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Jára Cimrman

Jára Cimrman or Jára da Cimrman is a Czech fictional character created by Jiří Šebánek and Zdeněk Svěrák. He is presented as one of the greatest Czech playwrights, poets, composers, teachers, travellers, philosophers, inventors, detectives and sportsmen of the 19th and early 20th century. Playing the game on his real existence is part of his characterization.

Cimrman character made its first appearance on a regular radio programme Nealkoholická vinárna U Pavouka ("At The Spider, A Non-alcoholic Winebar") on December 23 1966. Although he was originally meant to be just a caricature of the Czech people, history, and culture, he became an immensely popular character of modern Czech folklore, and an artificial national hero.

Cimrman is a major character or the putative author of a great number of books, plays, and films. The Jára Cimrman Theatre in Žižkov is one of Prague's most frequented theatrical houses.

Fictional biography

The precise dates of Jára Cimrman's birth and death are uncertain. He was born in Vienna sometime between 1869 and 1874 to an Austrian mother actress (Marlen Jelinek: Jelínek is both a Czech surname and a Czech word meaning small/young stag) and a Czech father tailor (Leopold Cimrman: Zimmermann (read Cimrman, it is both a German surname and a German word meaning carpenter). He considered himself to be Czech, which can be understood from his note in his diary, saying: "I would like to see my native country — Böhmen." (Böhmen being the German name for Bohemia) He was last seen in Liptákov, in the Jizera Mountains (Isergebirge) of north Bohemia, in 1914.

Cimrman had little recognition during his lifetime. He himself has stated in a poem ("Ážmilid") "From some I have met with ridicule and from others I have mostly also met with ridicule" ("U jedněch setkával jsem se s výsměchem a u druhých většinou také s výsměchem"). Mankind only became acquainted with his genius following the discovery of a chest with his belongings by Dr. Evžen Hedvábný in Liptákov, on February 26, 1966.

Contributions

Jára Cimrman proposed the Panama Canal to the U.S. government, including a libretto for an opera of the same name. He reformed the school system in Galicia. With Count Zeppelin he constructed the first rigid airship using Swedish steel and Czech wicker (the wicker being for the cabin). He was deported from Germany as an anarchist, and his personal documents carried a note that he was "a source of unrest." This led the Swiss company Omega to offer him a job to improve the balance wheel for their Piccolo line of ladies' watches. (N.B. the Czech and German words for a watch's balance wheel ("nepokoj", "Unruhe") mean "unrest.") While in Switzerland, he introduced (and practised for some time) the profession of obstetrician, under the difficult Alpine conditions. He conducted investigations about the life of Arctic tribes who eat their fellows; and once, while running away from a furious tribe, he missed the North Pole by a mere seven meters.

In Paraguay he created the first puppet-show. In Vienna he established a school of criminology, music and ballet. He corresponded with G.B. Shaw for many years, but unfortunately the dogged Irishman never replied. He invented yoghurt. He generously helped many great scientists: on his own back he carried forty five tubs of pitchblende to the basement of Mr. and Mrs. Curie, he assisted Prof. Burian with his first plastic surgery, he reworked the electrical contact on Edison's first lightbulb, and he found an underlease for Mr. Eiffel. He is the creator of the philosophy of Externism. Because of his enthusiasm for natural sciences, he discovered the monopole (as opposed to the then well known dipole), but this discovery fell into oblivion until it was confusedly revived by 20th century economists.

Cimrman the Pedagogue

Most of the pedagogical work of Jára Cimrman is presented in the theatre play Vyšetřování ztráty třídní knihy ("Investigation of the Loss of a Class Book", 1967).

Cimrman became a teacher in a small village known as Struk, as a punishment by court, when it was revealed he could read and write as well.

He also, in accordance with his ideology of "Futurism", prepared his students as a teacher for the future practical usage of phones, which were being installed in Austria at that time and planted such an euphoria, that when the first phone apparatus was installed, many of his former students began throwing a whole fortune into the phones, calling random numbers and many of them went home from the post office as complete beggars.

He also revolutionized his small town schooling methods with dividing the lectured subjects into clearly marked "Forget-me-not's" and "Not-forget-me-not's" materials. The former was 1 tenth of all the learning material and was meant to be remembered, while the latter made up 9 tenths of the given subject and was intended from the start to be forgotten. As a teacher, he also put his pupils under stress to improve information retention for a particularly important part of the subject - he either snapped his whip hard on the ground or took off his wig ("úlek oslněním" - "fright by daze"). This apparently successful method bears his name to this day as the famous "Cimrman's Fixation by Shock".

When students misbehaved, he did not punish them but punished himself instead - his theory was that pupils certainly must love their teacher and therefore would feel remorse if he should suffer. When his students put water into his ink-bottle instead of ink, he did not leave his house for a week. His students had no school then and so had enough free time to feel sorry for him. Alternately he would refuse to have a cigarette after lunch and commented on it thus: "Today, after lunch, I will not smoke a cigar ("viržínko"). Don't cry, it's your own fault."

Cimrman the Playwright

Jára Cimrman is presented as an author of numerous plays, many of which have been lost. These plays include Posel světla (English "Herald of Light"), featuring his own comic vision of the future world where people are all good to each other and so a person may, ironically, act as a complete heartless monster without any remorse.

Another play presented as a work of Cimrman is Záskok ("The Stand-in"), which portrays actors of a fictional amateur theatre, performing a play that is messed up by a famous and reportedly brilliant, yet in reality dumb person who cannot forget to say other people's lines and lines from other plays and who cannot even remember the name of his own character.

Cimrman never received great fame as a playwright in his lifetime, often because of his innovatory practices, such as changing the length of the play in several successive performances or presenting new ideas. He is stated to have sent many of his plays to Ladislav Stroupežnický (a famous Czech playwright) under his name and two pseudonyms, forming such a bundle of rejected works that Stroupežnický recalls they "cost him 60 working days". He also encouraged Cimrman not to write to him and if possible "not to write at all". After Cimrman replied on a familiar note, because they both studied at the same school, Stroupežnický never recovered.

One of the plays, nowadays lost, which was a subject of their correspondence, was Čechové na Řípu (English: "Czechs on the Říp"), a fictional account of an old Bohemian legend, which is here said to feature not only the legendary Forefather Czech, but also other characters as Forefather German, Forefather Jew and, in dialogue only, Forefather Gipsy, by which Cimrman wanted to honour all major nationalities living in Bohemia. The play was later re-done and its name changed to Čechové na řípu ("Czechs for Turnip", changing just uppercase "Ř" into lower case "ř"), in order to motivate people to work at a sugar refinery in Klánovice.

Another man, whom Cimrman surprised with his works was Jacob Durman, director of the Royal Chamber Theatre in Haag, who, after reading his play Prázdniny s kanibalem Dufkem ("Vacation with cannibal Dufek") is said not to "come out of astonishment." Cimrman replied: "Dear Mr. Durman, the theatre is here mainly so that the spectator shall be astonished. I am sending you five more plays."

Many of Cimrman's unsuccessful plays are reported to be performed by his infamous theatrical group Lipany. Cimrman's theatre still possesses the original properties from the play Akt (English: "The Nude"), through which the author himself left the stage. A common way to escape angry or unsatisfied audience was the even more infamous scene Vichr z hor ("Drift From the Mountains"), allowing the actors to escape swiftly.

Cimrmanologists admit that Cimrman has failed to obtain any recognition in this field (as well as in any other) because his methods were far too ahead of his time. This is also in strong contrast with the fact how brilliantly he helped Anton Chekhov with his play (advising him that two sisters are not enough).

Physical appearance

The physical and facial appearance of Jára Cimrman past his childhood years is a great mystery, as there exist no photos of his person. In some of many lectures on Jára Cimrman it was declared that from the few details known (a "T" as a remnant of him hitting his head repeatedly against a fence) a few hundred possible silhouettes were created.

Cimrmanology

The Cimrman's character was invented for a regular radio programme Nealkoholická vinárna U Pavouka ("Spider's Non-alcoholic Wineroom") in 1966. As the authors later reminisced about it, the mystification with presenting a new discovery of a forgotten Czech genius was successful. Some listeners considered it humorous, some asked a punishment for those who tried to deceive people, and others (at least in the beginning) believed. In 1967 Jiří Šebánek together with Miloň Čepelka, Ladislav Smoljak and Zdeněk Svěrák founded the Jára Cimrman Theatre. The first play was called Akt ("The Nude"). Jiří Šebánek later left the theatre and in 1980 founded Salon Cimrman.

People from the Jára Cimrman Theatre and Salon Cimrman call themselves Cimrmanologists and pretend to be enthusiastic scholars who explore and analyse the Cimrman's life and work. Their findings have been presented to the lay public in a variety of ways. Lectures on Jára Cimrman followed by a dramatization inspired on the scholars' discoveries have been very popular in the Jára Cimrman Theatre, while Salon Cimrman focuses just on lectures.

In 1983 Ladislav Smoljak directed the film Jára Cimrman ležící, spící ("Jára Cimrman Lying, Sleeping") and in 1984 Ladislav Smoljak and Zdeněk Svěrák made a detective film comedy Rozpuštěný a vypuštěný ("Dissolved and Drained"), based on the theatre play Vražda v salónním coupé ("Murder in a Chair Carriage"), the putative author of which was Jára Cimrman.

Cimrmanologists also wrote several books on Jára Cimrman:

  • J. Šebánek, L. Smoljak, Z. Svěrák, K. Velebný: Jára da Cimrman (1970)
  • J. Klusák, J. Šebánek, L. Smoljak, Z. Svěrák, K. Velebný: Cimrman v říši hudby ("Cimrman in the Music Domain", 1971)
  • J. Šebánek: Já, Jára Cimrman ("I, Jára Cimrman", 1991)

A museum on Jára Cimrman's inventions was opened in the basement of the Petřín Lookout Tower in Prague in 2002.

The Greatest Czech contest

In early 2005, the Czech Television started a contest to choose The Greatest Czech (inspired by the British show 100 Greatest Britons). The obvious candidates included pop singers, Czech kings and national heroes. Surprisingly, on January 15th it seemed that most of the votes (by SMS, the Internet or mail) had gone to Jára Cimrman. However, the Czech Television decided to disqualify Cimrman, saying that only real people were eligible for the contest — a decision that was strongly criticized by the public. An on-line petition was started to try to keep Cimrman eligible. The popular support for Cimrman caused the BBC to create a special category for fictional characters to recognize Cimrman's popularity , and Czech Television did a documentary about Cimrman as well; however, they did not include him in the main contest.

External links

In Czech

In English

See also

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