Tropos Kynikos: Jaroslav Hašek's The Good Soldier Švejk

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44   The Deserts of Bohemia

have made an individual much more vulnerable to social pressure than at that time. And the tragic fate of Josef K., who sought justice within the impenetrable jungle of a bureaucratic legal system, suggests that even conformity with communal laws cannot guarantee happiness. The existence of coercive mechanisms such as the secret police, mental institutions, and jails re­quires that a latter-day kynik moderate his voice and seek more insidious weapons of self-protection than his Athenian predecessor. But at the psy­chological level, defense mechanisms have remained virtually the same.

If a poll were taken of the Czech population to find out what they con­sider the most dominant trait of Svejk's personality, equanimity, I am sure, would be first on the list. From my youth I remember vividly that nearly every pub in Prague was adorned with a picture of Svejk and the inscription 'Take it easy!" (supplemented often with a secondary admo­nition: "And keep your feet warm!"). This perception of Svejk is obvi­ously rooted in his overwhelming adaptability to inhospitable circum­stances. Whenever faced with hardship, the good soldier finds his conditions more than tolerable and never fails to exteriorize his feelings. It suffices to read just the first eight chapters of the novel, in which Svejk manages to get himself incarcerated successively at Prague police head­quarters, at a psychiatric clinic, at the police station in Salmova Street, and in a sick ward at the military stockade, to recognize a pattern:

[Police headquarters:] "Nowadays it's fun being locked up," Svejk continued with relish. "There's no quartering, no Spanish boots. We've got bunks, a table, a bench. We're not all squashed together; we get soup; they give us bread and bring us a jug of water. We've got our latrines right under our snouts. You can see progress in everything." (58; 21)
[A psychiatric clinic:] When Svejk subsequently described life in the lunatic asylum, he did so in exceptionally eulogistic terms: "I really don't know why those loonies get angry when they are kept there. You can crawl naked on the floor, howl like a jackal, rage and bite. If anyone did this anywhere on the promenade people would be astonished, but there it's the most com­mon or garden thing to do. There's a freedom there which not even Social­ists have ever dreamed of." (66; 31)
[The police station:] "It's not too bad here," Svejk continued, "the wood of this plank-bed has a finished surface." (73; 37)
[A sick ward:] "Don't spare me," he [Svejk] invited the myrmidon who was giving him the enema.... "Try hard to think that Austria rests on these en­emas and victory is ours."
    The next day on his round Dr. Grünstein asked Svejk how he was enjoy­ing being in the military hospital.
    Svejk answered that it was a fair and sublime institution. In reward he received the same treatment/punishment as the day before and, in addition to it, aspirin and three quinine pills

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