Thursday, November 24, 2022

Something happened, Work - Joseph Heller

If the name Joseph Heller doesn’t ring a bell, just think of how many times you’ve said “Catch-22”, when referring to a lose-lose situation, a dilemma, a deadlock, a paradoxical standoff. Well, that’s the title of his masterpiece, and that’s where the expression comes from.
“Work” is actually an extract from “Something happened”, Heller’s second great work. I did read the actual novel a few years ago, but I really loved reading this brief selection of some of its best parts again.
If “Catch-22” is a satirical story about the madness of war, “Something happened” adopts a similar approach about corporate life, associated with an upside-down, hypocritical, ruthless, psychologically unhealthy and almost dystopian social environment. And I’m afraid that I have to agree with Joseph, having being able to put up with it only a couple of years after graduation myself. Since then I’ve only coped with training activities (I love teaching) and independent work (I’m some kind of a loner sometimes). And yet, more often than not, I still feel I’m standing too close to a source of toxic vibes.
Joseph Heller is a masterclass satirist, and has personally gone through both military life during wartime and corporate jobs, therefore he knows what he’s talking about. Corporate social networks seem to be structures where one is sometimes (or even often!) encouraged to do bad things, pretending they’re actually good. And when someone is doing something good which goes against the grain, they are asked to stop and adjust to the standard way of doing things.
Joseph Heller is able to picture all this through the eyes of Bob Slocum, a clever, ambitious, refined, cynical, witty, disenchanted, unscrupulous but also good-hearted executive of a fairly big New York firm.
“Something happened” is a cult book, along with “Catch-22”. You can try “Work” as a brief, juicy foretaste of it.

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