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From The Deserts of Bohemia: Czech Fiction and Its Social Context, by Peter Steiner. Copyright © 2000 by Cornell University. Used by permission from the author and the publisher, Cornell University Press. All rights reserved.

1

Tropos Kynikos

The Good Soldier Švejk by Jaroslav Hašek

Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose.

—Kris Kristofferson/Janis Joplin, "Me and Bobby McGee"

In his celebrated essay "Hašek and Kafka," Karel Kosík wrote:

[Josef] Švejk's "odyssey under the honorable escort of two soldiers with bayonets" takes him from the Hradčany garrison jail along Neruda Street to Malá Strana and over Charles Bridge to Karlín. It is an interesting group of three people: two guards escorting a delinquent. From the opposite direc­tion over Charles Bridge and up to Strahov, another trio makes its way. This is the threesome from Kafka's Trial: two guards leading a "delin­quent," the bank clerk Josef K., to the Strahov quarries, where one of them will "thrust a knife into his heart." Both groups pass through the same places, but meeting each other is impossible.1

But had they met, the Czech Marxist philosopher continues his flight of imagination, one to be set free, the other executed, could the two Josefs have understood each other? Would they have discerned any trace of affinity in their plights?

This is a provocative question, and Kosík is fully aware of it. In Czech letters Kafka's and Hašek's oeuvres (for which J. K. and J. Š. stand here as shorthand) have always enjoyed quite incompatible reputations. "Kafka," Kosík opined, "is read to be interpreted, while Hašek is read to make people
1 Karel Kosík, "Hašek a Kafka neboli groteskní svět," Plamen, no. 6 (1963), 96. Quoted from "Hašek and Kafka: 1883-1922/23," trans. A. Hopkins, Cross Currents 2 (1983), 127. Further references will be given in the text; the first number in parentheses refers to the Czech original and the second to the English translation (sometimes slightly modified).

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