June 16, 2004

Joyce, to wit

Back in 1998, I spent a while answering questions for the Internet Oracle. The traditional method by which the Oracle works is this: You (aka the "supplicant") come up with a question. You e-mail that question to the Internet Oracle. While you're waiting for your question to be answered, you get someone else's question. Taking the identity of an incarnation of the Oracle, you answer that question in some humorous fashion (perhaps referring to one of any number of insular Oracle-related running gags), and then wrap up by saying what the supplicant owes the Oracle for this answer. Essentially, it was a way of practicing my humor writing in bite-size quantities (eventually supplanted by Slate's News Quiz.)

Anyway, in honor of Bloomsday, here are two short James Joyce pastiches I wrote in one of my various and sundry Oracle incarnations. (It's true they're based on Finnegans Wake, not Ulysses. I trust you will cope.)

Almighty Oracle, who has access to libraries past, present, and future, who knows the printer's art backwards...

What are the best books that were never written?


The best books that were never written were James Joyce's planned sequels to Finnegans Wake, Finnegan Gets the Shaft (a foray into the hard-boiled detective genre) and Finnegan in Wonderland (a light-hearted children's tale). It's a tragedy of indescribable proportions that the world of literature was robbed of these gems when James Joyce sobered up and decided not to write them. However, a brief snippet of each -- scrawled drunkenly on bar napkins -- survived, thankfully, and I've reprinted them here for you.


lugergun, past Spade and Archer's, from screech of street to barf of beer, picked up by a fedoratopped flatfoot of discernification back to Smoky Office and Environs. Mike Finnegan, private d'etective, fr'over the laundromat downthestairs, had powder-dust contrived from Precinct Serpentine on this side the crummy megapol down Canal Street to pinkyprint his evidentiary gat...[runs out of room on napkin]


The fall (whopwhopthunkwhopwhopclinkmeowkersmashbiffbangboomdinaharrrgh!) down a once rabbitwide holecave is rapidstopped thumping to ground and spying on stopperbottle request to ingest all respondez silverplate. The great roll of the harehole enthirsted at such short notice the pftjthroat of Finnegan, erse solid man, that the parchedpersona of humself prumptly chugs a refrushing glug and wells up the walls away from his tumptytumtoes: and his headheightheftandsize are all the high rise in the sky where orioles have been flew from coops until a cake...[beer spill renders remainder of text unreadable]

You owe the Oracle a portrait of himself as a young soothsayer.

Lest you think I am giving Ulysses the cold shoulder, I will also mention that before my editor and I decided that focusing on poetry and plays was the way to go, I had considered including a parody of Ulysses in the forthcoming Holy Tango of Literature. That would have been "Aye, J.J. Comes" by James Joyce, which would have ended with the line "...and his heart was going like mad and yes he said yes I will Dyn-o-mite."

As for some other Bloomsday goodies, have you checked Google's logo out today?

Posted by Francis at 01:36 PM