Tropos Kynikos: Jaroslav Hašek's The Good Soldier Švejk

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46   The Deserts of Bohemia

through a pain in his ass. To which observation observation the good soldier would probably reply, as he has done earlier in the novel under similar circum­stances: "And if a man, even in such a difficult moment as that, does not forget what he ought to do when there's a war on, I think he's not so bad after all" (79; 45).

Yet, at second glance, we might detect a certain awkwardness in the wording of Svejk's sentence. By saying "Austria rests on these enemas," he is somehow, infelicitously, substituting cause for effect. If Austria rests, so to speak, on anything, it is the soldiers fighting for it at the front rather than the enemas which have propelled them there. This logical lapse in­evitably tinges the patriotic message with irony. Like Musil's imaginary Kakania, it injects the idea of monarchy with scatological connotations. And from an anal vantage point the implication of Svejk's argument changes considerably. For is he not implying that "Austria rests on these enemas" because the population's war efforts are not spontaneous and that victory is, above all, a function of various pumping devices capable of imbuing them with bellicose spirit? If so, then Svejk is a bad soldier who deserves all the enemas he gets, and his plea to be "sodomized" must be seen as a provocation, a glove thrown in the face of his tormentor to deny him the pleasure of seeing his victim squirming at his hands.

At the same time, however, Hasek makes sure that his readers know that, in contrast to all the other malingerers in Dr. Grünstein's care (per­haps with the exception of the man without a leg and another suffering from genuine bone decay), Svejk is sick indeed. But next to the "real" dis­eases (anemia, deafness, epilepsy) of the real malingerers, his rheumatism looks very much like a convenient excuse to avoid the wartime draft. And it is perceived as such by both the staff and fellow inmates in the sick ward of the military prison. Moreover, Svejk would be hard put to con­vince anybody of his disability because its symptoms—swollen knees— have disappeared during his transfer to the ward. Perched precariously between sadists playing the role of doctors and masochists impersonating patients, the poor soldier Svejk's desperate "Don't spare me" might also be the cry of a man who has nothing to hide and welcomes torture as the ul­timate litmus test of his sincerity.

A patriot, a rebel, an innocent victim of the military machinery—these are the three incarnations of Svejk that I was able to tease out of just one scene of a lengthy (and unfinished) novel. They show that an overall, to­talizing interpretation of the good soldier is impossible. This impossibility could be explained in a positivistic fashion by calling attention to the ar­chaeology of the text (the novel actually compacts several earlier and dis­cordant images of Svejk) and the history of its production (Hasek appar­ently wrote the novel from memory, without recourse to earlier, already serialized

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