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Conversations with Joseph Heller

Overview

Spanning three decades of his literary career, from Catch-22 to comments on the Persian Gulf War, Conversations with Joseph Heller contains a selection of the most significant, informative, and interesting interviews with one of America's foremost novelists. In these interviews Heller reveals his interest in the structure, effects, and themes of his works, his satirical purposes, the influences upon him, his writing methods, his political opinions, and a host of other topics that challenge and engage his lively ...
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Overview

Spanning three decades of his literary career, from Catch-22 to comments on the Persian Gulf War, Conversations with Joseph Heller contains a selection of the most significant, informative, and interesting interviews with one of America's foremost novelists. In these interviews Heller reveals his interest in the structure, effects, and themes of his works, his satirical purposes, the influences upon him, his writing methods, his political opinions, and a host of other topics that challenge and engage his lively and reflective mind. Included here are interviews from student newspapers and university magazines, one interview previously not published, and two highly comic "anti-interviews" with close friends Mel Brooks and George Mandel. Also included are two largely serious interviews with his friends Robert Alan Aurthur and Barbara Gelb. Also in this collection are Heller's conversations with authors Martin Amis and George Plimpton and a probing exchange with Bill Moyers about democracy, politics, and Heller's Picture This. Among the interviews are his talks with Sam Merrill in Playboy, Paul Krassner of The Realist, and Chet Flippo of Rolling Stone.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780878056347
  • Publisher: University Press of Mississippi
  • Publication date: 1/28/1998
  • Series: Literary Conversations Series
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.24 (h) x 1.03 (d)

Meet the Author

Joseph Heller

Adam J. Sorkin is an associate professor of English at Pennslvania State University.

Biography

Sometimes life traps you in an unfortunate situation that is impossible to escape from because of a set of inherently absurd rules. Take Joseph Heller, for example. The very first novel he published was among the most biting, powerful, hilarious examples of contemporary literature, a genuine classic of 1960s anti-war literature. Yet, Heller was forever trapped by that novel, unable to achieve similar success with his subsequent works no matter how fine they may have been. Both that painful predicament and that auspicious debut novel are known as Catch-22, and one hopes that an absurdist such as Joseph Heller had to at least appreciate that irony a little.

Catch-22 (1961) was somewhat based on Heller's own experiences as a B-25 bombadier in the Twelfth Air Force during World War II. It is the story of John Yossarian, a malingering bombardier stationed in Italy during the war. He lives in constant terror of being killed, so he flies each of his missions with the sole goal of returning alive. Unfortunately, Colonel Cathcart keeps increasing the number of missions he must undertake in order to complete his service. Yossarian's only way out is to prove that he is insane. Of course, the only way he can do that is to willingly take the most dangerous missions the air force has to offer. Yossarian's ridiculous, unwinnable situation is the Catch-22 from which the novel gets its name.

Heller uses Yossarian's situation as a means to satirize and criticize the military and dehumanizing bureaucracies in general. The novel follows a disorienting logic of its own, owing more to Lewis Carroll's Wonderland than any war-themed novel before it. Consequently, Heller's unique approach to his subject had a deep influence on writers such as Kurt Vonnegut (Slaughterhouse Five) and Tom Robbins (Villa Incognito). In 1970, Catch-22 was adapted into a star-studded feature film by director Mike Nichols (Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? ; The Graduate). Although many viewed the film as a disappointment, it had its fair share of highly inspired sequences, and in all fairness, the whimsical structure of the novel does not easily lend itself to the cinematic medium.

With a genuine classic on his hands, Heller then took his time producing his second novel. Something Happened did not appear until 1974, but it continued many of the themes present in Catch-22. This time around he directed his poison pen at the dehumanizing effects of the big-business world. Heller's tangy blend of pessimism and humanism would be the driving force behind the majority of his work that followed, including Good as Gold, Closing Time (a sequel to Catch-22), and the play We Bombed New Haven. However, none of his subsequent efforts came close to matching the success or influence of Catch-22, a fact that irked Heller until his death. His final novel, the posthumously published Portrait of an Artist as an Old Man, explored this very theme as writer Eugene Pota struggles to decide upon a subject for his final novel.

Despite his own misgivings about his career, Joseph Heller will forever be remembered as a giant in American literature, even if it is only due to his first novel... and that's the kind of Catch-22 in which most writers would kill to be trapped.

Good To Know

Heller often supplemented his income by taking screenwriting jobs. He worked on screenplays for the films Sex and the Single Girl and Casino Royale, and even worked on the television show McHale's Navy under the pseudonym "Max Orange."

Heller's great abhorrence of war transcended his novels and plays. During the ‘60s, he was very involved in the movement against the war in Vietnam.

Although Catch-22 is regarded as an American classic, it did not truly nab public attention until receiving glowing notices in Great Britain a year after its U.S. debut.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Max Orange
    1. Date of Birth:
      May 1, 1923
    2. Place of Birth:
      Brooklyn, New York
    1. Date of Death:
      December 12, 1999
    2. Place of Death:
      East Hampton, New York

Read an Excerpt

Playboy: Have you any fantasies that are closer to home?

Heller: Well, sometimes I think about moving out of the city, but it always takes the form of going to New Hampshire and living next door to J. D. Salinger. But, of course, if that happened, Salinger would immediately move to Montana. There I'd be, stuck out in the country with nobody to talk to.

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Table of Contents

Introduction
Chronology
The Heller Cult 3
An Impolite Interview with Joseph Heller 6
The Joy Catcher 30
A Few of the Jokes, Maybe Yes, But Not the Whole Book 33
Playwright-in-Anguish 46
Did Heller Bomb on Broadway? 51
Portrait of a Man Reading 56
Literary Dialogue with Joseph Heller 61
An Interview in New York with Joseph Heller 78
Notes on the Next Novel: An Interview with Joseph Heller 91
Hanging Out 100
Joseph Heller 105
Joseph Heller: 13 Years from Catch-22 to Something Happened 118
Joseph Heller: An Interview 127
Writing Technique Can Be Taught, Says Joseph Heller 134
Joe Heller, Author on Top of the World 137
Playboy Interview: Joseph Heller 144
Joseph Heller in Conversation with Martin Amis 177
Catching Joseph Heller 185
Mel Brooks Meets Joseph Heller 201
Joseph Heller on America's "Inhuman Callousness" 210
An Interview with Joseph Heller 212
Checking in with Joseph Heller 224
Catching up with Joseph Heller 235
Humor and the Ability to Create It Cannot Be Taught 243
Clive Sinclair Talks to Joseph Heller about the Fall of Kings 245
Joe and Speed Spend a Summer Day Laughing about No Laughing Matter 248
Usually I Don't Want to Be Too Funny 254
Joseph Heller, Novelist 276
Contemplating Joseph Heller 290
Catching Heller 293
Index 295
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