Psychology in Catch-22

Psychology in Catch-22

Catch-22 is a black comedy novel about death, about what people do when faced with the daily likelihood of annihilation. For the most part what they do is try to

survive in any way they can. The book begins, 'The island of Pianosa lies in the Mediterranean Sea eight miles south of Elba.' That is the geographical location of the

action. Much of the emotional plot of the book turns on the question of who's crazy, and I suggest that it is illuminating to look at its world in Kleinian terms. The

location of the story in the inner world is the claustrum - a space inside the psychic anus, at the bottom of the psychic digestive tract, where everyone lives

perpetually in projective identification, and the only value is survival. If one is expelled from the claustrum, there are only two places to go: death or psychotic

breakdown (Meltzer, 1992). What people do in these circumstances is to erect individual and institutional defences against the psychotic anxieties engendered by

unconscious phantasies of the threat of annihilation. These defences are extreme, utterly selfish and survivalist.

In certain institutional settings they are erected against death itself and correspond to what Joan Riviere called in her essay 'On the Genesis of Psychical Conflict in

Early Infancy' (1952), 'the deepest source of anxiety in human beings' (1952, p. 43). She suggests 'that such helplessness against destructive forces within is

ubiquitous and constitutes the greatest psychical danger-situation known to the human organism...' (ibid.). Isabel Menzies Lyth argues that these anxieties are

re-evoked in the work of nurses, where death is present and imminent. 'The objective situation confronting the nurse bears a striki...

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...titutions under duress. 'That's my trouble, you know,' Yossarian mused sympathetically, folding his arms. 'Between me and every ideal I always find

Scheisskopfs, Peckems, Korns and Cathcarts. And that sort of changes the ideal.'

'You must try not to think of them,' Major Danby advised affirmatively, 'And you must never let them change your values. Ideals are good, but people are

sometimes not so good. You must try to look up at the big picture.'

Yossarian rejected the advice with a sceptical shake of his head. 'When I look up, I see people cashing in. I don't see heaven or saints or angels. I see people

cashing in on every decent impulse and every human tragedy.' (435)

...'From now on I'm thinking only of me.'

'But Yossarian, suppose everyone felt that way.'

'Then I'd be a damned fool to feel any other way, wouldn't I?' (p. 436, cf. pp. 58, 102)
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