Tropos Kynikos: Jaroslav Hašek's The Good Soldier Švejk

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The Good Soldier Svejk by Jaroslav Hasek    55

acquiescing to crimes such as high treason, abuse of His Majesty and the members of the imper­ial family, approval of the murder of the Archduke Ferdinand, or the in­citement (57; 20) for which he is charged? The answer, as the novel illus­trates, depends entirely on context. As far as the inspector at police headquarters is concerned Svejk clearly confirms the evidence. The mag­istrate at the criminal court who sees the signature "detached from the present and singular intention of its production" is not so sure. One of the first questions he asks is whether anybody coerced Svejk to confess. The candid answer puzzles him: "Why, of course not. Your Worship. I asked them myself if I had to sign it, and when they told me to do so I obeyed. After all, I wouldn't want to quarrel with them just because of my own signature, would I? It wouldn't do me any good at all. There must be law and order" (61; 25). Svejk's intention, if this category still makes sense, in paraphing the deposition is not to authorize the document but to protect law and order, he says. Yet, by so doing he manages to subvert due pro­cess. This again brings Svejk close to Diogenes—the adulterator of coinage. For Svejk's autograph is a fraud of a forgery as well; a counterfeit of his own signature that renders it legally worthless. Like Diogenes, Svejk gets away with proverbial murder. After listening to him for a while, the magistrate concludes that Svejk is not responsible for his ac­tions on the grounds of insanity, and instead of jail the good soldier ends up in a psychiatric hospital.

To draw a final analogy with the Greek kynik, it is wordplay that once more becomes an instrument of eluding the law. In trying to make up his mind about Svejk's mental condition, the magistrate inquires, "And you don't occasionally feel run down by any chance?" "Oh no, sir," answers Svejk, "I was only once nearly run down by a car on Charles Square but that was many years ago" (61-62; 26). This is the last question asked. Only a deranged creature could make such a bad pun, the magistrate decides, calling in medical experts.41 And with the benefit of hindsight we might recall that Svejk predicted such an outcome when he told the police in­spector that a confession could do him no harm. Indeed, it did not!

I have so far attempted to illustrate a strong affinity between the figure of Svejk and that of his Greek predecessor Diogenes. I have argued that adherence to the principle of self-sufficiency is a kynik hero's chief ploy for withstanding withstanding the pressure of being co-opted by society.

41 This pun is so bad in Czech that the translator decided to fudge it. What the magistrate actually asks Svejk was whether he suffers from occasional seizures (záchvaty), only to learn that years before he was almost seized (zachvátit) by a car. In Czech, as in English, one is usually not seized by cars. About difficulties in translating this text, see Frantisek Danes, "The Language and Style of Hasek's Novel The Good Soldier Svejk from the Viewpoint of Translation," in Studies in Functional Stylistics, ed. Jan Chloupek et al. (Amsterdam, 1993), pp.223-47.

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