The Slow Burning Fuse

an atheisitic anarchistic scorcher

literature for rebels ix


Demonstrating that it is possible to challenge authority but at the same time appearing to be on their side is Josef Svejk, the main character of The Good Soldier Svejk, first published in 1923.

And so they’ve killed our Ferdinand,” says Svejk’s charwoman, in the first line that opens the novel.  She was talking about the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife in Sarajevo, 1914, but Svejk responds in a way that sets the tone for the character for the rest of the book: “Which Ferdinand, Mrs. Muller? I know two. One is a messenger at Prusa’s, the chemist’s, who once drank a bottle of hair oil there by mistake. And the other is Ferdinand Kokoska who collects dog manure.  Neither of them is any loss.”

Svejk was created by Czech anarchist Jaroslev Hasek, and the book tells the story of an apparently good natured simpleton who through his bumbling, manner and speech manages to embarrass and mock the entire class-based hierarchy of the Austro-Hungarian army and avoid fighting in World War One, while at the same time appearing to be enthusiastic about it.  It is considered by many to be the first truly anti-war novel.

Generations of Czechs have come to adore Svejk’s subversive humour and the thumbing of his nose at authority behind its back, and his dumb insolence still inspires today.  At a Prague NATO summit in 2002 a man dressed as Svejk appeared at an anti-alliance protest, with a placard reading “To Baghdad” mimicking Svejk’s seeming enthusiasm for war, showing just how deep the character is etched on the common psyche here.  In the Czech Republic many hundreds of restaurants, bars and cafes are to be found dedicated to the Czech’s number one anti-authoritarian hero.

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This entry was posted on April 21, 2013 by in anarchy, book, literature and tagged , , .
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