James Joyce sat at his mahogany desk, his forehead furrowed, his chin perched upon his thumb and forefinger.
“’Once upon a time, and a very good time it was there was’—Amanuensis, are you taking this down?” he said to the malnourished Irish boy he kept chained to his mahogany desk.
“My name is Stephen, sir,” the boy replied timidly.
“I will call you what I wish!” James Joyce exploded, jumping to his feet and facing in the absolutely wrong direction.
“I’m over here sir,” the boy said.
“Ah, yes. I’m essentially blind you know,” James Joyce admitted, turning around.
“It’s always a wonder to me that I caught you and chained you up considering that I can’t see.”
“Yes, I agree,” the boy agreed.
“Now, as I was saying.” James Joyce sat down. “Amanuensis—“
“Please call me Stephen. I don’t know what the word ‘amanuensis’ means, sir. I was educated in a hovel.”
“…I need to get this first sentence on my semi-autobiographical novel done before we leave today.” James Joyce considered this and scratched his chin. “Did you say a hovel?”
“Did you say you were educated in a hovel?”
“Well yes, I was.”
“How did that work out for you?”
“Not terribly well. I was caught and chained up by a blind modernist writer.”
“Well I can see how that isn’t the most encouraging milestone in one’s life,” James Joyce quipped. They fell into a silence again as James Joyce considered something.
“What precisely defines a hovel?” he asked.
“I believe it’s a small, poorly built cottage or hut,” Stephen said. “As taken from the proto-Germanic hufan.”
“Ah, yes. Of course,” Joyce agreed. “Well, let’s just go with that first line. ‘Once upon a time, and a very good time it was there was a moo-cow…’”
IN WHICH James Joyce tries to remedy his chronic eyesight problems for good
“AH! I can’t take this bloody eyesight anymore!” James Joyce shouted as he jumped onto the pinewood table to which he had chained the amanuensis. “Every day is a torture of conjunctivitis, and glaucoma, and cataracts. I mean, look at me. I’m the greatest writer in the western world and I have to be led around by the hand of some amanuensis whose name I don’t even know.”
“Stephen,” Stephen said.
“That’s it! I can’t stand these blurry eyes!” James Joyce said, ignoring Stephen. He raised a hammer to his teeth. “I’m done with it! Once and for all!” He pulled the hammer back to strike a blow and knock out all of his teeth, fixing his vision for good.
“Wait! Wait!” Stephen shouted. “What in God’s name do you think you’re doing?”
“Well, it’s only logical. If I get rid of my teeth, then it will fix my vision. ‘Ineluctable modality of the visible’ and all that crap.”
“Sir, I really don’t think that’s what you meant by that phrase,” Stephen said.
“Oh really? And what did I mean, Amanuensis?”
“I thought it had to do with the sort of inevitable commingling of the senses with reason and consciousness. A sort of Miltonian modeling of mental phenomena.”
“Huh,” James Joyce said, as he stood on the pinewood table. “I never considered it that way. I always thought about it as the whole… the whole breaking out all your teeth to cure your eyesight thing…”
James Joyce stared at the large, blunt hammer in his hand.
“I actually feel sort of silly now.” He laughed. He laughed so hard his stupid white eye-patch fell off.
“On the other hand,” Stephen mentioned. “You can always take the reader’s response into account.”
“Oh, you’re right!”
And with that, James Joyce knocked out all of his teeth with a hammer, which didn’t cure his eyesight, but did give him a chance to get a set of those rad, wooden teeth Samuel Beckett had always admired.
IN WHICH Finnegan’s Wake continues to be written
James Joyce was hiding. He was crouched beneath the rosewood table to which he had chained the amanuensis.
“Hey amanuensis,” he said. “Amanuensis. Hey. Amanuensis. Hey. Hey, I’m down here.”
“Yes. I know you’re down there, Sir Joyce,” Stephen said.
“Look down here.”
“I have to ghostwrite five-hundred more pages of Finnegan’s Wake before the morning, and, begging your pardon, but I can’t do that if you keep distracting me.”
“Oh,” James Joyce said.
“Thank you.” Stephen started writing again on the typewriter.
“Hey…Hey, look down here,” James Joyce repeated.
Stephen stopped mid-clack on the typewriter and looked down.
James Joyce was pointing enthusiastically to the black eye-patch covering his left eye. He was wearing a papier mache parrot on his left shoulder. “Arrrr, I’m a pirate!” James Joyce yelled.
“Why did I have to see this?” Stephen asked.
James Joyce seemed to consider this.
“Shiver me timbers matey!” he said.
“It is two in the morning,” Stephen said, collapsing onto the typewriter. “I can’t deal with this.”
“Put that in there,” James Joyce said, becoming suddenly very serious.
“Put ‘what’ in there?” Stephen asked
“Have someone saying stuff like ‘Shiver me timbers matey!’”
“But that has nothing to do with—No, you know what? Fine, we’ll put someone saying, ‘Arrr, I’m a pirate’ in. Right in the middle. Just some random appearance of a pirate with a parrot and a peg-leg. No one is going to fucking read this anyway.”
“Hurray!” James Joyce exclaimed, and then he knocked out his wooden teeth with a hammer.