Tropos Kynikos: Jaroslav Hašek's The Good Soldier Švejk

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The Good Soldier Švejk by Jaroslav Hašek    61

to involve more than the simple problem of observing one conversa­tional maxim without breaking another. The conclusion of the Russian uniform episode to which I have already devoted some attention vividly illustrates this point. After a telegram from brigade headquarters attests to his Austro-Hungarian identity, Švejk is asked to tell the court-martial what actually happened. He explains his predicament:

When afterwards the major asked him why he had not stated [that he put on the enemy uniform only out of curiosity] under cross-examination be­fore the court, Švejk answered that no one had in fact asked him how he got into Russian uniform and that all the questions had been: "Do you admit that you voluntarily and without pressure put on an enemy uniform?" Since that was true he could not say anything else but: "Of course—yes— certainly—it was like that—undoubtedly." This was why he had rejected with indignation the accusation made in the court that he betrayed His Im­perial Majesty.

"The fellow is a complete imbecile," said the general to the major. (681; 715-16)

Švejk's answers in court violate the M.R. because it clashes with the M.Qn. ("Do not make your contribution more informative than is re­quired"), which he observed. But is this reasonable behavior? The gen­eral's remark to the major suggests that it is not. Yet, if Švejk is mentally handicapped, we perhaps should speak not of a clash of maxims in his speech but, instead, of his inability to realize what was relevant for his trial. This is the point that Mary Louise Pratt raised some years ago when she argued that Grice's list of the conversational infelicities is too limiting for literary analysis; she proposed to amend it with a fifth type which she termed an "unintentional failure."47 The crux of the matter is that Hašek's text does not furnish enough clues to judge whether the good soldier's imbecility is genuine or whether it is just one of his many ludic identities.48 Readers find themselves in the same position as the doctors called in by

47 Mary Louise Pratt, Toward a Speech Act Theory of Literary Discourse (Bloomington, 1977), pp. 182-91, Further references will be given in the text.

48 It is not easy to draw a precise line between criminal culpability and insanity outside the novelistic universe either. Psychiatric textbooks describe the so-called Ganser syn­drome, which "develops only after a commission of a crime and, therefore, tells nothing about the patient's mental state when he committed the offense. In this syndrome, the patient, being under charges from which he would be exonerated were he irresponsible, begins, without being aware of the fact, to appear irresponsible. He appears stupid and unable to comprehend questions or instructions accurately. His replies are vaguely rele­vant to the query but absurd in content. He performs various uncomplicated, familiar tasks in an absurd manner, or gives approximate replies

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