Tropos Kynikos: Jaroslav Hašek's The Good Soldier Švejk

   page  
A 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42
43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61
62 63 64 65 66 67 68

26   The Deserts of Bohemia

to make people laugh. There exist dozens, even hundreds of interpretations of Kafka. His work is perceived and accepted as full of problems and prob­lematic, as enigmatic, puzzle-like and cryptic, accessible only through de­coding—in other words, through interpretation. Hašek's work, on the other hand, seems completely clear and understandable to everybody; his work is naturally transparent, provoking laughter and nothing more" (96; 127).

Kosík, I would stress, did not pose his provocative question out of intellectual curiosity alone. By equating Hašek and Kafka, by arguing that "these two Prague authors ... described two human types that at first glance seem far apart and contradictory, but which in reality complement each other" (102; 136), Kosík engaged in something more egregious than a revision of the socially sanctioned distinction between highbrow and low­brow literature. His revisionism was political, verging on what Commu­nist Party ideologues used to call "opportunism," that is, "an affirmation of Marxism in words but voiding it of its revolutionary content."2 I must elucidate this remark.

Jaroslav Hašek is, without doubt, the most controversial figure in mod­ern Czech letters. Bigamist, closet homosexual, chronic alcoholic, disci­plined revolutionary, intellectual parasite, mentor of the venerable Suke Bator, who was the Mongolian Lenin—these are a few of the many labels attached to his name.3 Although he was a prolific author (a recent edition of his selected works comprises five hefty volumes), Hašek's claim to lit­erary fame rests on a single unfinished novel written and published in weekly installments (his main source of income) during the last two years of his life. Predictably, the critical responses that it elicited were highly discordant: according to Max Brod (the first to comment on Švejk in print), "Hašek's is a first-rate achievement," while for René Wellek, "the book is not much of a work of art, as it is full of low humor and cheap propa­ganda," to mention just two.4 This clash of opinions indicates that the Hašek controversy is more than a matter of literary taste. Švejk is a truly transgressive work whose vulgar language, bawdy humor, and thorough debunking of all lofty ideals (whether heroism

2 "Revizionismus," in Malý encyklopedický slovník (Prague, 1972), p. 1000.

3 For Hašek's lofty reputation in Mongolia, see Owen Lattimore's letter to the Times Liter­ary Supplement, April 14, 1978, p. 417; or František Cinger's interview with L. Tüdev, "Nemám důvod měnit své názory," Rudé právo, January 21, 1989, p. 5. In his letter of Sep­tember 17,1920, from Irkutsk, Hašek wrote that, among his other duties in the Red Army was the editorship of three journals, one of them in Mongolian (reprinted in Zdeněk Ančík, O životě Jaroslava Haška [Prague, 1953], pp. 83-85). It is most likely that Hašek met Suke Bator in this capacity.

4 Max Brod, "Zwei Prager Volkstypen: Szenen von E. E. Kisch und J. Hašek im 'Kleinen Theater Adria,'" Prager Abendblatt, November 7,1921, p. 6; Rene Wellek, "Twenty Years of Czech Literature: 1918-1938," in Essays on Czech Literature (The Hague, 1963), p. 41.

A 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42
43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61
62 63 64 65 66 67 68
   page