The Edible Ox

By way of introducing this blog, I thought I’d just explain the name. It comes from the hilarious and bizarre satirical novel The Good Soldier Švejk, written by the Czech author Jaroslav Hašek just after World War I. Hašek lived a very fast and chaotic life consisting largely of anarchism, alcoholism, vagrancy, literature, and the kind of lunatic life-consuming humor that makes you wonder exactly how in-on-the-joke the guy living it actually was.

At on point, because of his love for one Jarmila Mayerová, whose parents were respectable enough to be basically horrified by his interest in her, Hašek cleaned up his act a little, cranking out 64 stories in one year and securing a job at a journal called The Animal World. I have no idea what this journal ordinarily did—lists of animals?—but, in the words of Cecil Parrott, who edited the volume I have, Hašek “was soon dismissed for writing articles about non-existent animals which he had invented” (ix). The unforgivable sin at the animal magazine is inventing the animals. Pretty soon Hašek was back to vagrancy and other adventures, like selling dogs, faking his suicide, and founding a political party called “The Party of Moderate and Peaceful Progress Within the Limits of the Law” and which actually railed against the monarchy and prevailing political system. (As Parrott explains, “Of course it was only another hoax, designed partly to satisfy  Hašek’s innate thirst for exhibitionism and partly to bolster the finances of the pub where the election meetings were held” (x).)

The obvious question here is: What were those animals? I can’t find any information about Hašek’s inventions in the real magazine, but fortunately a character named Marek in The Good Soldier Švejk has an experience suspiciously similar to Hašek’s. These are the animals he invents:

  • The Sulphur-Bellied Whale, “the size of a cod” and “equipped with a bladder full of formic acid” which he can shoot at fish
  • The Artful Prosperian, “a mammal of the kangaroo family”
  • The Edible Ox, “the ancient prototype of the cow”
  • The Sepia Infusorian, “which I characterized as a sort of sewer rat”
  • The Faraway Bat, a “bat from Iceland”
  • The Irritable Bazouky Stag-Puss, a “domestic cat from the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro”
  • Engineer Khun’s Flea, found in amber and blind “because it lived on an underground prehistoric mole, which was also blind” (all from page 325)

Of these, I thought the ones that sounded most like a blog title were the Artful Prosperian, the Edible Ox, and the Faraway Bat. The first is probably the most apt, but it sounded too stuffy to me. I was worried people would assume it was a reference to an 18th-century satirical newspaper full of inscrutable jokes about Whigs (obviously a reference to a Czech satirical novel is completely different). The Faraway Bat is my favorite joke in the list, but it reminds me too much of Batman. But the Edible Ox has it all.

In practice most of the posts on this blog will probably be about literature, politics, basketball, etc., rather than nonexistent animals. But I’m hoping I can retain the Spirit of Marek:

‘I can say that I did my best and kept to my action programme for running the magazine as far as lay within my own powers. But I soon discovered that my articles went beyond my capabilities.
‘Wishing to offer the public something completely new I invented animals.’
(324)

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