A Million Shakespeares Banging on a Keyboard

My new collection of short stories, Little Red Transistor Radio from Trieste, comes from a place somewhat different from the others on my writing map. It is a secretive place, where people sometimes meet themselves while crossing to the other universe. Occasionally, it’s a funny area in which your own doubles slap you, or where naked doctors throw scalpels at each other. Bodies become irrelevant, and brains—disgusted—leave them while they can.Why did I travel there?

If a million monkeys hitting keys at random on typewriter keyboards for an infinite amount of time would type the complete works of William Shakespeare, would a million Shakespeares, in the same period, type the whole works of a monkey? (And how would that monkey react to that infringement of his copyright?)

We have seen the destruction of the traditional writing coming—and now it is here, with us, and its signs are, among others, crowdsourced texts, death of a bookstore, books written on/for smartphones. One way to look at it is to feel it as a touch of the ultimate freedom. I don’t have to belong, as a writer, to anything in particular—not to the nation, not to any school of thought or any literary movement, AND I can be in all of that.

I don’t know how to call it, except literary post-cubism. How do you see all dimensions at once? Can you?

So: take everything in, leave everything out—that is one way to acquire personal artistic space. Another source of my freedom is language. As anyone can surely feel from anything I’ve ever written in English (and even more from my speech pattern), it is not my primary means of expression. I refuse to think of English as of my second lingua—languages fly freely and you never know which is which; which was the strain of your first flu? Serbian, which is what my parents spoke, has nothing in common with English, except mouth (most of the time, not even brain: thinking patterns change with cultures). In this case, my mouth, which I am free to treat as a machine skilled in spitting some serious series of shoddy statements.Did you just see that? There must be a name for what I have.

Shakespeare and Company bookstore, Paris

And what if a million Shakespeares typed all the time?

As you read this, now, there are two completely opposing notions coexisting peacefully in the Universe, each of them capable of shattering your worldview. One is a child of the quantum theory and it says that everything that can happen will happen, in one of the parallel universes. In short, it is possible to be and not to be at the same time.

The other notion is, I’m pleased to say, mine, and its central thesis is that nothing has to happen.

Nothing. Your birth or your life, your STD or your paycheque, your success or your failure, your trip to Venice, your diarrhoea—none of that has to be. We take our lives for granted and think that we can only stand in there and it will all come our way. Nope. If the Universe was less eager to please the physicists, it wouldn’t have to end at all. Quantum theory is wrong, wrong, wrong. (Proof? Brian Cox says it is a-maaa-zing. Would you really believe in something that Brian Cox was telling you?)

But, instead of me trying to define my writing—which is as logical as trying to have a Big Bang only on Fridays—here is a quote from a Wikipedia article titled “Infinite monkey theorem”:

“In 2003, lecturers and students from the University of Plymouth MediaLab Arts course used a £2,000 grant from the Arts Council to study the literary output of real monkeys. They left a computer keyboard in the enclosure of six Celebes Crested Macaques in Paignton Zoo in Devon in England for a month, with a radio link to broadcast the results on a website.

Not only did the monkeys produce nothing but five pages consisting largely of the letter S, the lead male began by bashing the keyboard with a stone, and the monkeys continued by urinating and defecating on it.”

That’s it, really, a spitting image. I’m now off to Wikipedia, to secretly edit the article about me and move that excerpt there.

Reserve a date, please…

I will heave more details on this fairly soon, but for now:

Please reserve your evening of October 5, 2012. My new book, Little Red Radio From Trieste, will be published on that day and we will have a small (or not so small?) promotion somewhere in Leamington / Warwick as part of Warwick Words Festival of Literature and Spoken Word. This collection of short stories is published by Nine Arches Press, and they are fantastic to work with.

More soon.