on our side felt that way?"
"Well then I'd certainly be a damned fool to feel any other way, wouldn't I?"
- Some men are born mediocre, some men achieve mediocrity, and some men have mediocrity thrust upon them. With Major Major it had been all three.
- The case against Clevinger was open and shut. The only thing missing was something to charge him with.
- Outside the hospital the war was still going on. Men went mad and were rewarded with medals.
- "Climb, you bastard! Climb, climb, climb, climb! "
- Yossarian — the very sight of the name made him shudder. There were so many esses in it. It just had to be subversive. It was like the word subversive itself. It was like seditious and insidious too, and like socialist, suspicious, fascist and Communist.
- "They might have occurred if either General Dreedle or General Peckem had once evinced an interest in taking part in orgies with him, but neither ever did, and the colonel was certainly not going to waste his time and energy making love to beautiful women unless there was something in it for him."
- "You know, that might be the answer — to act boastfully about something we ought to be ashamed of. That's a trick that never seems to fail."
- "But I make a profit of three and a quarter cents an egg by selling them for four and a quarter cents an egg to the people in Malta I buy them from for seven cents an egg. Of course, I don't make the profit. The syndicate makes the profit. And everybody has a share."
- This time Milo had gone too far. Bombing his own men and planes was more than even the most phlegmatic observer could stomach, and it looked like the end for him...Milo was all washed up until he opened his books to the public and disclosed the tremendous profit he had made.
- "Dear Mrs., Mr., Miss, or Mr. And Mrs. Daneeka: Words cannot express the deep personal grief I experienced when your husband, son, father, or brother was killed, wounded, or reported missing in action."
- "Do you know how long a year takes when it's going away?" Dunbar repeated to Clevinger. "This long." He snapped his fingers. "A second ago you were stepping into college with your lungs full of fresh air. Today you're an old man."
"Old?" asked Clevinger with surprise. "What are you talking about?"
"I'm not old."
"You're inches away from death every time you go on a mission. How much older can you be at your age? A half minute before that you were stepping into high school, and an unhooked brassiere was as close as you ever hoped to get to Paradise. Only a fifth of a second before that you were a small kid with a ten-week summer vacation that lasted a hundred thousand years and still ended too soon. Zip! They go rocketing by so fast. How the hell else are you ever going to slow down?" Dunbar was almost angry when he finished.
"Well, maybe it is true," Clevinger conceded unwillingly in a subdued tone. "Maybe a long life does have to be filled with many unpleasant conditions if it's to seem long. But in that event, who wants one?"
"I do," Dunbar told him.
"Why?" Clevinger asked.
"What else is there?"
- "How much reverence can you have for a Supreme Being who finds it necessary to include such phenomena as phlegm and tooth decay in His divine system of Creation? What in the world was running through that warped, evil, scatological mind of His when He robbed old people of the power to control their bowel movements?"
- The God I don't believe in is a good God, a just God, a merciful God. He's not the mean and stupid God you make him out to be.
- "Yossarian was cold, too, and shivering uncontrollably.... It was easy to read the message in his entrails. Man was matter, that was Snowden's secret. Drop him out a window and he'll fall. Set fire to him and he'll burn. Bury him and he'll rot, like other kinds of garbage. The spirit gone, man is garbage. That was Snowden's secret. Ripeness was all."
- Morale was deteriorating and it was all Yossarian's fault. The country was in peril; he was jeopardizing his traditional rights of freedom and independence by daring to exercise them.
- Catch-22 says they have a right to do anything we can't stop them from doing.
- He could never decide whether to furgle them or photograph them, for he had found it impossible to do both simultaneously.
- pp.53-54. Dell 1962 edition. (First use of "furgle" in the United States.)
- "The chaplain had mastered, in a moment of divine intuition, the handy technique of protective rationalization, and he was exhilarated by his discovery. It was miraculous. It was almost no trick at all, he saw, to turn vice into virtue and slander into truth, impotence into abstinence, arrogance into humility, plunder into philanthropy, thievery into honor, blasphemy into wisdom, brutality into patriotism, and sadism into justice. Anybody could do it; it required no brains at all. It merely required no character."
Closing Time (1994)
- The yellow moon turned orange and was soon red as the setting sun.
- pp. 462
- I said it again as a German might. "Rabinovitz. Ich bin Lew Rabinowitz, LR, von Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York. Du Kennst?" And then I spoke Yiddish. "Und ich bin ein Yid. Farshtest?" And then in English. "I am a Jew. Understand?" And then in my fractured German. "Ich bin Jude. Verstehst?" Now they didn't know where to look, but they did not want to look at me. I've got blue eyes that can turn into slits of ice, Claire still tells me, and a pale, European skin that can turn red fast when I laugh hard or get mad, and I wasn't sure they believed me.
- pp. 122
- There was no way of knowing anything, he knew, not even that there was no way of knowing anything.
- pp. 266
Something Happened (1974)
- I get the willies when I see closed doors. Even at work, where I am doing so well now, the sight of a closed door is sometimes enough to make me dread that something horrible is happening behind it, something that is going to affect me adversely; if I am tired and dejected from a night of lies or booze or sex or just nerves and insomnia, I can almost smell the disaster mounting invisibly and flooding out toward me through the frosted glass panes. My hands may perspire, and my voice may come out strange. I wonder why.
Something must have happened to me sometime.
- Opening Lines
- I do know that girls in their early twenties are easy and sweet. (Girls in their late twenties are easier but sad, and that isn't so sweet.) They are easy, I think, because they are sweet, and they are sweet, I think, because they are dumb.
- The years are too short, the days are too long.
- When I grow up I want to be a little boy.
- In my middle years, I have exchanged the position of the fetus for the position of a corpse.
- Women my wife's age with broken marriages take up robustly with fellows much younger than themselves, sometimes boys, and their husbands don't like that part of it at all. (It's a means they have of really sticking it to us. The husbands can do without the money and kids. But they can't abide their wives' humping a younger dick and letting everyone know.)
- Women don't suffer from penis envy. Men do.
Good as Gold (1979)
- Forever goes quick.
- Gold was opposed to segregation and equally opposed to integration. Certainly he did not believe that women or homosexuals should suffer persecution or discrimination. On the other hand, he was privately opposed to all equal rights amendments, for he certainly did not want members of either group associating with him on levels of equality or familiarity.
- Simon & Schuster, 1997, ISBN 0-684-84125-8
- Whether God is dead or not hardly matters, for we would use him no differently anyway.
- The promises of maniacs, like those of women, are not safely relied upon.
- I hate God and I hate life. And the closer I come to death, the more I hate life.
- I think I may have been the first grown man in the world to fall truly, passionately, sexually, romantically and sentimentally in love. I practically invented it.
- Didn't I once observe that there is nothing new under the sun?
- Love is potent stuff, isn't it?
- Destiny is a good thing to accept when it's going your way. When it isn't, don't call it destiny; call it injustice, treachery or simple bad luck.
- The wise man dies no better or more wisely than the fool. In what way, then, is the wise man wise?
- He [God] owes me an apology too- at the very least. I'm not saying I shouldn't have been punished for those sins I committed. I'm saying that the punishments he chose were inhuman. I wonder what favor I'd want. I think I may be afraid to ask for it. I'm afraid He won't grant it. I'm more afraid that He will. Wouldn't it be tragic to find out that He really has been here all this time?
- God does have this self-serving habit of putting all blame for His own mistakes on other people, doesn't He? He picks someone arbitrarily, unbidden, right out of the blue so to speak, and levies upon them tasks of monumental difficulty for which we don't always measure up in every particular, then charges US for HIS error in selecting imperfectly. He tends to forget that we are no more infallible than He is.
- When one is infatuated, faults are endearing that in others would be heinous.
- I am arrogant enough to wish I were modest as he and modest enough to know that this is arrogance.
- "Is he in heaven? Is he in hell?"
"There is no heaven. There is no hell."
"There is no heaven? There is no hell?"
"That's all in your mind."
- If character is destiny, the good are damned.
- The problem with the loneliness I suffer is that the company of others has never been a cure for it.
- Nothing fails like success.
- How dispiriting I find it, even after all my personal triumphs, that we must grow up and grow sad, that we must age, weaken, and in time go home to our long home in the ground, and that even golden lads and girls all must, as chimney sweepers, come to dust.
- No one who ever wants praise will be satisfied with praise, the person who wants love cannot be satisfied with love. No want is ever fulfilled. And therefore I still don't know whether it is better to fear God and keep His commandments or to curse God and die.
- He who steals my purse steals trash, but he that filches from me my good name robs me of that which not enriches him, and makes me poor indeed. (Shakespeare's Othello said it first.)
- How ironic the difference between me and my young son Absalom, between his soliciting the soundest means of overtaking me and having my life, while I was cudgeling my brains for a way to spare his. "Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom," were my mawkish words to my commanders as their men trooped past me toward the positions they would take up in the field outside the wood of Ephraim for the battle in which he would die. "Beware that none touch the young man Absalom," I urged like a fool. No, not like a fool, but like a fond, doting father who will overlook and excuse everything in the child he loves best, and who breaks his heart. And in that singular disparity in our desires abides his lasting victory over me: I loved him and he did not love me.
- Everybody is as unstable as water.
- The last thing any sensible human being should want is immortality. As it is, life lasts too long for most of us.
- I'm not even sure we really had that much need for God as much as we did seem to have a need to believe in Him.
- All is vanity, you know, ALL in the long run is but vanity and vexation of spirit.
- "If God was dead, how could I feel this bad?"
- No one lusting for blood is ever innocent. Or satisfied. I have not been innocent. Or satisfied. Just as the man who wants silver will not be satisfied with silver, a man who wants the blood of another will not be satisfied with having that blood, nor the woman with jewels be satisfied with jewels, and the man who wants women will not be satisfied with women. Don't try telling me different. Haven't I looked about me in the city and seen how all labor is for the mouth, yet the appetite is not filled? Don't I know myself that no want is ever satisfied? Wishes are granted, goals attained. But wants? Forget them. They live as long as the person they inhabit.
- Vanity. What's wrong with vanity? It doesn't satisfy.
- "The truth is whatever people will believe is the truth. Don't you know history?"
- I imagine that God Himself frequently wants to feel like a king. Why else would He create the world?
- God is a murderer, imagine that. I told you I had the best story in the Bible, didn't I? I have always known that He was. Sooner or later He murders us all, doesn't He, and we go back to the dust from which we came. So I'm no longer scared to defy him. All He can do is kill me.
- If the chance ever comes to you to fall in love, grab it, every time. You might always live to regret it, but you won't find anything to beat it, and you won't know if it will come to you once more.
- Fools hate knowledge
- There is wisdom in madness and strong probability of truth in all accusations, for people are complete and everybody is capable of everything
- God had no need for Ecclesiastes to acquaint Him with vanity.
- Anyone seeking public office was not worthy to hold it.
- She knew Pota had a larger respect for personal privacy than he did for God, Congress, or the U.S. Constitution and never looked at anything there except, occasionally, for the remote control to the television set.
Attributed in posthumous publications
- There’s a big cocktail party on Martha’s Vineyard. Someone comes up to this writer, I think it’s Joseph Heller, and says, “Joe, see that guy over there? He’s a hedge fund manager, and he made more money yesterday than you made on all the books you have ever published.” Heller looks over, pauses, and says, “Yeah, but I have something he’ll never have: enough.”
- CNN "Money" Magazine, April 2007, p. 97