Tropos Kynikos: Jaroslav Hašek's The Good Soldier Švejk

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ABSTRACT

 

J.P. Stern's recent comparison of Hasek's novel with Heller's Catch-22 asks the following: why did "the Prague Circle linguistique, famous for its concerns with all sorts of out-of-the-way literary matters, totally ignore Svejk?" The reason for this lacuna rests in the fact that the Prague Structuralists paid attention above all to the grammatical aspect of language from the perspective of which Svejk's verbal behavior is quite ordinary. But it can be analyzed profitably from the standpoint of the "linguistic of use" which focuses not on grammatical forms per se but rather how these are exploited in an actual speech situation.

In my paper I will focus on Svejk's uses of language by utilizing H.P. Grice's "maxims of felicitous conversations": those of Quantity, Quality, Relation, and Manner. In this way I will illustrate how the flouting and/or violating of these maxims enables our hero to block any meaningful communication with the state institutions which attempt to manipulate him for their own ends. To explain Svejk's success in doing so I will argue that his non-fulfillment of conversational maxims cannot be identified by the authorities either as deliberate violations intended to mislead or as simple unintentional failures of a feeble minded idiot. 


Abstract of Peter Steiner's original paper A Scoundrel or "Ein Bloeder Kerl": The Good Soldier Svejk from the Gricean Perspective, delivered at the Symposium: Neo-formalism/Neo-structuralism at the 1996  Congress of The International Association of Empirical Aesthetics (IAEA) in Prague, Czech Republic.

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