Man Is Indestructible: Legend and Legitimacy in the Worlds of Jaroslav Hašek
CitationWeil, Abigail. 2019. Man Is Indestructible: Legend and Legitimacy in the Worlds of Jaroslav Hašek. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractCzech author Jaroslav Hašek (1883-1923) is internationally renowned for his novel The Fates of the Good Soldier Švejk in the World War. During his lifetime, despite publishing prolifically, Hašek was primarily known as a notorious prankster. Anecdotes grew into a legend which depicts Hašek as a larger-than-life bon vivant. This image, however, has historically been in tension with the high esteem he ultimately earned with his great novel. My reading of Hašek proposes an anti-authority theory of authorship as the unifying force between the two seemingly incompatible aspects of his oeuvre. I understand the Hašek legend as a constructed literary text, improvised like the rest of his work. I argue that his original pranks and their preservation as anecdotes express a disdain for institutions of political and cultural authority. At the same time, Hašek encoded self-referential material into his later literary works, drawing attention to the already potent legend and championing authorship as an ungovernable refuge.
The introduction presents a theory of authorial legend, followed by a brief biography. Chapter One, “The Bugulma Tales: Improvisation and Autobiographical Experiment,” discusses Hašek’s service in the Red Army and the satirical, pseudo-autobiographical stories he published upon returning to Prague. Chapters Two and Three are both devoted to the Švejk novel. Chapter Two, “Authorship as a Challenge to Authority: Storytelling in Osudy dobrého vojáka Švejka,” analyzes the codes of self-censorship in Hašek’s depiction of wartime Prague and finds that oral storytelling exists as a bastion of self-expression for the low-class characters the novel champions. Chapter Three, “History as Fodder” discusses Hašek’s irreverent and skeptical treatment of historical discourse and, by extension, all supposedly non-fiction genres. Chapter Four, “My Friend Hašek: Memoirs Beyond Fact and Fiction,” explores how Hašek’s legacy came to be defined through a series of memoirs written after his death by friends and collaborators. In the conclusion, I propose reexamining Hašek’s role in global literary culture, paying particular attention to Russia. Hašek’s time in the Red Army legitimized him for a soviet readership, with the effect that his writings were never censored under the communist regime. Among Russian readers, Hašek remains the most popular Czech author, yet his appeal is paradoxically in conflict with his success.
I find that Hašek created and managed his own authorial legend while remaining intentionally outside of, indeed antagonistic to, normative political and literary institutions. Taking seriously both Hašek’s writing and his celebrity invites a new understanding of the dynamic relationship between authorship and authority, a model that allows for both the essentially chaotic nature of Hašek’s work, and his virtuosity. Hašek was unique among the major writers of interwar Europe in that his genius appears not in spite of but in concert with his anti-intellectualism.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:42013078
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