Oxford American, where Portis is funny

Oxford AmericanUSA Today‘s Mark Hazlin compares Oxford American magazine to “a trick candle on a birthday cake. Just when it looks like it has fizzled out, poof — it’s back to life”:

The 145-page issue is a blend of reporting, fiction and criticism. It features an eclectic array of Southern writers.

Barry Hannah writes an essay on seeing Jesus; Wendy Brenner profiles a snake collector, the resident operator of the Cape Fear Serpentarium in North Carolina; music columnist Will Blythe assesses the growing number of tribute albums.

Hazlin neglects to mention the only article I’ve read so far, Charles Portis‘ highly enjoyable “Writing on Writing” column, “The Wind Bloweth Where It Listeth: an exclusive report on a strange writing factory.”

I’d planned to sample the issue in full before weighing in — but, in light of Hazlin’s omission, I feel I should post a brief excerpt from Portis’ essay. Here goes:

Readers . . . will recall an old theory/prophecy that went as follows: a hundred monkeys pecking away at random on a hundred typewriters will eventually reproduce the complete works of William Shakespeare. The terms may be a little dated, what with the typewriters, and that modest round number, meant to suggest something like “many,” or even “infinite.” And one monkey, of course, would suffice, given enough time and an immortal monkey. In any case, the chance duplication would require the monkeys — let us say a brigade of monkeys — to peck out 38 excellent plays and some 160 poems of one metrical beat or another.

Is the musty old prophecy at last being fulfilled? We now have millions of monkeys pecking away more or less at random, day and night, on millions of personal computer keyboards. We have “word processors,” the Internet, e-mail, and “the information explosion.” Futurists at our leading universities tell us the day is at hand when, out of this maelstrom of words, a glorious literature must emerge, and indeed flourish.

So far, however, as of today, Tuesday, September 14, late afternoon, the tally still seems to be fixed at:

Shakespeare: 198, Monkeys: 0


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