Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Jaroslav Hašek, 'The Fateful Adventures of the Good Soldier Švejk During the World War,' Part 1

Jaroslav Hašek, The Fateful Adventures of the Good Soldier Švejk During the World War / Osudy dobrého vojáka Švejka za světové války / aka The Good Soldier Švejk (1921-1923).

Told largely from the perspective of Švejk, a Czech soldier in the service of the Austro-Hungarian Empire during the Great War of 1914-1918, Hašek shows The War to be a stupid squander and Life to be Absurd. In the words of a certain Sex Pistols song, "God save this mad parade!"

I read the Penguin Books translation years ago, but last night finished the newer translation by Zdeněk "Zenny" Sadloň (entire set, 2000-2009) and Emmett M. Joyce (Book One only), which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Švejk (rhymes with Bake) falls in and out of trouble constantly. About a third of the way into Book One, he's examined by a panel of military doctors. Is he an idiot or "a scoundrel . . . mak[ing] light of the military service?"

Does Švejk think for himself or not, the Command Chief Physician* wants to know. Not, Švejk answers. Why not?

Švejk's answer: "I dutifully report that . . . it is forbidden for soldiers in the military to think. When I was with the 91st Regiment years ago, our captain would always say, 'A soldier must not think on his own. His superiors think for him. As soon as a soldier starts thinking, then he's not a soldier anymore, but some kind of mangy civilian. Thinking doesn't lead . . ."   

~~ Jaroslav Hašek, The Fateful Adventures of the Good Soldier Švejk During the World War, Book One. The Samizdat edition of the new English rendition, translated by Zdeněk "Zenny" Sadloň and Emmett M. Joyce, 1st Books Library, 2000, page 78.

Little does the officer corps realize that the entire empire will collapse by war's end, and that meanwhile, nearly all they think and do is ridiculous.

Today's Rune: Movement.

*Senior staff doctor in the Cecil Parrott translation. 

No comments: