Tropos Kynikos: Jaroslav Hašek's The Good Soldier Švejk

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The Good Soldier Svejk by Jaroslav Hasek    45

three quinine pills which they dissolved into water so that he should drink at once. And not even Socrates drank his hemlock bowl with such composure as did Svejk his quinine, when Dr. Grünstein was trying out on him all his various degrees of torture. (100; 69)

Impervious to the punishment meted out to him, Svejk is always either quickly released or transferred to another coercive institution, where the story repeats itself.

If society cannot manipulate Svejk with a stick, neither will it succeed with a carrot. He is a bachelor without any relatives and with no strong proclivities to attend to. His trading in dogs, as far as the text tells us, is rather irregular and not exactly profitable. And even the switch from civilian to military status does not affect him. He proves his supreme self-sufficiency on a number of occasions, most spectacularly during his "Budejovice anabasis"—a grueling journey on foot for three nights and two and a half days that he undertakes equipped merely with "a packet of army tobacco and an army loaf" (255; 239)—seeking his sustenance in a truly kynik way, through the charity of others. The trek might have lasted much longer had the police not arrested Svejk as a suspected Russian spy. At the police station, "when they made a thorough search of Svejk's per­son and found nothing except a pipe and some matches, the sergeant asked Svejk: Tell me, why do you have absolutely nothing on you?'" Svejk's answer, "Because I don't need anything" (268; 254), would un­doubtedly have made Diogenes proud of him.

In my zeal to project a kynik-like attitude toward pleasure on Svejk's part, I have so far treated his words as straightforward utterances. This is, however, a mere heuristic device on my part. We must not forget that, as was the case with his Greek predecessors, our hero's use of language is performative, employing words not to tell but to dis-play. His bidding the male nurse at the sick ward of the military prison where he is sent as a ma­lingerer (a "simulant" in Czech) not to spare him has as much referential value as, let us say, Diogenes' answer to the question why he begs alms of a statue: "To get practice in being refused" (51). But, precisely because of this usage, the meaning of words is not at all easy to pin down.

Svejk goads the enema-dispensing myrmidon to be cruel to him with this argument: "Try hard to think," he urges his tormentor, "that Austria rests on these enemas and victory is ours." Its logic seems lucid if morally flawed. Torturing malingerers, Svejk suggests, might be unpalatable, but if it makes them fight for Austrian victory, it is worth it. This patriotic fer­vor coincides fully with that enthusiasm for serving the monarchy that Svejk demonstrates so abundantly upon receiving his draft notice in the preceding chapter. One might find it strange, though, to hear an "Austria first" cry from somebody who is being forced into a patriotic mold through

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