Tropos Kynikos: Jaroslav Hašek's The Good Soldier Švejk

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The Good Soldier Svejk by Jaroslav Hasek    39

'Stand out of my light' " (41). Hasek's text, one might argue, metaphorically reverses the role of the kynik hero vis-a-vis Alexan­der: now it is the famous warrior who is basking in the sun of historical glory while Svejk's presence is obscuring the source of light.

Are all of these textual parallels convincing evidence of a close kinship between Diogenes and Svejk? Or ought one to jump through hoops prov­ing that Hasek must have been familiar with the Greek kynik—either be­cause of his father, a high school professor of history, or because of his vo­racious reading habits and photographic memory? Whatever the case, I find that a historical linkage is not important to my discussion. The kin­ship I wish to establish between these two figures is not genealogical but topological. Despite their great spatiotemporal distance, what Diogenes and Svejk share is a specific stratagem for extracting oneself effectively from social constraints of any kind. And what interests me is the essential underpinning of Diogenes' and Svejk's ploy, captured with the most re­markable brevity by the line from Janis Joplin's famous song, which is an epigraph to this chapter.- In what follows I hope to substantiate why this particular attitude deserves the attribute "kynikal."

Kynik philosophy evolved in a period of intense axiological readjustment of Greek society: what Arthur Adkins strikingly termed the transition from a competitive to a cooperative system of values. In the world of Homer, men's arete (usually rendered as "virtue" ) was identified with the ability to "pro­tect their families and followers, their oikos."33 Any means could be justifi­ably employed to further one's own interests (as we learn from perusing the Iliad). Greek gods are in this respect as amoral as mortals are, and it is pre­cisely through an excess of arete that men can approximate them. Around the fifth century b.c., however, the rise in commerce and the growth of cities re­quired of Greek males new behavioral patterns. The warlike essence of the traditional arete had to be amended to include quiet, cooperative values (such as moderation and justice). Plato's defense of Socrates, Adkins illus­trates well, is an exercise in this axiological shift. Whereas from the stand­point of Homeric tradition Socrates' inability to defend himself legally and his compliance with the death sentence would be considered shameful (ais-chron; here Josef K.'s fate comes to mind), Plato praises Socrates highly for this decision to subordinate individual interest to the law of the polis.

Although through their spiritual lineage the kyniks are considered by most to be the offspring of Socrates, they did not share with him his supreme loyalty to communal authority (which, after all, cost him his life). Their robust aversion to anything smacking even vaguely of the common good stemmed in part from their low social standing. Emigres and de­scendants of slaves, the kyniks were not considered full-fledged Athenian citizens and were thus marginalized. Whether it is true, as

33 Arthur Adkins, Merit and Responsibility: A Study in Greek Values (Oxford, 1960), p. 35.

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