I had high hopes for literary monkeys

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“Remember the old adage about how an infinite number of monkeys typing on an infinite number of typewriters will eventually type something beautiful? Well, the Internet disproves that.” — Kurt Vonnegut

I’ve had high hopes a monkey or two would make it onto the New York Times bestseller list. Figuratively speaking, these hopes have been realized many times over.

But literally, literary monkeys have been a disappointment, though the odds (I thought) were good that sooner or later, out of all the gibberish and all the jammed keyboards, a monkey would finally type: “Call me Ishmael” or “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.”

Some say that the opening line to Finnegan’s Wake would have been better if a monkey had co-authored the book with James Joyce, starting with: “riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.”

As far as I know, there aren’t currently any Federally funded monkey typing and literature experiments even though finding out once and for all whether an infinite number of monkeys typing on an infinite number of typewriters will eventually type something beautiful is a typical usage of tax dollars.

I mean no disrespect to monkeys: there’s nothing better than a barrel if them for a lot of laughs, and I’m talking about higher quality laughs than I’m hearing on most ABC network sitcoms which, quite possibly, may have been scripted by monkeys to a greater extent than we know.

Monkeys get a lot of bad press, bless their hearts, for you seldom hear anyone say that something or other is more fun than a barrel of laughing hyenas or that an infinite number of wharf rats typing at an infinite number of typewriters will ultimately write a novel that begins “Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo.”

Most wharf rats are looking for something better than the lowly life of a writer: Congressman, for example, or IRS agent.

Most logical people think that monkeys will never amount to anything, but that if they did, they would find their true calling in show business rather than the writing business. Hollywood has proven to us that this is true since an above average number of celebs either claim to be monkeys’ uncles or act like them.

“I wish either my father or my mother, or indeed both of them, as they were in duty both equally bound to it, had minded what they were about when they begot me; had they duly considered how much depended upon what they were then doing.” Such thoughts have occurred to many people, especially to Hollywood agents, Congressmen and IRS operatives because, when it comes down to it, even if a monkey had accidentally typed it, it’s not a monkey sentiment.

Of course, to some, Tristram Shandy might have been a better book had it been improved with either monkey business or rat droppings. My theory has always been that no self-respecting money will type everything it can just because it can, meaning that some of the worst possible fiction has yet to be created.

Thousands and thousands of monkeys are sensible enough not to ape everything a human under the pressures of riches and deadlines might type on a single typewriter in a single day. That’s my theory, anyway, and I’m sticking to it.

–Malcolm, author of “Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire,” a satirical thriller that pokes fun at the real or imagined monkeys in government and newsgathering.

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2 responses

  1. Hmm: I had thought that there were mostly monkeys on the Times bestseller list, but perhaps that was before most of them gravitated to politics, which was their downfall and something from which they will never recover.