Excerpt From an Annotated Bibliography of Stories I Haven’t Yet Been Able to Write


by Eli S. Evans

No. 1,473: “The Paradox of the Eternal”

This story would give narrative form to what I have in my own mind – until now I haven’t written about it or discussed it with anyone but myself – denominated “the paradox of eternal,” a paradox that, as I have conceived of it, more or less derives from the familiar figure of the monkey sitting at a typewriter (where we presume the monkey is incapable of the kind of sophisticated thought intentional literary creation requires) who, given an eternity during which to remain there, will eventually, and altogether in spite of itself, type the collected works of Shakespeare word for word and in historically accurate chronological sequence, for no other reason than that, given an eternity during which to sit there banging away at the keys, that monkey will eventually type everything in every imaginable sequence. This well-known little parable, of course, is just a way of saying that if time is infinite, all circumstances will sooner or later come to pass. In light of what we know about time and chance, this seems an altogether reasonable proposition, but on further consideration one realizes that accepting it as true necessarily implies (and here lies the “paradox” in this little paradox) simultaneously accepting the opposite as true. What I mean is that if, given an eternity during which to do so, all circumstances will eventually come to pass, then it necessarily follows that sooner or later circumstances that will themselves be of infinite duration will come to pass, and it moreover follows, since we are dealing here with the possibility of all circumstances, that the nature of some of these circumstances will be to prevent other circumstances from coming to pass, such that any such circumstances that have not yet come to pass will, because of the infinitude of the precluding circumstance, never come to pass, even given an eternity of their own in which to do so.

Taking the example at hand, let us imagine that my inability to find a narrative form with which to endow this “paradox of the eternal,” as I have been thinking of it, is itself a circumstance of infinite duration. In this case, even given, like the aforementioned monkey, an eternity with which to bang away at my own typewriter (which is a computer), I would never succeed in giving narrative form to what I have, in my own mind, denominated the “paradox of the eternal.” Of course, one might make the case that, in reaching this point, I have, in fact, just now succeeded in doing precisely that. But this would only prove that my inability to give narrative form to this paradox was, as it turns out, all along a circumstance of finite and not, as I presumed in summoning it as an example, infinite duration.


About the Author

Eli. S Evans used to write for Berfrois.


Goodbye, Berfrois, in which I might have published the hypothetical story discussed above if I’d ever gotten around to writing it. Thanks, Berfrois, for publishing some work I really liked, as well as some work that really wasn’t very good, in some cases either because you didn’t read or opted to ignore the email in which I’d written, “On second thought, don’t publish this, it sucks.” And thanks, Berfrois, for not ghosting me the way n+1 did when I gave up on critical posturing, a mode of writing I never really enjoyed, and went back to writing silly little stories, which actually come a lot closer to my admittedly situated understanding of the texture of life. By the way, did you know that 40% of Harvard graduates, if I’m not mistaken, go on to work in finance. As for the other 60%, one might say that finance by any other name … Well, I suppose Berfrois did not turn out to be as enduring as n+1, or, for that matter, The New Yorker, but soon enough the earth will be swallowed up by the sun and from the perspective of the eternity of a different sort that will follow that event, the difference between the length of time Berfrois endured and the length of time n+1 or The New Yorker endured will be merely nominal, and our only compensation for ceasing to exist will be that there will no longer be any such thing as finance. On second thought, finance – and Harvard graduates – will probably survive the end of the world, whereas Berfrois, it seems, will not survive to the end of 2022. Goodbye, goodbye and off to the office of dead links we go.


The image above is Harris & Ewing: Early model of typewriter, c. 1940. The post image is a detail from Rachel Beer: Lost: Leather Glove, 2009 (CC).

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