Tropos Kynikos: Jaroslav Hašek's The Good Soldier Švejk

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62   The Deserts of Bohemia

in by Dr. Grünstein, "half of whom insisted that Švejk was 'ein blöder Kerl,' while the other half insisted he was a scoundrel who was trying to make fun of the war" (104; 76). Or, put differently, they and we are unable to pin down Švejk's nonfulfillment of conversational maxims as unintentional failures or as unostentatious violations in­tended to mislead.

The following two examples demarcate, in my view, the boundaries of the field in which Švejk's breaches of the conversational maxims operate: ignorance and deception. The first comes during the good soldier's psy­chiatric examination, which consists of a series of questions: "You don't know the maximum depth of the Pacific Ocean?" a psychiatrist asked. " 'No, please sir, I don't,' was the answer, 'but I think that it must be defi­nitely deeper than the Vltava below the rock of Vyšehrad' " (64; 29). Com­mon sense tells me that this reply betrays the deficiencies of Švejk's edu­cation, but as a "sophisticated" literary critic I cannot resist seeing in it a sneaky violation of the M.Qn—a substitution of a comparative value for a quantitative concept. The other breach occurs in the aftermath of one of the many confrontations between Švejk and his nemesis. Lieutenant Dub—a high school history teacher in civilian life: "Lieutenant Dub went away murmuring to himself: T will see thee at Philippi.' 'What did he say to you?' Jurajda asked Švejk. 'We've only arranged a meeting at "Philip's." These smart gentlemen are generally queers'" (535; 553). Al­though it is quite plausible that Švejk was ignorant of Roman history, his "mistake" was strained, to say the least. Švejk's failure to report correctly the purport of Dub's remark seems less an unintentional failure than a sneaky violation of the M.Q1. ("Do not say what you believe is false") in­tended to cast aspersions on the lieutenant's sexual orientation.

As far as flouting is concerned, predictably, this is the most frequent type of infringement of the maxims in Švejk's speech. The sheer number of these blatant conversational failures and the variety of implicatures which they give rise to precludes my dealing with this topic here. I will therefore limit my comments to two observations. First of all, though on a few occasions the good soldier exploits the maxims in order to deliver an indirect insult or threat, this is not very characteristic of his style; and this absence clearly sets him apart from the aggressive Diogenes. Second, some of the conversational implicatures that Švejk's conversations gener­ate seem to transcend the discursive universe of this character. So far I have treated the good soldier as an independent figure, not as a part of a larger novelistic structure. But it would be naive


approximate replies to simple questions" (Thomas S. Szasz, The Myth of Mental Illness: Foundations of a Theory of Personal Conduct [New York, 1974], p. 239). This description of a patient afflicted by the Ganser syndrome fits Švejk's behavior quite well.
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