Tropos Kynikos: Jaroslav Hašek's The Good Soldier Švejk

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The Good Soldier Švejk by Jaroslav Hašek    49

Christ's sake" (59; 22). Occasional "misapplications" by Švejk of stan­dard military commands (such as calling to attention soldiers on the la­trine because a general is in the vicinity) also belong in this category.

It is, in fact, their inability to alter the identity of reiterated signs that distinguishes the bad guys from the good in Hašek's novel. The epitome of the first group is Colonel Friedrich Kraus von Zillergut, whose dis­course consists primarily of agglutinated tautologies such as: "A book, gentlemen, is a number of squares of paper cut in different ways and of varying format which are printed on and put together, bound and gummed. Yes. Well, do you know, gentlemen, what gum is? Gum is ad­hesive material." Poetic justice for this type of repetitiveness is swift in Švejk: the Colonel is run over when he attempts to demonstrate (in a fash­ion that mimics Diogenes) his definition of "the rear part of the house" as the part "we cannot see ... from the pavement," which we may "prove to ourselves by stepping into the driveway" (221-22; 201). His counterparts are characters such as the one-year volunteer Marek whose creative for­ays into zoological taxonomy published in the journal The Animal World, of which he was editor, drove the partisans of science into fury, or Army Chaplain Katz—the noncanonical performer of Catholic rituals.

One of the most striking stylistic features of Hašek's text is the abun­dance of stories narrated by Švejk and other characters. In this respect, the novel differs significantly from D. L.'s account of Diogenes' life, in which narrativity is kept to the bare minimum. Švejk's stories serve several func­tions in the book, some of which I will return to later. But, as a commen­tary on or a paraphrase of what was said previously by other characters, they are also a recontextualizing device. Typical in this respect is Švejk's reply to the news from his charwoman, Mrs. Müller, "And so they've killed our Ferdinand," with which the novel begins. "'Which Ferdinand, Mrs. Müller?' he asked ... 'I know two Ferdinands. One is a messenger at Průša's, the chemist's, and once by mistake he drank a bottle of hair oil there. And the other is Ferdinand Kokoška who collects dog shitties. Nei­ther of them is any loss'" (41; 3-4). Ostensibly, Švejk's misunderstanding is evoked by Mrs. Müller's use of the so-called possessive dative, "our Ferdinand," which in Czech implies both a strong identification with the Archduke Franz Ferdinand (her meaning) and a close familiarity with somebody called Ferdinand (his interpretation of it). But regardless of what prompts it, Švejk's question creates an analogy whose rhetorical ef­fect can be compared to that of the kynik anecdote about Diogenes intro­ducing himself immediately after Alexander the Great.

I could list many more instances of such nonidentical repetitions in Švejk's utterances (his chronic misunderstanding of rhetorical questions comes immediately to mind), but it would not add

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