Can “The Longest Story Ever Told” Be Hacked?

Opium Magazine’s Infinity Issue is getting hype because its cover boasts “the longest story ever told”–a nine-word story by conceptual artist Jonathon Keats that, thanks to a special printing process, will be revealed at the rate of one word per century.

Wired quotes Keats as follows:

“Like most people, I live my life in a rush, consuming media on the run,” said Keats, who has copyrighted his mind, tried to pass a Law of Identity and attempted to genetically engineer God.

“That may be fine for reading the average blog,” he said, “but something essential is lost when ingesting words is all about speed. My thousand-year story is an antidote. Given the printing process I’ve used, you can’t take in more than one word per century. That’s even slower than reading Proust.”

I’m struggling with an urge to correct “longest story” to “slowest story”–my internal purist is stronger than I suspected. But here’s my real burning urge: I want to hack this story. There’s got to be a way to reveal those nine words in less than 1,000 years. All day I’ve been turning around thoughts of modified tanning beds and chemical treatments.

Obviously, the story is a stunt, but what drives me nuts about it is that, in criticizing the speed of blogs, Keats has come up with an alternative that takes the emphasis completely off the words–the story asks to be judged, within our lifetimes,  by the power of its gimmick, not by the power of its word choice or construction. For all I know, this could be his nine-word story:

Haha, suckers. You waited for two words: “Screw you.”

Proust is slow reading but worth it (I’ve only read the first volume, so judge my authority as you will). My experience is that reading a sentence of Proust on a morning bus ride provides a rich and secret thought that lasts all day and more. I’ve thought about what a busy reader should do, and reading a sentence of Proust is up there as a solution. The rebel in me wants to say otherwise, but the truth is that Proust can give more in a sentence than many others do in a story or a book. It’s worth chewing on. It’s worth shutting all the rest out and meditating on it.

Can Keats give me a word that will last a century? Are there any nine words that could be worth such meditation? Could those words tell a story together, or would they simply be Thundering Concepts (as is the story’s title, “Time”)?

If I believed that the answers to these questions might be yes, I’d be thrilled by Keats’ experiment. But I have serious doubts. And so I want to know: Can it be hacked? In other words, does the story stand without the gimmick? Or is the gimmick all there is to the story?


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