Tropos Kynikos: Jaroslav Hašek's The Good Soldier Švejk

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The Good Soldier Svejk by Jaroslav Hasek    31

holistic view, the stolid passivity of this figure is purposive adaptation (Fučík goes so far as to compare it to the camouflage of a tiger), a facade hiding from the authorities his future readiness to act. Anticipating the after-word, never written, Fučík argues that Svejk's "development, reminiscent of Hasek's own, tends toward complete self-recognition, and one feels di­rectly how Svejk becomes serious at a certain point. He might not stop jok­ing, but when the situation gets tough, he will fight seriously and tena­ciously."15 From this interpretive prolepsis it is only a small step to the fabrication of evidence that would make Svejk a closet revolutionary who, alas, did not have time to come out into the open. Thus in the 1950s Hasek's official biographer and the editor of his oeuvre, Zdeněk Ančík, in­sisted that "according to Ivan Olbracht's testimony[?] Svejk..., a POW in Russia, after the Great October Socialist Revolution, was supposed to join the people ... and together with them participate in the struggle for the liberation of China."16

These creative misprisions, it might be observed, share one feature: to fill in the Unbestimmtheitstellen of Hasek's text they draw on its author's biography. Which brings me to the second circumstance mentioned earlier as contributing to the political readings of The Good Soldier Svejk: Hasek's conduct during World War I. Drafted in 1915, he was dispatched with his regiment to the Carpathian front, where he soon defected to the Russians. After some time in a POW camp, he joined the deserters who were to form the Czechslovak Legions—the military wing of Masaryk's resistance abroad to the Habsburg monarchy—and in June 1917 participated in the historic Battle of Zborów, where the Legions engaged the Austro-German forces. But when the Communist revolution erupted some four months later, Hasek went AWOL from his unit (a warrant for his arrest was is­sued). He enlisted with the Reds and became a member of the Russian Communist Party. After a distinguished career (he was a propagandist at­tached to Frunze's Fifth Army), in 1920 Hasek returned to the newly formed Czechoslovak Republic (as an agent of the Comintern, according to some). It was not just the waving of the red flag in front of the bourgeoisie that made Hasek the target of attacks from the right. He was also accused of high treason for deserting from the Czechslovak Legions and joining the Red Army. Since the Legions were on their way through Siberia to fight the Communist forces during the Russian Civil War, he was guilty in the eyes of many of abetting the enemy. And given the fact that members of the Legions enjoyed privileged positions in
15 Julius Fučík, "Čehona a Svejk, dva typy z české literatury i života," in Milujeme svůj národ: Poslední články a úvahy (Dílo Julia Fučíka, vol. 3), 4th ed. (Prague, 1951), pp. no-n.

16 Ančík, O životě Jaroslava Haska, p. 107.

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