Tropos Kynikos: Jaroslav Hašek's The Good Soldier Švejk

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The Good Soldier Švejk by Jaroslav Hašek    33

previously all Marxist critics had treated Kafka as Fast did. Some of them had seen in his absurd, tragic stories a veiled attempt at a critique of a de­humanizing capitalist society or, as did Brecht, the prophecy of a doom yet to come: "Fascist dictatorship was ingrained, so to speak, in the blood of the bourgeois democracies, and Kafka described with wonderful imag­ination future concentration camps, the uncertainty of the law, the grow­ing absolutism of the state system, the bleak life of many individuals gov­erned by forces inadequate to this task."19 But this was not exactly what most of the conferees gathered at Liblice had in mind. They sought to es­tablish the relevancy of Kafka for their own time and the Socialist society with which they identified.

This was a tall order, and the participants reacted to it as they saw fit. The East German scholars rejected it on principle. Roger Garaudy's an­swer was highly abstract: this member of the French Communist Party Presidium argued that Kafka's three unfinished novels, precisely in their openness, "are the image of our life: they are runways toward infinity, to­ward the attainment of truly human dimensions for man, the infinite di­mensions of his history, the making of which has no boundaries. And this is," Garaudy concluded, "Kafka's message to us Communists."20 A mem­ber of the Austrian Communist Party Central Committee, Ernst Fischer, by contrast, assessed Kafka's value for the movement in more pragmatic terms:

The alienation of the human being, which [Kafka] depicted with maximal intensity, is reaching a terrifying scope in the capitalist world. But it is a long way from being overcome in the Socialist world as well. To overcome it step by step in the struggle against dogmatism and bureaucracy, in the struggle for Socialist democracy, initiative, and responsibility is a lengthy process and a great task. Reading works such as The Trial and The Castle can help us to fulfill it. A Socialist reader will find in them some facets of his own problems, and a Socialist official will be forced to argue many issues more thoroughly and with nuance.21

Aside from the occasional dissent, a few scholarly papers (which gave this meeting a thin academic veneer), and minor variations in interpretive em­phasis, the conference's political message was clear if muted: rather than a paradise on earth, contemporary Socialist society bears

19 Quoted by Werner Mittenzwei in "Brecht a Kafka," ibid., p. 118.

20 Roger Garaudy, "Kafka, moderní umění a my," ibid., p. 201.

21 Ernst Fischer, "Kafkovská konference," ibid., p. 151. An English translation of the six most important papers from this conference can be found in Franz Kafka: Anthology of Marxist Criticism, ed. K. Hughes (Hanover, N. H, 1981), pp. 53-122.

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