Tropos Kynikos: Jaroslav Hašek's The Good Soldier Švejk

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The Good Soldier Svejk by Jaroslav Hasek    37

charwoman to Mr. Svejk, who had left military service years be­fore, after having been finally certified by an army medical board as an imbecile, and now lived by selling dogs—ugly, mongrel monstrosities whose pedigrees he forged" (41; 3). There are a number of similarities and differences in these two passages that could be discussed. What intrigues me, however, is the image of a dog repeated in both. "Wie ein Hund," says Josef K., and the shame overwhelms him. It is this linkage of a dog with shame that distances Kafka from Hasek: while for Josef K. the animal signifies his ultimate humiliation, for Josef S. dogs are part of his every­day milieu, the source of his livelihood. And these are not even ordinary dogs, as the text makes clear, but dogs' dogs, "ugly mongrel monstrosi­ties" whose pedigrees Svejk brazenly doctors.

It is not only among English speakers that the word "dog" is charged with contemptuous connotations. "Shamelessness," a classical scholar tells us, "was the peculiar characteristic of the dog, according to the Greek view."28 And the adjectival form of kyon provided a handy appellation, joyfully ap­propriated by those to -which it was applied, for a distinct philosophical trend that in doglike fashion flouted the social norms considered sacrosanct by the Athenians of the fourth century b.c. "Kynism," as this intellectual strain has been called ever since, became personified for posterity by the ec­centric figure Diogenes of Sinope—the philosopher-dog par excellence. The importance of the kynik tradition for European fiction seems to be twofold. On the one hand, it is the spiritus movens of the Menippean satire (named after the kynik Menippos, its putative originator), the genre that, according to Mikhail Bakhtin and Northrop Frye, informs the works of writers such as Petronius, Rabelais, Swift, and Dostoyevsky.29 On the other hand, Diogenes furnished the literary imagination with a prototype of a new hero, appearing in numerous texts either under his own name (in Lucianus, Comenius, Wieland) or transmogrified as Sancho Panza, Mephistopheles, and the Grand Inquisitor.30 Hasek's novel, I believe strongly, could be profitably an­alyzed in terms of Menippean satire. But since the political reading of this text, which is what concerns me here, conceives of the novel, above all, in terms of its main character, I focus on the good soldier Svejk as a twentieth-century version of the kynik hero—Diogenes Cynicus redivivus—to recycle the title of Comenius' play about this famous figure.

28 Donald R. Dudley, A History of Cynicism from Diogenes to the Sixth Century a.d. (London, 1937), p. 29.

29 For a convenient overview of Bakhtin's and Frye's theories, see H. K. Riikonen, Menip­pean Satire as a Literary Genre: With Special Reference to Seneca's Apocolocyntosis, Societas Scientiarum Fennica, Commentationes Humanorum Litterarum, no. 83 (1987).

30 See, e.g., Heinrich Niehues-Probsting, Der Kynismus des Diogenes und der Begriff des Zynismus (Munich, 1979), pp. 195-243; Peter Sloterdijk, Critique of Cynical Reason, trans. M. Eldred (Minneapolis, 1987), pp. 155-95.

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