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

48   The Deserts of Bohemia

under conditions of extreme alienation man can tran­scend a system. But this is too general a statement to make about Švejk. His ability to push the limits of a system derives from the fact that he is a crystallization of a very specific and essential trait of human nature—our ability to play. Like Diogenes, Švejk is a representative not of the genus Homo as such, but of its small subgroup Homo ludens.39

Earlier I noted that Diogenes' play derives its existence from his ability to duplicate signs, to fold them in upon themselves in a way that high­lights their nonidentical sameness and/or tautologous otherness. Švejk's play can be traced to a similar skill. The reinscription of formulaic expres­sions charged with a definite set of values into a nonstandard context is the most obvious example of a ludic challenge to authority. Thus, the pa­triotic greeting by which Švejk addresses the commission of psychiatrists that was to judge his legal sanity elicits the following comment in their re­port: "The undersigned medical experts insist upon the complete mental feebleness and congenital idiocy of Josef Švejk, who appeared before the aforesaid commission and expressed himself in terms such as: 'Long live our Emperor Franz Joseph I,' which utterance is sufficient to illuminate the state of mind of Josef Švejk as that of patent imbecile" (65; 30). Upon noticing the just-published declaration of war, the arrested Švejk utters an equally patriotic exclamation on his way to police headquarters, "God save our Franz Joseph! We shall win this war! (71; 43), which causes a minor mob scene and is interpreted by the police official as seditious irony.

The formulaic expressions repeated more or less out of context by Švejk need not be explicitly ideological to have ludic force; the only condition they must meet is that they must be appropriate only in certain situations and not in others. Švejk's social gesture of maintaining temporal order, politely extended to a fellow cellmate in the holding cell of the police sta­tion, is a case in point: "In the passage energetic steps could be heard, the key grated in the lock, the door opened and a policeman called Švejk's name. 'Excuse me,' said Švejk chivalrously, I've only been here since twelve noon, but this gentleman has been here since six o'clock in the morning. I'm not in any hurry anyway' " (76; 42). Another case is Švejk's concern (after admitting all legal charges against him at police headquar­ters) not to be late for his transfer to criminal court next morning: "In the morning you'll be taken off to the criminal court," the interrogating officer tells Švejk. "At what time, your worship?" he asks, "so I don't oversleep, for Christ's
39 The ludic aspect of Hašek's novel is treated extensively in Hana Gaifman, "Švejk—the Homo Ludens," in Language and Literary Theory: In Honor of Ladislav Matějka, ed. B. Stolz et al. (Ann Arbor, 1984), pp. 307-22. Although Gaifman's concept of play is different from the one I am applying here, I am indebted to her essay for its many insightful observations.

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