Thursday, 2 October 2008

Catch 22 'flies in my eyes'!

At the recent workshop on the subject of 'flight', Dea kindly shared with us the story of the man who recently crossed the Channel using only a jet pack. He talked about the 'bees in the body' telling him when it was the right time to fly and, quite naturally, this got me to thinking about the most excellent book Catch 22 by Joseph Heller and the passage in which Appleby has 'flies in his eyes'. Of course mentioning this at the meeting might have lead a few people to believe that I'd gone slightly mad (which is quite probable) but to prove my dubious sanity I thought I'd share this passage with you. If you haven't read it, it is a brilliant book.

Here's the passage:

"Yossarian saw it clearly in all its spinning reasonableness. There was an elliptical precision about its perfect pairs of parts that was graceful and shocking, like good modern art, and at times Yossarian wasn’t quite sure that he saw it at all, just the way he was never quite sure about good modern art or about the flies Orr saw in Appleby’s eyes. He had Orr’s word to take for the flies in Appleby’s eyes.
‘Oh, they’re there, all right,’ Orr had assured him about the flies in Appleby’s eyes after Yossarian’s fist fight with Appleby in the officers’ club, ‘although he probably doesn’t even know it. That’s why he can’t see things as they really are.’
‘How come he doesn’t know it?’ inquired Yossarian.
‘Because he’s got flies in his eyes,’ Orr explained with exaggerated patience. ‘How can he see he’s got flies in his eyes if he’s got flies in his eyes?’
It made as much sense as anything else, and Yossarian was willing to give Orr the benefit of the doubt because Orr was from the wilderness outside New York City and knew so much more about wildlife than Yossarian did, and because Orr, unlike Yossarian’s other, father, sister, brother, aunt, uncle, in-law, teacher, spiritual leader, legislator, neighbour and newspaper, had never lied to him about anything crucial before. Yossarian had mulled over his new found knowledge about Appleby over in private for a day or two and then decided, as a good deed, to pass the word along to Appleby himself.
‘Appleby, you’ve got flies in your eyes,’ he whispered helpfully as they passed each other in the doorway of the parachute tent on the day of the weekly milk run to Parma.
‘What?’ Appleby responded sharply, thrown into confusion by the fact that Yossarian had spoken to him at all.
‘You’ve got flies in your eyes,’ Yossarian repeated. ‘That’s probably why you can’t see them.’
Appleby retreated from Yossarian with a look of loathing bewilderment and sulked in silence until he was in the jeep with Havermeyer riding down the long, straight road to the briefing room, where Major Danby, the fidgeting group operations officer, was waiting to conduct the preliminary briefing with all the lead pilots, bombardiers and navigators. Appleby spoke in a soft voice so that he would not be heard by the driver or by Captain Black, who was stretched out with his eyes closed in the front seat of the jeep.
‘Havermeyer,’ he asked hesitantly. ‘Have I got flies in my eyes?’
Havermeyer blinked quizzically. ‘Sties?’ he asked.
‘No, flies’ he was told
Havermeyer blinked again. ‘Flies?’
‘In my eyes.’
‘You must be crazy,’ Havermeyer said
‘No, I’m not crazy. Yossarian’s crazy. Just tell me if I’ve got flies in my eyes or not. Go ahead. I can take it.’
Havermeyer popped another piece of peanut brittle into his mouth and peered very closely into Appleby’s eyes.
‘I don’t see any,’ he announced.
Appleby heaved an immense sigh of relief. Havermeyer had tiny bits of peanut brittle adhering to his lips, chin and cheeks.
‘You’ve got peanut brittle crumbs on your face,’ Appleby remarked to him.
‘I’d rather have peanut brittle crumbs on my face than flies in my eyes,’ Havermeyer retorted. "


CADWC Secretary said...

It just goes to show ... that you can break the golden rules sometimes (i.e. repeating the same words/phrase)

Bii said...

Oh, definitely. Catch 22 is incredibly repetitive, but that's part of the theme of the book. It's an anti-war book, and the repetition helps to create the feel of desperation, the repetitive runs, the madness, if you like. It's a really excellent book. And the 'golden' rules, huh! I remember someone telling me you should never start a book 'It was xxx' and in the same week I read 'The Bell Jar' by Sylvia Plath which starts 'It was' quickly followed by 'The Old Man and the Sea' by Ernest Hemingway (which won the Nobel Prize) which also starts 'It was...'!

Helge said...

The golden rule is often mis-characterized as "don't do x." In fact, the golden rule is "if you don't know why you shouldn't do x, then definitely don't do x. Otherwise do what works."

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