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    43

endorse Heraclitus but made them look, to be sure, rather silly.

The encounter between Alexander and Diogenes mentioned earlier is another token of such a non-identical repetition, in this case, toying with the social hierarchy. The dialogic exchange "I am Alexander the great king, and I am Diogenes the Kynic" has, at first glance, the appearance of a temporal series of two successive speech acts: "A-then-B." If we take it this way, the actual sequencing of the interlocutors is not important. We could hypothetically reverse the order and let Diogenes introduce himself first. But if we do so, we realize immediately the asymmetry of A and B. The actual word order is an icon not of temporal succession but of worldly success: first the great king, then the philosopher-dog. The aporetic quality of this chreia derives from the dual function of "and" in it (as a connective between two consecutive events and a coordinate con­junction between two equal terms). Grammatical parallelism, one might argue, serves here to level the usual pecking order: the different is pre­sented as a replica of the same, and the power of the sovereign is rela­tivized while the prestige of the outcast is boosted. All of this, of course, the chreia hints at but does not say.

The semantic openness of the individual anecdotes is further enhanced by their overall combination into Diogenes' "biography" as presented by D. L. I use quotation marks around this word because, apart from begin­ning with his origins and concluding (more or less) with his death, it con­tains virtually no history of Diogenes' life. It is a mosaic of apophthegmata, chreiai, and mini-stories drawn from different sources, some identified by the author, some apocryphal. A number of these segments are repeated or retold from different perspectives; others are anonymous insertions by later scribes. The provisional, incomplete nature of his ac­count is underscored by the narrator himself when he writes, "Many other sayings are attributed to him [Diogenes], which it would take long to enumerate" (71). From this textual medley rises the often inconsistent, sometimes contradictory, but always playful figure of a protean Diogenes who, through a series of antagonistic contests with the surrounding world, reaffirms again and again his right to free speech (parresia) and in­dividual liberty, thus defying any form of societal control.

It is not difficult to demonstrate that the figure of Svejk shares many characteristics with the great kynik. Like Diogenes, Svejk lingers at the margins of an unfriendly society against which he is defending his inde­pendent existence. This is not to say, however, that Austria-Hungary was like ancient Greece, where one could dwell in a tub and freely match wits with monarchs and philosophers. The institutions that Western civiliza­tion has developed in the more than two millennia since Diogenes to se­cure the acceptance of cooperative values among its citizenry have made an individual

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