A History of The Jirí Chronicles

The Jirí Chronicles is a book without boundaries. Its aim is a multimedia invasion into the real world, where real people interact with a fictional character, Jiri Cech, whether they know it or not. Each project within the Chronicles expands Jiri Cech’s 13-year infiltration and “bastardization” of aesthetic forms, creating narratives within narratives that overlap narratives, ad infinitum. To date, there are over 500 individual works of prose, poetry, video, audio, music, visual art, websites, and ironic consumer products.

Eventual “products” of the Chronicles married two literary explorations. The first began in the early 1990s with the question, “What if fiction wasn’t limited to page and ink?” An unfinished novella, The Second Millennium War: What We Found At Birmenstau, was a first attempt to produce fictive elements that readers could interpret as “real.” Two- and three-dimensional artifacts related to the plot were produced or attempted. Computer technology had not yet advanced to where writers could affordably manufacture believable artifacts on home computers and peripherals. Nor was the Internet or services like personal web site hosting available to economically challenged writers.

By 1998, however, personal technology had exploded, making a wide range of media feasible and the potential for real-world infiltration seemingly limitless. Likewise significant was the increasing shift in speed, consequent reduction of attention spans, and non sequitur thinking produced by the Internet. Reduced to bits and bytes, information grew increasingly fractured, virulent and difficult to separate into truth or fiction. The age of Information Excess had taken root. Thus began the second exploration: an experiment in randomness and meaning.

THE SHORT STORIES
The first short story “Czechoslovakian Rhapsody Sung to the Accompaniment of Piano” attempted to prove that the mind can — and does — (re)form the daily deluge of unrelated information into a narrative with cultural and emotional significance. (Recent studies have indeed located the region of the brain responsible for creating narrative out of unrelated data.) The result was a mixed media fiction utilizing text and white space as visual elements, and incorporating illustrations, footnotes, and text appropriated from ad copy, news headlines, magazine articles and billboards, song lyrics, movie dialog, and genealogical, scientific and historical facts.

The story’s unnamed narrator writes about “You,” a Czech immigrant whose racism repulses her and good looks attract her, to the extent that she wants to have his baby — though plot is hardly the point. Rather, it serves as an entertaining vehicle for process and product, modifications of what is traditionally defined as fiction writing.

In 2002, a conversation with The Iowa Review’s editor, David Hamilton, led to the publication of “Czechoslovakian Rhapsody”, and Jiri Cech officially entered the real world. (The “You” of “Czechoslovakian Rhapsody” soon became Jiri Cech, a name that translates to a fittingly generic “John Czech” with initials J.C., as in “Jesus Christ,” a [very] subtle nod to the conclusion of J.D. Salinger’s Franny & Zooey.)

To date, Jiri Cech has appeared in seven mixed media fictions, two published in The Iowa Review, one in Drunken Boat, one in Notre Dame Review; excerpts in the anthologies I’ll Drown My Book: Conceptual Writings By Women (Carline Bergvall, Laynie Browne, Vanessa Place, eds. Les Figues Press), The &NOW Awards: Best Innovative Fiction of 2004-2008 (Robert Archambeau, Davis Schneiderman, Steve Tomasula, eds. Lake Forest Press/&NOW Books: Lake Forest, IL. October 2009), “Glauke’s Gown.” Forms At War: FC2 1999-2009 (R. M. Berry, ed. FC2/University of Alabama Press: Tuscaloosa, AL. March 2009), “Oops. Sorry” Notre Dame Review: The First 10 Years (John Matthias and William O’Rourke, eds. Notre Dame Press: Notre Dame, IN. January 2009); and multimedia presentations at the first biennial Notre Dame’s &NOW Festival of Writing as a Conceptual Art; Riverfront Readings at The Writers Place in Kansas City; at Lake Forest College, Illinois; and T.M.I. (appropriately: “Too Much Information”) reading series in San Diego, California.

THE PRODUCTS
Jiri has recorded and produced five CDs of interviews, music and videos (two taught in a college lit course), now downloadable on 25-50 sites including iTunes, Rhapsody, Sony Music and MusicNet. Jiri’s art metal band, Umlaut with 4 dots not 2 (formerly Umlaut: ultimate uber death metal) received their first royalties check in 2006.

In 2002, Jiri published a collection of poetry, Whither: Poems of Exile, for which he won the Mennstrauss Poetry Award. He most recently completed another collection, Comes Life: A Poetic Chronicle, that brutally documents events from September 11, 2001 to Bush’s Iraq War, using appropriated text from the Old Testament, concerning topics from real newspaper articles, such as the high incident of soldiers committing suicide. A revision of the book includes real bullet holes created by various weapons; a limited edition includes a real spent bullet.

Jiri Cech served as guest poetry editor of the Spring 2004 issue of The Melic Review, in which he earlier published poetry. Other poems have appeared in the online site, Poets Against the War, in Other Voices International Poetry Anthology, and in the notable literary journal, Pleiades, prefaced by a brief essay introducing Jiri, written by poet H.L. Hix. His poems, “I Am A Real Estate Developer,” “I Am a Vampire” and “I Am an Opium Addict” — all written in less than 10 minutes (the longest time Jiri can sit on the toilet without his legs going numb) — were purportedly in an anthology of MySpace poetry, edited by Elinor Brown, United Kingdom. (We never heard back from Elinor. Perhaps she was mortified.)

Jiri has been interviewed about his experimental poetry by the critic and fiction writer Steve Tomasula (excerpts downloadable on most music sites and available and on the CD Steve Asks Jiií: “Does Poetry Suck?”). His illustrated essay, “Bohemian Beasts and Their Buttery Buxom Brides” appears in the anthology, Brothers and Beasts: An Anthology of Men on Fairy Tales, edited by Kate Bernheimer (Fall 2007, Wayne State University Press). In December 2007 Jiri also was the subject of an interview by Dr. Kent Gustavson of Sound Authors (www.soundauthors.com).

Jiri Cech’s visual art has been exhibited in 2004 at Urban Culture Project’s “Alias” exhibition for which he received positive reviews from Review arts magazine and The Kansas City Star. Other exhibitions include Beauty and the Beast art auction, and H&R Block ArtSpace exhibition, Making Meaning: The Artist Book. The majority of his hugely overpriced art therapy drawings appear in the book, When the Bluebird of Happiness Shits On Your Armpit. Two of these drawings (that respond to real rejections from real poetry editors at real literary journals) appear in Clackamas Review.

Also extant: Jiri’s newsletter, 10-Minute-Muse blog, personal website, Umlaut website, MySpace page, Facebook page, and various online interviews, music selections and videos on sites ranging from USA Television Network to Notre Dame Review. His test pilot for Comedy Central and his homage to publisher Ralph Berry of FC2, can be viewed at Youtube.com

His consumer products could once be purchased at jadedibisproduction.com, and included tee shirts and undershirts, boxer shorts, ass patches, magnets, paper bags from which to drink Pilsner in public, autographed gravel from one of his suburban sprawl construction sites, and the newest addition: celebrity scents, Hung and pe, which are still available, albeit likely toxic by now.

Jiri frequently wrote inflammatory letters to editors at various publications and receives less inflammatory letters back, junk mail and spam.

The book, The Jiri Chronicles & Other Fictions, is now on the syllabus at a number of college literature and writing programs, and was the subject of a PhD dissertation by Sheffield England linguist, Alison Gibbons.

REALER THAN YOU
As Jiri Cech’s presence expanded, so did his significance regarding contemporary culture and aesthetics. His website, it’s a man’s world, (the title of a poem by Jiri Cech adapted to video and later featured on the website, Poets Against the War, suggests continuing problems regarding gender and power. The project itself chronicles the issues of our times and the democratization of a vast array of new technology, and how the two may be related. It questions the notion of boundaries — whether geopolitical, socio-economic or aesthetic — and the dangers of categorizing people and things according to our prejudicial standards.

On a more somber level, Jiri’s ability to exist as “real” addresses the apparently burgeoning problem of The Lie in contemporary society, where politicians, media monsters, and corporate and religious leaders are able to spin webs of deceit by means of the very technology that allows Jiri Cech to exist as “flesh-and-blood.” It also surreptitiously explores the contemporary problem of sound bites & bytes, wherein the public’s conclusions about people and concepts are reached without fully receiving and absorbing all information necessary to achieve an objective, rational viewpoint. Further, it illuminates readers’ increasing lack of attention to detail and an unwillingness to spend the time and energy required to understand the relationship of all facets within an issue or narrative.

Finally, and crucially, The Jiri Chronicles attempted to explore and document Systems Theory* via interconnections between media and people, fact and fiction, and the resulting effects on our day-to-day lives.

Jiri Cech was killed by lions while chasing the Bohemia Blonde in Botswana. His funeral was a private affair, held at the 2011 &NOW Conference of Innovative Writing in San Diego, California.

*Systems Theory is the transdisciplinary study of the abstract organization of phenomena, independent of their substance, type, or spatial or temporal scale of existence. It investigates both the principles common to all complex entities, and the (usually mathematical) models that can be used to describe them.