Tropos Kynikos: Jaroslav Hašek's The Good Soldier Švejk

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54   The Deserts of Bohemia

reveals some­thing more serious: Švejk's signature is also in proximity to another in­scription that has a blatantly pacifist message. Švejk is immediately taken to the regional court, and handwriting experts begin to collect evidence as to which of the two inscriptions Švejk actually has written and authorized by his signature. "They sent all the material to Vienna and in the end," Švejk recalls some three years later, "the result was that as far as those in­scriptions were concerned it was not my handwriting, but that the signa­ture was mine as I confessed to it. So I was sentenced to six weeks because I had signed it while on sentry duty and they said I couldn't be properly on guard at the time that I was doing it" (342; 337).

Švejk gets off the hook in this instance only because his signature falls, so to speak, into the crack between the two writings on the wall. Because of this crack the authorities are unable to decide whether his signature was intended to defame the NCO or to endorse draft resistance or both or neither. Švejk's signing the police deposition on the dotted line, however, closes the loophole and makes it seem inevitable that he will now face prosecution for his antisocial behavior. Yet the concept of signature is far from being as unproblematic as is commonly assumed. In his polemics with Austin, Derrida argues convincingly that "in order to function, that is, to be readable, a signature must have a repeatable, iterable, mutable form; it must be able to be detached from the present and singular inten­tion of its production."40 Put differently, so long as the signature remains a sign, its connection to what it stands for cannot be completely transpar­ent. Not only is it made with different purposes in mind, but also, because of its written form, a signature always exceeds the immediate context that generates it and thus obfuscates the originary intention behind it. With this caveat in mind, let us return to Hašek's text.

What strikes us when we read Švejk's exchange with the police inspec­tor is the patent inappropriateness of the good soldier's behavior. Even societies based on Plato's ideals sanction a judicial process as an agonistic situation in which an individual is encouraged to prove (within the bounds of the law) his or her competitive mettle. Yet, in an unpredictable fashion, Švejk turns a contest into cooperation, or better, straightforward submission. If Josef K. did the same. The Trial would be a short story ac­commodating in a single chapter a morning arrest and an evening execu­tion. Thus, treating the inspector as the highest authority, Švejk asks his only question: To confess or not to confess? And when handed a pen he readily signs the deposition, offering, moreover, to replicate his signature on any other document the policeman might deem appropriate. But is Švejk's signing the confession tantamount to his acquiescing

40 Jacques Derrida, "Signature Event Context," Glyph: Johns Hopkins Textual Studies, no. i (1971), 194.

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