Tropos Kynikos: Jaroslav Hašek's The Good Soldier Švejk

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The Good Soldier Svejk by Jaroslav Hasek    59

about the sheer nega­tivity of Socratic dialectics, which as a rule undermines all the arguments of the counterlocutors without any commitment to a position of its own. Juxtaposing Grice's concept of irony, as the full reversal of what the ut­terance says and what it implies, with Socrates' subversive use of it, Holdcroft writes: "Given a choice between P and 'not-P' our ironist re­fuses to opt for either, but contents himself with pointing out the inade­quacies of his opponent's argument for P."45 In so doing, Socrates might occasionally exploit a conversational maxim, but this, according to Hold-craft, does not make his discourse ironic. Instead, the source of Socratic irony is the gap between the patent fulfillment of the maxims and the la­tent disregard for the overall CP as to the possibility of a meaningful and mutually profitable outcome of conversation. "But since an undeclared non-adherence to the spirit of CP," Holdcroft concludes, "may at the same time be accompanied by a strict adherence to the maxims that regu­late the relations of successive contributions to each other—since de­structive questioning is one of the ironist's most powerful weapons—the fact that he does not adhere to the spirit of CP may be very difficult to de­tect. That is why it can be at the same time both subversive, destructive, and infuriating" (511).

The relevance of Holdcroft's analysis for my essay is quite obvious. The kyniks, it seems, radicalized Socratic skepticism by stripping it of its polite veneer. The champions of competitive arete saw no reason to con­ceal their aversion toward cooperative exchanges (whether verbal or nonverbal). It is even doubtful whether the sharp apophthegmata and chreiai of our philosopher-dog qualify as exchanges at all. They are snip­ing remarks out of left field, usually not very congenial to those at whom they are directed. And Diogenes' praises of "those who were about to marry and refrained, those who intending to go a voyage never set sail, those who thinking to engage in politics do no such thing" (31) are noth­ing but antirationalist celebrations of playlike, openly aimless behavior. Since observance of the CP is not what makes kynik interlocutors talk, they are free to break the conversational maxims any way they wish. But a closer scrutiny of D. L.'s profile of Diogenes suggests a certain selectiv­ity in this respect, which, as I will argue later, distinguishes the Greek prototype from his Czech variant. Given his great skill "at pouring scorn on his contemporaries" (27), it is not surprising that Diogenes did not bother to violate the maxims, quietly and unostentatiously. Nor did his talk display clashes of several maxims because this would presuppose his adherence to one of them. Thus, opting out and flouting are the two basic reasons why Diogenes' conversations might


45 David Holdcroft, "Irony as a Trope, and Irony as a Discourse," Poetics Today, no. 4 (1983), 510. Further references will be given in the text.

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