Tropos Kynikos: Jaroslav Hašek's The Good Soldier Švejk

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32   The Deserts of Bohemia

members of the Legions enjoyed privileged positions in the newly created Czechoslo­vak Republic, becoming to a large extent the backbone of its military and civil service, such a charge was hardly a laughing matter.

What was a stigma for the right, however, the left saw as a badge of honor. The Czech Communists (the Party was founded in 1921) conve­niently expunged from their memory the fact that after his return to Prague, Hasek eschewed all political activities, resuming instead his old dissolute lifestyle; they mythologized him according to their own image. Thus, "Comrade Gashek" (the Russian transliteration of his name) was born—a dedicated revolutionary ready to sacrifice his life for the libera­tion of the proletariat. The Communist takeover of 1948 marked the be­ginning of a new stage in Hasek's posthumous life. Elevated to the pan­theon of immortals in 1959, he was made the patron saint of socialist humor and satire, and a yearly festival dedicated to this genre was estab­lished in his name in Lipnice, the little town in southeastern Bohemia where Hasek is buried. One must not forget to mention that in 1963, dur­ing the international festivities celebrating the eightieth anniversary of his birth, a feature-length movie about Hasek's life was released in the Soviet Union and a street in Moscow was named after him. What more could a Marxist-Leninist ask for?

After this lengthy digression, it is obvious that the parallel between Hasek and Kafka that Kosík drew in 1963 is not altogether innocent. Why would a Marxist philosopher seriously compare two writers with such different ideological profiles, likening a politruk of the Red Army with a decadent bourgeois who, as Howard Fast put it with Lenin-like bluntness, sits "very near the top of.... the 'cultural dung heap of reaction,'... one of the major Olympians in that curious shrine the so-called 'new critics' and their Trotskyite colleagues have erected"?17 But Kosík's marriage of the two Prague writers did not take place in a social vacuum, and politics do make strange bedfellows. The union was part of a well-orchestrated campaign to rehabilitate Kafka, or, more precisely, to use him in the intra-Party struggle between the Stalinist establishment and the Communist reformists in the early 1960s. This in itself is an excellent example of how fiction can function politically in a one-party society.

In May 1963, Liblice Castle near Prague provided an appropriate set­ting for an international scholarly conference whose explicit aim, accord­ing to its organizer, Eduard Goldstücker, was to become the "basis of a fu­ture, well-founded Marxist view of Kafka."18 This is not to say that previously all Marxist

17 Howard Fast, Literature and Reality (New York, 1950), p. 9.

18 Eduard Goldstücker, "O Franzi Kafkovi z pražské perspektivy 1963," in Franz Kafka:Liblická konference, 1963, ed. E. Goldstücker et al. (Prague, 1963), p. 23.

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