cimrman and other Czechisms


Actual Czechs are eminently practical, nothing magical or mystical about them, as befits the people who drink the most beer in the world. Their most curious feature, which they keep to themselves and of  which the tourists know nothing, is a collective sense of  humor. Consider Jára Cimrman, by popular opinion the greatest Czech who ever lived. A few years ago a Czech TV channel asked its audience to name the most beloved native son. Jára Cimrman came first, ahead of Václav Havel, founding president Masaryk, and the Emperor Charles IV. Even the fact that Cimrman was explicitly disqualified in advance did not hurt his chances. This year, when a popular Internet site angled for an alternative to the current President Václav Klaus, Cimrman, disqualified again, came second. An obvious handicap was the fact that he was allegedly last seen alive in 1914.

Jára Cimrman is, of course, a fictitious character, the brainchild of a small group of writers and actors. In the Czech version of Wikipedia he is introduced as “one of the greatest Czech playwrights, poets, musicians, teachers, adventurers, philosophers, inventors” and many other things. Some of his achievements include inventing the Paraguayan puppet show, almost becoming the first man to reach the North Pole (he apparently missed it by seven meters), and conducting a voluminous correspondence with George Bernard Shaw, who never deigned to respond.

Well, that’s funny enough, but the most striking thing about Cimrman is the favor he has found with his people.

more from Poetry Magazine here.