Nearly proven: The Infinite Monkey Theorem. The theorem, popularized by “The Simpsons”, posits “that an infinite number of monkeys sitting at an infinite number of typewriters would eventually reproduce the works of Shakespeare by chance.”
In the 1880s, a group of rural Illinoisans formed a Christian sect that believed that a local woman, Dorinda Beekman, was the new Jesus Christ. When Mrs. Beekman died, a follower of hers claimed that her spirit lived inside him; as the new leader of the sect, he moved his followers into a barn and named it Heaven. At The Paris Review Daily, Dan Visel looks back on this odd chapter of history, as well as the novel it inspired. (Related: Eric Shonkwiler on the literature of the Midwest.)
“At the train station in Cerbère, France, M. and I have survived the grueling hike on the Sentier de la Liberté Walter Benjamin.” For Catapult, Gwen Strauss writes about climbing the path that Benjamin used to flee the Gestapo, only to take his own life at its terminus. See also: Kyle Chayka‘s recommendation of The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction in our own pages just last week.
“Almost as soon as the concept of the Great American Novel was invented, in the nation-building years after the Civil War, Buell finds it being mocked, noting that one observer dryly put it into the same category as ‘other great American things such as the great American sewing-machine, the great American public school, and the great American sleeping-car.’ It was enough of a cliché by 1880 for Henry James to refer to it with the acronym ‘GAN,’ which Buell employs throughout his book.” On the reigning gold standard for quality in American fiction. (Related: we asked nine experts their picks for the best American novel.)