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Journal Article

Tropos Kynikos: Jaroslav Hašek's "The Good Soldier Švejk"

Peter Steiner
Poetics Today
Vol. 19, No. 4 (Winter, 1998), pp. 469-498
Published by: Duke University Press
DOI: 10.2307/1773257
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1773257
Page Count: 30

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Topics: Maxims, Soldiers, Poetics, Police, Signatures, Novels, Irony, Oaths, Implicature, Aretes
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Tropos Kynikos: Jaroslav Hašek's "The Good Soldier Švejk"
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Abstract

This article addresses the discursive strategies of Jaroslav Hašek's famous novelistic hero "the good soldier Švejk." It compares them with the linguistic behavior of the Greek kynik philosopher, Diogenes of Sinope. The two figures are fierce individualists who resist all attempts at molding them into cooperative members of their respective societies. Their challenge to authority, however, is indirect. Instead of promulgating political or philosophical claims of their own, they subvert the idea of power or truth by ludic play: a homonymic-synonymic slippage of linguistic signs that renders same into different and different into same. The second part of the essay employs the logical approach to conversation advanced by H. P. Grice, focusing on the differences between Diogenes' and Švejk's semiotic self-defense. While both refuse to observe the Cooperative Principle of felicitous conversation, the former does so openly, by opting out and flouting conversational maxims. Švejk, on the other hand, does so surreptitiously in a manner that makes his interlocutors wonder whether his violations of maxims are not caused by mental aberration, rather than a conscious intent to sabotage verbal exchange.

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