Tropos Kynikos: Jaroslav Hašek's The Good Soldier Švejk

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36   The Deserts of Bohemia

Kundera's readings of Kafka and Hasek, however, do not merely regur­gitate Kosík's analogy. Some of them shed surprising new light on the re­lationship of J. K. and J. S., for example, Kundera's succinct observation about the ontic primacy of simulacrum over reality in Kafka's fictions. "In the Kafkan world, the file takes on the role of a Platonic idea. It represents true reality, whereas man's physical existence is only a shadow cast on the screen of illusion."26 And this brings us back to the question underlying the hypothetical encounter between J. K. and J. S.: Why was the former ex­ecuted and the latter released from his stockade prison? A close reading of Hasek's novel yields an uncanny answer supporting Kundera's assertion:

J. S. was released in a case of mistaken identity, of military courts running amok because of a faulty filing system. The documents charging Svejk with treasonous intent were inadvertently placed in the files of somebody else whose initials, J. K., look only too familiar. And, as if this were not sufficient, Josef K.'s files bear the ominous sign of death. "The papers on Svejk," we learn from the omniscient narrator, "were not found until after the war. They were in the archives of the Army Legal Department and were minuted: 'Planned to throw off his hypocritical mask and come out publicly against our ruler and the state.' The papers had been placed in files dealing with a certain Josef Koudela. On the file cover was a cross and underneath it 'Case closed' with the date" (119-20; 92). In a world where one's existence is a mere shadow of a bundle of legal documents bearing one's initials, a man can be easily "arrested one fine morning," to be sure, even without someone "telling lies about him."

So far I have been concerned primarily with the hermeneutic uses and abuses to which Hasek (and Kafka) were subjected in their homeland. Let me now join the fray myself, using as a stepping-stone Kosík's piece on which I have hitherto relied extensively. Given the opposing trajectories of Josef K.'s and Josef S.'s journeys, which Kosík traced with meticulous precision, it seems appropriate to read The Trial and The Good Soldier in an antistrophic manner, to compare, so to speak, heads and tails, the end of one text with the beginning of the other.

The closure of Kafka's novel is all too well known. Watching the knife being plunged into his heart, Josef K. utters his last sentence: " 'Like a dog!' he said; it was as if the shame of it must outlive him."27 Svejk opens with an equally violent act, albeit only a reported one—the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand: " 'And so they've killed our Ferdinand,' said the charwoman

26 Milan Kundera, "Somewhere Behind," in The Art of Novel, p. 102.

27 Franz Kafka, The Trial, trans. W. and E. Muir (New York, 1956), p. 229. Further refer­ences will be given in the text.

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