Tropos Kynikos: Jaroslav Hašek's The Good Soldier Švejk

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40   The Deserts of Bohemia

it is true, as Theodor Gomperz asserts, that the force of kynism springs from "the contrast between a well-founded self-esteem and a mean situation" is secondary.34 What matters is that this strain of thought offered an original strategy by which a lonely outsider might defend himself against an inhospitable society. The kyniks' one-against-all attitude very much affirmed the Homeric sense of arete. Yet, one might wonder, how could these bizarre thinkers with no arms or military training compete with warlords like Achilles and Hector? Only by changing the rules of engagement. And this is precisely what the kynikos tropos is all about. A victory, the example of Pyrrhus teaches us, consists of two complementary aspects: the vanquishing of the enemy and the minimizing of casualties on one's own side. It was the lat­ter facet of the contest on which the kyniks concentrated exclusively. By decreasing, in a zero-sum game, the sum to another zero, the kyniks made themselves invincible: neither had they anything to lose nor had anybody else any incentive to compete with them.

Autarkeia, or self-sufficiency, is the ultimate arete for which the kyniks strove in their conflict with society.35 If the insuperability of the Greek gods derives from their lack of needs, to emulate them requires of the kynik the radical suppression of all needs to the barest minimum. And since it is those values acquired in the process of socialization that tie one most closely to the collectivity, these should be jettisoned first. A human being, in fact, ought to be reduced to his or her physiological substratum. Thus, in a surprising twist, to become godlike a kynik must turn animal-like, similar to "a mouse running around ... not looking for a place to lie down in, not afraid of the dark, not seeking any of the things which are considered to be dainties," from which D. L. points out Diogenes "discov­ered the means of adapting himself to circumstances" (25).

The tenets of kynism are paradoxical not only in the logical but also in the etymological sense of this word. The equation of obvious opposites which kynik argumentation displayed flew strongly in the face of the re­ceived opinion of ordinary Athenians. But, precisely because of this, I very much suspect that kynik pronouncements and behavior cannot be taken at face value as sincere statements or spontaneous acts. All Dio­genes' pointed attacks against the reasoning of his fellow philosophers, his defense of strange cultural practices (such as cannibalism), all his pub­lic masturbations and other curious "biographical" items appear in their deliberate ostentatiousness

34 Theodor Gomperz, Greek Thinkers: A History of Ancient Philosophy, trans. G. G. Berry (London 1905), 2:149.

35 See Audrey N. M. Rich, "The Cynic Concept of Aytarkeia," in Die Kyniker in der modern Forschung: Aufsätze mit Einführung und Bibliographic, ed. M. Billberbeck (Amsterdam, 1991), pp. 233-39.

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