Tropos Kynikos: Jaroslav Hašek's The Good Soldier Švejk

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50   The Deserts of Bohemia

add much to what I have already said. Instead, I will illustrate how this ludic device, as utilized in Hasek's novel, strikes at the core of the social system and eliminates even the possibility of co-opting the good soldier into its structure. Resisting the lure of cooperative values, I must stress, is a greater problem for the latter-day kynik than for his Greek ancestor. By declaring himself "a citi­zen of the world [kosmopolitos]" (65), Diogenes clearly opted out of Athe­nian society; and his choice, it seems, was respected by the polls. While his was definitely not normative behavior, D. L. does not mention any strong measures taken by the Athenians to modify it. The modern state, as I ar­gued earlier, is incomparably more jealous of its subjects, and it maintains a number of establishments whose only function is to recast an uncooper­ative individual into an obedient citizen. This is not always a smooth pro­cess, to say the least, but one often resulting in split personalities among those exposed to it, in the opening of gaps in their psyches between their social and private identities.

The tension between these two identities is palpable throughout Hasek's novel. The state is always watchful of its citizenry for potential disloyalty to the crown, for the evasion of the draft through malingering, or even for abetting the enemy. In a gesture that mirrors the unhappy con­sciousness of its subjects, it dispatches an armada of undercover police­men to find out the truth. This is most likely the source of the popular per­ception of Svejk among the Czechs as a master of double identity: a sly dodger in the guise of a zealous patriot. But this reading of Hasek's text, despite its widespread popularity, is not persuasive for at least two rea­sons. It obliterates, first of all, the fine line between cynicism and kynism, between the immoral, profit-motivated juggling of the private and public norms of behavior and the amoral, nonnormative free play whose purpose is difficult to define. Furthermore, and more important, an unequiv­ocal interpretation kills this text. At the moment when we are able to solve the enigma of its protagonist's identity, the novel will go flat. For as Homo ludens Svejk, by his very existence, defies the principle of a simple iden­tity, or, to repeat myself, displaces it with an infinite series of nonidentical substitutions.

From this perspective, therefore, Hasek's novel reads like a never-ending story of mistaken identity: the hero is being constantly taken for somebody else. It would be tedious to recapitulate here all of Svejk's transfigurations. It is perhaps enough just to mention his totally gratu­itous reply to the question of the two soldiers escorting him from the Hradčany garrison to Katz's apartment as to why they are taking him to the chaplain: "'For confession,' said Svejk nonchalantly. 'Tomorrow they're going to hang me. This is what they always do on these occasions and they call it spiritual consolation'" (126; 100). His escort, needless to say, believes

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