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Jára Cimrman (Czech pronunciation: [ˈjaːra ˈtsɪmr̩man]) is a Czech fictional character created by Jiří Šebánek, Ladislav Smoljak and Zdeněk Svěrák. He is presented as one of the greatest Czech playwrights, poets, composers, teachers, travellers, philosophers, inventors, detectives, mathematicians and sportsmen of the 19th and early 20th century. Playing the game on his real existence is part of his characterization.
Cimrman made its first appearance on a regular radio programme Nealkoholická vinárna U Pavouka ("The Spider Non-Alcoholic Wine Bar") on December 23, 1966. Although the character 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. Žižkovské divadlo Járy Cimrmana (Jára Cimrman Theatre in Žižkov) is one of Prague's most frequented theatrical houses.
The precise dates of his birth and death have not been agreed upon. Because Franz Huschkov, the registrar of the 4th Vienna Parish, made most of his entries in a state of intoxication, we cannot say for certain whether Jára Cimrman was born to Marlén and Leopold Cimrman on a freezing February night in 1857, 1864, or 1876. We will therefore assume that he was born in 1890, which makes 120 years since the day of the master’s birth.
As we cast our eyes across the tremendous number and quality of works created by this spiritual titan, we are apt to wonder, “Whence Cimrman’s genius?” Cimrman’s inventiveness and creativity are partially explained by the fact that did not pass through the stage of puberty, which, as is well known, deflects creative energy in undesirable directions. Until Cimrman reached the age of 15, his parents hid the fact he was a boy so he could wear the clothing of his older sister Luisa. However, when his malicious classmates at the girls’ school revealed he was not a girl, Cimrman had already passed through puberty because, as we know, girls mature faster than boys.
According to his biographers, Jára Cimrman made extensive contributions to mankind, in all areas. He 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 supposedly 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 yogurt. He generously helped many great scientists: On his own back he carried 45 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 light bulb, 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. He is also known for having advised Mendeleev, having seen the first draft, that the Periodic Table should be rotated to its current orientation. It is said that when Graham Bell had invented his telephone, he found in it 3 missed calls from Jára Cimrman.
Another one of his great inventions is also the internet itself, although without widespread usage of computers. Due to the technologies available at the time he had to rely on telephones. His internet basically consisted of an old circus tent where he had a telephone apparatus and various pensioned high school teachers, who answered all kinds of question people had. The well known WWW prefix originated here. One of the teachers' name was Weber and since he stuttered, he introduced himself as "W-W-W.Weber." His achievements in this field go even further, thanks to Mr. Šustr, who was responsible for answering biologically themed questions. Šustr answered every one by operating with field mice (African elephant's weight was equivalent to 30,000 mice, a weasel was 1,5 times faster than a mouse etc.). This is the first recorded event of using mice as operators in computer technology.
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 a 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. Knowing that the class is bound to forget at least a part of the lecture, his system was based on dividing the lectured subjects into clearly marked "Forget-me-not" and "Not-forget-me-not" materials. The former was one-tenth of all the learning material and was meant to be remembered, while the latter made up nine-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 fault."
Jára Cimrman is claimed to have authored numerous plays, many of which are said to 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, also said to be lost, which was a subject of their correspondence, was Čechové na Řípu (English: "Czechs on 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 Beet", 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 is said to have 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. 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).
Cimrman's special acting methods
Vichr z hor
Vichr z hor (Gale from the mountains) was used on stage when the audience displayed a certain degree of hostility towards actors. It was a way of leaving the stage quickly with minimal to no damage to actors or scene. When the actors, or Cimrman himself sensed danger, two members of the ensemble started making seemingly irrelevant comments that there's a wind picking up on stage. Calling it Gale from the mountains, they kept making remarks on the fierce strength of the wind, which was by that point, ripping and carrying objects away (the remaining personnel carried the scene pieces on a carriage standing by). When all that remained on scene were the two actors, the lights went off. This was a signal for the duo to announce, that a storm has arrived and whoever in the audience moves will be struck down by lightning. This was further supported by the carriage leaving the theatre area, further simulating thunder. After making sure no-one will move, the duo went to their prepared bicycles and began chasing the carriage.
The physical and facial appearance of Jára Cimrman past his childhood years is a great mystery, as (we are told) 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.
The Cimrman's character was invented for a regular radio programme Nealkoholická vinárna U Pavouka ("The Spider Non-Alcoholic Wine Bar") 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)
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 15 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 keep Cimrman eligible. The popular support for Cimrman caused the Czech Television 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.
- Smith, Craig S. (2007-05-17). "Feeling Short of Real Heroes, Thus Fond of a Fake One". The New York Times (Plzen). Retrieved 2012-03-17.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Jára Cimrman.|
- Žižkovské divadlo Járy Cimrmana (The Cimrman Theatre).
- Unofficial pages of the Jára Cimrman Theatre
- Lidové noviny newspaper article about Jára Cimrman winning the competition so far.
- Czech Press Agency news that Jára Cimrman will be disqualified although he is leading the scores.
- Britské listy article criticizing Czech Television.
- Announcement by Czech Television of a special award for Jára Cimrman.
- Cimrmanův zpravodaj (The Cimrman Bulletin).
- Feeling Short of Real Heroes, Thus Fond of a Fake One: New York Times 17 May 2005; somewhat differently edited in International Herald Tribune 16 May as Prague's greatest hero is really a blank Czech
- article on the contest in Prague Post
- The first Czech on the moon, Haaretz 9 June 2005
- Kafka Meets Monty Python, Time 2002
- Czechs' hero? The people's choice is a joke, IHT March 2005
- A nationally syndicated column released after the vote with a biography.
- The Jara Cimrman theater - several plays and excerpts translated into English
- The website for Petrin Tower, the location of the Cimrman Museum