Joseph Heller - Something Happened
This reading was a cold slap in the face. The main character (I don’t even know his name) leads a miserable life that has a lot in common with the prisoners in a Nazi concentration camp. The cold slap comes from the fact that I recognize and can identify with too much of his life.
Fear: Everyone is afraid of someone. The people he is afraid of are afraid of the 12
Realizes the rebellion he is allowed (cheating on his wife) isn’t even that exciting, and it isn’t original, it is learned from those around him.
His wife is afraid of him
His daughter is no longer unique
“I always have the disquieting sensation that I am copying somebody” (361)
“The problem is that I don’t know who or what I really am.” (362
He chews is finger nails “And I don’t think, at this stage, that I would want to live without it” (365)
Can’t deal with sick people because they aren’t normal and don’t demand respect
In a concentration camp the idea is to take the soul out of the person. They do this by taking away any: freedom to act; individuality (no heroes or martyrs). Bettelheim said that the threat of something happening was more prolific than the actual occurrence. In Heller the threat isn’t spoken. It isn’t death, it is destitution.
The difference between Heller and Bettelheim is the threat of destitution as opposed to death. In both cases the threat is made more often than it is carried out, but the example is there to see. The hope is pleasing the guard and easing the pain and finding some respect and for Heller it is Wealth, which is the merit for respect.
The difference between death and destitution is that in destitution a person can still find self-respect and happiness. In fact that person can probably find truth and beauty a lot easier in destitution than in wealth. I would say Jesus and Buddha were destitute. They probably would have qualified to be told to get a job and have change thrown at them by Ralph Klein.
By making the comparison I don’t want to degrade the horrific nature of the holocaust. The holocaust was people subjugating their conscience to something that gave them value. But that also sounds familiar.
In Heller we are the victims and the Nazis all at the same time because we have put ourselves in the prison and hold the gates shut and kill ourselves and devalue ourselves. There is no supreme leader. This is INSANE! Western society is completely absurd.
Maybe the rebellion can’t be about changing the whole system but about changing the way I live my life.
Fashion is a lie to make us buy more clothes. What if I just wear the clothes I have? Not go out and buy rebellious clothes but wear whatever is in my closet. To do this I have to reject the idea that what I wear defines who I am. There are all these little lies that are told to us in so many ways that aren’t verbal. The great part about this is that it can be completely original. To get to this though we have to deal with the feeling that we need to copy someone. Because whatever we do will be copying someone if we don’t deal with the need to copy. Maybe it is a fear of being original.
I don’t want to go through life being afraid.
Employment: I am so afraid of being fired that I am afraid of disappointing my boss. He is in a position to tell me if I am successful. It is the same with teachers. Authority in general is in the position to tell me that I am a failure. Only immediate authority though, those that have observed my work. My boss’s boss’s Boss, I could care less what he has to say about me.
Maybe its destitution (if you don’t pass this high school math midterm you will die alone and miserable). Success is linked to acceptance. The more successful I am the more valuable I am, both at work and socially. Without success life is over, it isn’t worth living.
I think the little lie in this case is the one we felt in high school. If I am not successful I will die miserable and alone.
If we have a community money doesn’t have to be such a big part of our interactions. People can do things for each other. People can give and receive and depend on each other; the co-operative spirit. So the truth is that if I fail at life I will probably die with all my close friends around me. The person that dies alone and miserable is the one that spends his life working to succeed, there is just a point where our fear of being alone is twisted into our fear of not having money.
I think there are probably a lot of those little white lies that are kind of cliché and we laugh at, but when we put some thought into what they actually do to us and how they control our lives. Maybe we can stop believing them and find a life without fear?