Tropos Kynikos: Jaroslav Hašek's The Good Soldier Švejk

 page  
A 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42
43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61
62 63 64 65 66 67 68

The Good Soldier Svejk by Jaroslav Hasek    41

ostentatiousness like well-choreographed performances des­tined to shock his audiences. One of these staged events, reported in Lives, sums up well Diogenes' perception of his social role: "He was going into a theatre, meeting face to face those who were coming out, and being asked why. This,' he said, 'is what I practice doing all my life' " (67).

It would be unwise, however, to conceive of Diogenes as a simple con­trarian, as a mirror image of Plato or Alexander the Great. He undermines their authority not directly but by an oblique gesture. In opposing them he does not advance a competing philosophical system or a political claim of his own, but, in a lateral move, he renders suspect the very idea of truth or desire for power within the confines of which philosophers and politi­cians operate. He counters serious efforts with the freedom of play. The avatars of etatism could not accept Diogenes' ludic challenge for several reasons. The word "play" is, first of all, semantically linked to the notion of game as contest (agon), and therefore it echoes an individualistic, Homeric code of honor. Second, the engine of play is driven not by quiet, cooperative values such as-rational interest but instead by subliminal pas­sions. To allow individuals to satisfy their libidinal drives through unbri­dled play with and/or against others is the last idea that comes to the mind of any social engineer. And for advocates of law and order there is an uncanny similarity between play and the adulteration of coinage: Dio­genes' original sin that made him an exile and a philosopher. Both of these activities entail splitting into two what the believers in Truth and Justice consider an essential oneness. Like a fake bill, play represents reality as something other than what it pretends to be. The realm of play is that of "funny money"—of illusion, inauthenticity, fabrication.36 And if mone­tary forgery undermines the government by stripping it of its economic power, play devalues the concept of truth, the currency of intellectual rulers.

The suspicion of the authoritarians regarding Diogenes' scurrilous du­plicity is, I must concede, fully warranted. By a sleight of hand the cun­ning felon turns malfeasance into play—or wordplay, to be more precise. The phrase paracharattein to nomisma, experts tell us, is a pun based on the homonymity of nomisma, which originally signified anything sanctioned by law or convention and only through a subsequent extension was ap­plied to money as legal tender. This etymological exercise imbues the in­criminating passage in Lives with an additional meaning: figuratively, it refers to Diogenes' radical project of "revaluation of all values" rather than to the minting

36 I have derived most of my information about the Greek view of play from Mihai I. Spariosu, God of Many Names: Play, Poetry, and Power in Hellenic Thought from Homer to Aris­totle (Durham, 1991).

A 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42
43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61
62 63 64 65 66 67 68
   page