BOOK ♶ The Tunnel ♌

For six hundred and fifty one pages Gass invites the reader to wade through a lifetime of memories dredged and at times perhaps cooked up by a caustically disillusioned and despairing professor of history at a midwest American university, a reminiscence that functions as a delaying tactic against the completion of his life s work a massive, exhaustively researched revisionist history of the Third Reich entitled Guilt and Innocence in Hitler s Germany Beginning his recollection with Anaxagoras assurance that The descent to hell is the same from every place, the confessor professor, William Frederick Kohler, proceeds from the purview of Life in a Chair, an inveterate position in which his body and soul have become etiolated and flabby even as his mind penetrates and cuts through the morass of his viscous, ofttimes vicious memories with the keenness of a razor honed regularly by bemusement, contempt, ribald honesty, and simmering rage From what details Kohler provides his life can be seen as consisting of brief periods of happiness and contentment, usually sexually based, that bob and float like scattered pockets of bright material encapsulated by defeat and disgrace, humiliation and hatred, betrayal and bewitchment, all hopes hobbled and every choice apparently made in error.Yet if the recurrent episodes of his life seem irremediably fruitless, the materials, the rituals, the gewgaws, the routine actions in themselves, are sometimes elucidated with a trancelike levity that burnishes them with light than they inherently possess Born of an angry, bullying father and an alcoholic, bullied mother, starring throughout childhood in one miserable, dysfunctional episode of Father Knows Best after another, Kohler sought to leave this familial failure behind and embrace a future freed from the clutches of small town Git r Done America yet he has wound up back in the mid west fabled tableland of that mythological stalwart the Average American married to a corpulent woman who despises his mind and refuses her body father to two boys one of whom is never named outright that he detests with a richness that is apparently returned in kind and teaches history that he doesn t believe in, to students he holds to be a tedious admixture of ovine and bovine, whilst sharing office space with four colleagues who by snobbery, meekness, cholera, and gimcrackery are draining the very air he breathes of any remaining traces of oxygen Adulteries of a teacher student timber and flashpoint, arcing remembrances of his periods spent in post and pre war Germany, where he was taught much by an eccentric scholar, Mad Meg in the Maelstrom, including the occluded reality that lies behind History and Historical truth, that history is but a myth, imagined from the past as an assurance for the future, the fabricated story that details a prior configuration of time bound space that is desired but unknowable, form the primary substance of those meagre portions of his banal, stretched existence that could be described with any measure of fondness.This is a book that really evokes the full range of a reader s emotions wonder and weariness, exasperation and exaltation, loathing and laughter, profound appreciation and mounting desperation but most of all, an amazed joy at beholding page after page of diamond like prose, that sings and soars, penned by a master To have the gift of writing that Gass puts on display throughout The Tunnel is a marvelous thing to behold, one that redounds in many ways I can certainly understand why many readers have abandoned the book, done in by Gass lemon loaf trickery during the first eighty or so pages it is almost as if Gass is trying to drive the reader away, testing their patience to the limit in an effort to ensure that only the most dedicated survive the ordeal or the disturbing and vile character whose mind the reader is forced to inhabit for an extended period of often unpleasant time Kohler is indeed a nasty piece of business yet I really think Gass achieved something remarkable here a semi autobiographical novel that explores the implacable reality of that anger and resentment, the crushed expectations and purblind envy that amass in increasing amounts in subcutaneous hollows like charcoal, a vast reservoir of spiritual fuel, spread across the commercial realms of modernity, with a ferocious, untapped potential for energy to be harnessed by the stentorian tones and darkling eyes of the demagogue, the messianic leader, and channeled into a tribal tsunami of ruinous and murderous strength The commonest question aroused by the horrors of Nazi Germany is How could so many average, ordinary Germans have participated in Hitler s madnessGass, in a tale that attempts an honesty in dissecting the quotidian defeats and retreats in one intelligent but alienated man s life, probes the shadowy existence of the totalitarian demon that lurks within the neighbour, the co worker, the family member, the friend.It gradually emerges that Kohler was no stranger to the fury of Kristallnacht, and in his middle years of disappointment, tunneling deep into his isolation while he tunnels physically through the earth of his basement prison, he creates the PdP, the Party of the Disappointed People The PdP is born of the desire to be on the side of the strong, to be one of those wielding the whip against the weak and persecuted, to be a glorious part of the regnant force that revels in trampling impartial justice underfoot in order to dish out what is deserved For Kohler, it is a one man party and in his equally willful wife, Gass has penned a feminine avatar of western democratic force who, when push comes to shove and the dirt is discovered, meets the underground furtiveness and shadowy furor of the subterranean professor with a grim but calm resolve indeed, almost terrifyingly so that proves than a match for her hidebound husband, whose place in the household structure is once made perfectly clear but resentment becomes powerful, its means less hidden, its potential for violence real, as it enjoins itself with other like wounded souls The PdP as a one man show of doodling and riffing and brooding will perforce back down but given time to amass converts, its spine would stiffen and its arms become muscled the fire in its eyes flare bright enough to light the way forward Disappointed with husband or wife, with work or with home, with children or parents, wracked by the daily drive to get up, to move about, to earn, to achieve, to do, how many people would grasp the opportunity to join the PdP and empty the reserves of bottled anger in choleric flood upon the world Perhaps a handful, perhaps a small crowd, perhaps millions. Being William Kohler The Tunnel is a sort of portal through which we enter into the head of one William Frederick Kohler We poke around in his memories and his thoughts, exploring all the little twists and turns of his mind The question of how a child goes from innocence to becoming a monster is answered through Kohler s ramblings and flashbacks.But monster is the wrong word here He never achieves anything that grand There is no murder or torture No scheme to dominate the world Nothing one could point to and say see, look at this great evil He threw a brick on Kristallnacht He kills an inconvenient cat He takes advantage of his students.Nasty, but his sins are small scale, of the heart And author William Gass has painted with words a picture of that heart, and the darkness in which it dwells Yes, we dig deep into that tunnel The danger for us the reader is finding our way out again, for this is an exquisitely written book Bits of poetry keep jumping out of the page, the rhythm of words and sentences drawing you in, circling around and around in a most hypnotizing fashion There are whole sections of The Waste Land in here, transposed into Gass s own words Detail is piled on detail too Images are created that seem to be from your own memory.I read The Tunnel at the same time asWittgenstein s Mistressand there is a similarity Both are written by lonely people shouting into their typing paper s blankness Except for their memories they are, in effect, all alone in the world But with The Tunnel I never doubted the presence of a human being It is ugly and beautiful It is mean It is wretched The random snatches of memories introduce us to the people who have been important in Kohler s life Wife Lovers Mentor Colleagues Parents It s all rather painful He has no kind thoughts or fond memories or sympathy for the broken people who raised him Yet even through this mess of unreliable telling our heart aches for them all For the broken dreams For the twisted minds that can t be put right.The text is filled with wordplay, limericks, letters, literary and historical allusions An annotated version would be helpful, though probably most of these references could be picked up by any well read person At least enough to know something is going on here There is much physical inventiveness too, using devices such as concrete poems, bold text, script, crossword puzzle design running down the page,various fonts Illustrations Here are some examples From bits of Kohler s memory one of the people we meet is Susu So terrible, yet so beautifully created I came to hear skinny Susu sing in her low, throaty Sprechstimme, which was nevertheless French, a song about the carrion crow It had innumerable verses and she never sang them all How her voice reached me through the noise and bulk of those bodies, belly to belly like the bottles on the bar, was a mystery belonging to magic than to science Her sounds were hesitant, shy, as though regretting they had come, and hardly strong as the waitresses who, dressed in costumes purportedly Bavarian, elbowed everyone aside to slop down drinks Perhaps it was drawn to me as sucking insects are, and became devious Certainly that song was thirsty for my blood, and I never really heard any other Perhaps I shouldn t smoke so much Perhaps the roses will freeze In the camps a cigarette was often hard to come by We often smoked together, you and I, toes exquisitely touching, once at the hips, again at the elbows, the smoke going off toward the ceiling in a lazy curl the way our bodies seemed to burn off after loving.Susu would sing it once every evening she would sing it with blank black doll s eyes and a fixed sad smile she wore the way she wore her clothing absently scarcely moving her mouth Her dresses were cut in a deep V like the style you see in Lautrec s posters of Yvette Guilbert Sometimes yellow, mostly green, they were stretched so tight across her boyish braless chest, the nipples leaped out from the fabric like bumps on pebbled water The song could have come from her eyes just as well They never blinked I had a passion for that woman Immense Now I can t bear to have a table touch me In this house I avoid chairs with arms, and sit in the middle of couches and then only on the yielding edge I am impressed by what the world will swallow Mouths, too I must confess, no longer please me.Susu I love you A little like the mantis, I remember, since her head would swivel slowly in the hard inhuman manner of the mantis, and her face was blunted at its points like a badly damaged triangle Not you Lou You stood straight yet every curve was languorous, smoothly moving like a line drawn through the unobstructed space of sleep They fell, when shot, in all the ways open One could have made a study of such falling bodies the stance, the weight, the tension of the limbs, the impact of the bullet I love you, Susu anyway.that blank watchfulness which Susu had so much of, a watchfulness a mirror s you knew there was no consciousness behind something is watching, something is watchful, but what At the back of Susu s eyes, of course, there was plenty there was Hieronymus Bosch, there were diableries so my life lasts a little longerAnd what did I read about you, Susu, in those documents Susu, my slender singer, whom I love that you roasted the thumbs of a dozen Jews and ate them while they watched those who had not fainted.When the smoldering Monro Cast Is, under tow to New York, snapped her lines and became snagged on a sand bar only a few yards off Convention Pier in Asbury Park, bodies began to bob up on Asbury beaches 25 cents was charged to gaze upon the stricken ocean liner from the Hall at night people crept aboard to steal from the bodies and loot the ship, hacking off fingers to get their rings while a mortician, among the spectators on the pier, passed out his business card Is there any way of digesting facts like this like this one as Susu digested the handy phallic thumb sticks of her Jews Why she didn t have their cocks cut, I cannot imagine Wasn t that what she was up to Could she my Susu have shrunk at it Hers certainly wasn t an anti Semitic act, because it violated the Nazis dietary laws Could she have sucked such thumbs without the Reich s grand plans could she have realized herself and come so splendidly upon her nature She might have sung songs all her life and fingered milkless leather dildoes, who can tell Susu, you at least became a true black queen the evil you created was as close to you as you were you confronted it you took it in your mouth added it, quite palpably, as weight, as measurable nutrition, to your hard flat stomached self In fact I always wondered just how much you were a woman No A man in drag, that kind of ersatz queen, would fashion for himself an ampler bosom not so ample as my wife s perhaps, there is a limit What did I find to admire ever in such flaps The Germans executed my Susu themselves Neither her exemplary performance as a commandant s whore, nor her sweetly twisted songs and whispered singing, could save her when they found she had some gypsy in her, though after her head was amputated, color photographs were taken, and kept as souvenirs in little folding cases covered neatly in blue cloth, with a small, though conventional, gold decoration.Sing, Susu, through your severed head, through your severed arteries and I shall put my mouth to your lips as though you were such an instrument My breath shall reinflate your brain Susu, O bag of pipes, I approach you in my dreams The deeper we go into The Tunnel, the disturbing it is To look through such eyes, and to know that this too is what it means to be a human being. BOOK ☢ The Tunnel ♃ Thirty Years In The Making, William Gass S Second Novel First Appeared On The Literary Scene In , At Which Time It Was Promptly Hailed As An Indisputable Masterpiece The Story Of A Middle Aged Professor Who, Upon Completion Of His Massive Historical Study, Guilt And Innocence In Hitler S Germany, Finds Himself Writing A Novel About His Own Life Instead Of The Introduction To His Magnum Opus The Tunnel Meditates On History, Hatred, Unhappiness, And, Above All, Language When this book was published in 1995 by Alfred Knopf, I was in the middle of deep reading on the Holocaust Many of the titles I still hold in my library I felt at the time that an inundation in this subject matter kept me from enjoying The Tunnel I was wrong about that, though I am deeply thankful to MJ for jogging me back into a reconsideration of the novel I stopped reading at page 55 The main reason lack of narrative pleasure Let me explain.First, the premise a US academic specializing in the Holocaust, who speaks German, has a German name, but no personal connection to Germany, is reconsidering his life in a chair That is to say, his many years spent studying the death saturated enigma that is the Holocaust, and the role of its perpetrators His name is Kohler, like the plumbing supplier, and along the way he says I have fed too much death to the mouth and matter of my life, and so have grown up a ghost The book is hyper discursive Along the way the narrator flitters from a consideration of his small penis, his penchant for fucking his students, his lack of lust for his wife the end of sex , his children gone , his beastly father dead , his many moments in the saddle memories , his deep reading recondite , etc Though there are likable aspects to the book Gass sure knows how to work a transition There is a flow to the book that is an object lesson in transition writing that would, I think, repay study But the book is so abstract as to be open to multiple, if not hundreds of interpretations This is scholarly fiction meant to allay the labyrinth solving mentalities of academics Obviously it doesn t hurt, if you re novel is marketed primarily to scholars, to have a scholar as your protagonist.In the end, for me, there was way too much woolgathering and not enough of the concrete I yearned for the clarity of long form narrative, but all I was given was a lot of highly allusive connecting tissue The Tunnel in the end reminded me of my frustrations with a number of other unreadable texts, which include Finnegan s Wake, The Recognitions, Gravity s Rainbow, et al Such fictions are simply if anything can be said to be simple about them too dense and allusive, too lacking in clarity, too ambiguous to satisfy my craving for cohesive narrative I think this is a book my GR philosophy friend would like In fact, I would love to see him review it solely for his undoubted ability to catch Gass flat footed in his philosophical musings Finally, the book requires a deep understanding in too many areas for me to find it engaging The ideal reader will have a solid understanding of 1 Greek myth, 2 classic philosophy, 3 20th century history, 4 the Holocaust and its many actors and perpetrators, and 5 19th century British poetry And remember I stopped at page 55 Pages as crammed and dense as any you will come across anywhere.The area I know well is 4 I know 1 and 3 less well, 2 hardly at all, and as for 5, I don t much like it Far too Imperialist Christian for me in this post colonial era So there you have it Another brush with death by way of reading But then such are the vicissitudes of LITERATURE. Our proper bliss depends on what we blameThis unhesitatingly gets the full fathom 5 star treatment, because without a doubt it is an amazing work I was amazed, among a host of other emotions, and the 26 years of labor Gass put into The Tunnel are apparent in every carefully wrought sentence in this monster masterpiece However, it is an extremely unpleasant read, perhaps the most unpleasant and disturbing read I ve come across in my 35 years of intellectual intake The fact that such heights of beauty and musicality are mixed with such abysses of misery and violence compound the disturbing nature of this experience it is a total experience, mind and body and I can only come to one conclusion about this book it is the only work of fiction I know that encompasses and unsparingly realizes the full consciousness of the 20th century in a single thrust That wolfhound age, that sprawl of the greatest intellectual achievements and most disgraceful humanistic horrors history has ever seen that is Kohler Gass has embodied in this paper bound consciousness the gnarled and twisting poles of our recent past, and it is of necessity an ugly, brutal, confounding thing There are sections in this book any writer would give a limb to have written sentences, paragraphs, pages that rival the finest prose in existence there are also entire chapters I would be ashamed to be overheard reciting That those architectural word wonders are enjambed with lines like This book is intended to make you a mountain From such a mountain you may see dead Jews and throw off jokes about cannibalism in Auschwitz and sexual abuse and genocide is par for the course, if one is creating a character that is the 20th century And here we have it Do not enter lightly Know that beyond the entrance to The Tunnel there is darkness, descent, and the things that burrow unseen into our bright superterranean existence and subvert it, decimate and infect it A book that some might toss aside after 50 pages in disgust, I argue for patience and objectivity, for the heart of this thing is a moral tale, a warning the discontented, the miserable, the unsatisfied, the embittered, the hate filled, the jealous, those who feel slighted and ignored and cast off by the world, are among us, and when they seek blame outside themselves, when they seek a scapegoat for their miseries rather than shouldering their load themselves, rather than seeing and improving themselves, awful things might occur What is human can be so easily lost the best products of our minds disfigured or buried like the corpse of a criminal, feeding the poison vines that creep up the walls of our houses. RIP HamletWhat have you, my good friends, deserv d at the hands ofFortune, that she sends you to prison hitherGuildensternPrison, my lordHamletDenmark s a prisonRosencrantzThen is the world one HamletA goodly one, in which there are many confines, wards, anddungeons, Denmark being one o th worstRosencrantzWe think not so, my lordHamletWhy then tis none to you for there is nothing either good orbad, but thinking makes it so To me it is a prison Don t you see that when a man writes the history of your country in another mother language, he is bent on conquest If he succeeds, he will have replaced your past, and all your methods of communication, your habits of thinking, feeling, and perceiving, your very way of being, with his own His history will be yours, perforceMad Meg Guilt and Innocence The process of Denazification began in earnest in early 1946 with a series of directives issued by the Allied Control Council The aim was a thorough, meticulous investigation of the entire German people and the punishment of all found to be guilty of supporting the Nazi state Germans were to be placed in one of five categoriesMajor Offenders Offenders Lesser Offenders Followers and Exonerated PersonsThe concept of collective guilt was emphasized through the posting of graphic images of the concentration camps in newspapers, on placards, pamphlets and posters displayed in towns, cities, storefronts and cinemas headed with the statement YOU ARE GUILTY OF THIS However, quite rapidly it became clear that such a process was impractical Not only was there no clear defining line between the guilty and the innocent if such words have any real meaning who amongst us could be truly exonerated but the process also ran counter to the urgent need to create a functioning, economically sound, society To speed up the procedure it was decided that, unless their crimes were serious, members of the Nazi Party born after 1919 were exempted on the grounds that they had been brainwashed Members of the Nazi party began to buy and sell denazification certificates on the black market The system fragmented and slipped out of sight All that remained were the Nuremburg Trials with all their symbolic, cathartic theatre The German people s history was left in chimeric disarray half conquered by the American tongue Is genocide a zombie or a hydra what happens when we cut off its head The actions of the Nazis were only bad because they failed Had they been successful, and the Thousand Year Reich established, Himmler would be a hero and not a failed chicken farmer with the blood of millions on his hands William Frederick Kohler, the monster tunnelled through by Gass has faced the complexity of this problem, and recognised its Hydraic nature He is filled with enough self loathing legacy of a wonderfully evoked childhood to face the implications of these events the fact that, as a species, it is a rare specimen who would not, at heart, belong as a member of the PdP Of course, as its name implies, to be a member of the PdP means one would, had one be born elsewhere, been a member of the NSDAP Can any of us truly say with certainty that all our petty disappointments, bitterness and self disgust would not have led us by the hand into that darkness On the first page of the novel are two flags They are broken into sections that name those minor character flaws that we all, as human beings, suffer from at one time or another Envy Spite Secretiveness Resentment Bigotry Long Suffering Frigidity Niggardliness Malice Sullenness Churlishness Hypocrisy Self pity Vindictiveness Pettiness Procrastination Sloth and Jealousy Gass wishes to remind us that this is also a list of the ingredients required to fashion genocide The components of inhumanity are human, all too human Hamlet s statement that it is our thoughts that designate good and bad is, of course, in one sense correct particularly when one refers to morals as Nietzsche pointed out but is there an objective sense in which those flaws listed above can be labelled bad is there something to be said for moral universalism is there a viewpoint from which, had the Nazi s succeeded, one could still see their guilt and, if so, then are not all of us veined and marbled by such immorality It is simple enough to designate the Shoah as a bad thing not it must be stated evil as that term is a meaningless excuse , but it is the point where, as one digs further and further down into individuals and individual acts, such certainty starts to crumble that is the most difficult to reconcile with our ideas of humanity Where does one draw the line in the five categories of guilt and innocence set out above It is this issue, something I believe is one of the most important and profound legacies of the horrors of the 20thc, that Gass spent almost 30 years investigating The Tunnel is a novel of great philosophical importance and subtlety, as well as technical masterpiece It is hard going, and the passage gets dark, narrow and stifling, but it is a novel that I cannot recommend highly enough There is no simple answer to the paradox that humanity is fundamentally inhumane, but to accept this fact should at least inspire us to vigilance We should continue to tunnel inward, even when the dirt falls in our eyes. El mismo d a que compr The Tunnel William Gass se muri Esto volvi , debo aceptar, un tanto t trica la experiencia de lectura, superando incluso su contenido, que ya de por s es lo suficientemente perturbador The Tunnel es un juego introspectivo, un soliloquio entr pico de William Frederick Kohler, un profesor universitario de historia con tendencias fascistas, pesimista, depredador sexual, que odia a sus hijos, a su esposa y a sus colegas de trabajo El libro comienza con Kohler tratando de escribir el prefacio para su obra maestra Guilt and Innocence in Hitler s Germany Sin embargo, a ra z del bloqueo del escritor, pronto se encuentra escribiendo sobre su propia vida, sus propias miserias, su dura infancia, su soledad y su ira con el mundo, destilando una filosof a muy profunda que resquebraja la corteza que oculta la parte m s oscura que nos forma como seres humanos Kohler deja que el embri n envenenado que lleva dentro hable por s solo, que se exprese a su gusto haciendo de Kohler un espectador que asiente y no se achica ante su propia vida.Pero la verdadera historia se despliega cuando Kohler, como un minero aficionado, emprende la tarea de cavar un t nel en su s tano, mientras guarda la tierra que expulsa dentro de unos cajones para que su esposa Martha no lo sepa De esta forma, se da inicio a una exploraci n personal que sigue el ritmo del t nel una exploraci n que evoca m s bien a una confesi n de un condenado a muerte Cuanta m s tierra saca, m s profundo entra en el t nel Kohler, y m s profundo el lector penetra en su pasado y ontolog a As , la corriente del libro es exponencial y paralela a su tarea, a medida que nos adentramos en el t nel, m s secretos salen a la luz, m s miserias se revelan y m s el lector va comprendiendo la angustiosa psiquis del protagonista Esto no ser f cil, sin embargo Kohler es un personaje que dota de mucha pol mica a su filosof a, y lo m s peligroso es su capacidad de influencia y persuasi n Porque detr s de su llamado pesimismo y sus inclinaciones misantr picas, Kohler es una persona inmersa en dolor e impotencia ante su existencia, y en muchas ocasiones sus rants se ir n desvaneciendo a merced de su sufrimiento, que se rehuye pero rara vez se ignora.No obstante, no hay que dejarse enga ar No hay que dejar que Kohler nos sacuda como lo desee William Kohler es la personificaci n de la infamia que palpita en el interior del hombre promedio Gass, al ser consultado sobre de qu trataba este libro, contest que The Tunnel examina el fascismo del coraz n Kohler es la representaci n del mal que a n persiste en el humano El holocausto, la guerra, el impulso que llev al hombre a perpetuar aquellas matanzas y muestras de ira a n se encuentra all , dentro de personas como William Kohler Personas que esperan el contexto apropiado y un loco que eleve la voz para despertar y repetir la historia Tu profesor de matem ticas, la se ora que pasea a su perro todas las ma anas, el vecino que te saluda por las tardes mientras riega sus plantas Seg n Gass, en personas como esas puede subyacer el odio aguardando pacientemente el momento para actuar Est n entre nosotros.Y hay algo que hace todo el proceso de lectura a n peor y m s inc modo el odio de William Kohler es, casi en su totalidad y resalto el casi , fundado Nadie va preso por lo que piensa, sino por lo que hace aunque s tir un ladrillo a la ventana de un comercio jud o durante la Kristallnacht, conocida en espa ol como La Noche de los Cristales Rotos, en 1938 William Kohler es una persona que, como dijo Gass sobre s mismo, Odia Mucho Profundamente Esto sit a al lector en una situaci n contradictoria, inquietante Recuerdo un cap tulo en el que Gass escribe sobre, por ejemplo, el arte de la intolerancia, a trav s del padre de William, un simpatizante de la extrema derecha O tambi n recuerdo un cap tulo insuperable sobre las distintas personalidades de los compa eros de trabajo del protagonista, en el que los degrada y ataca sin miramientos pero de una manera tan brillante que no me qued otra que rendirme de fascinaci n Pero insisto en que no resulta c modo leer sobre esas cosas, principalmente por su car cter tan explicativo, inteligente y filos fico a excepci n de los puntos, por fortuna escasos, que tratan el racismo o la misoginia, que se lo nota intencionalmente irracional por completo Aunque creo que hay un modo correcto de abordar The Tunnel hay que aprender a ver lo que yace detr s del filtro de inquina que supone la mente de Kohler para no perderse en la manipulaci n de este Tambi n hay much simas partes asombrosas que no caen en ninguna pol mica, claro, como la brillante comparaci n entre las guerras y las peleas dom sticas, que me hizo re r bastante.No puedo evitar hablar sobre los temas que trata The Tunnel Muchos ya los mencion , pero otros no William Kohler, como ya dije, es un profesor de historia, y en esto se detiene en varias ocasiones la novela en lo que es la historia, para qu sirve, cu n fiable es y c mo debemos afrontarla William Gass pr cticamente delira al hablar sobre el contenido hist rico de la humanidad m ltiples puntos de vista toman forma y se plantean desde todos los ngulos El tratamiento de la historia es un pilar fundamental en la concepci n de esta obra, y uno de los elementos m s interesantes Asimismo, The Tunnel es un libro sobre el lenguaje, su importancia en nuestro d a a d a y c mo este nos ayuda a crear una realidad alterna a lo f sico pero no por eso menos real Wittgenstein Aqu el lenguaje se celebra, se manipula, traspasa convencionalismos para depositarse como nuevas sensaciones en la mente del lector Esos ser an los temas que se tratan con m s ah nco, aunque por supuesto que Gass no se guarda nada acerca de otras cuestiones que nutren la vida de Kohler, como su infelicidad, su solipsismo, su autoaborrecimiento, sus ilusiones y su falta de esperanza hacia la existencia humana Este no es un libro optimista, pero tambi n cabe resaltar que William Kohler en numerosas oportunidades se libera de su traje de estoicismo y aberraci n y se explaya sobre asuntos inmensamente conmovedores y sentimentales, tales como sus relaciones extramatrimoniales y c mo una de ellas lo llev a hallar el amor, su doloroso duelo por la p rdida de este y su frustraci n ante lo que es incapaz de transformarse, junto con, por el lado de la infancia, el trauma de una madre alcoh lica y un padre que nunca le dio el reconocimiento que, quiz , merec a En todo eso ltimo radica la tragedia de Kohler y su perfil m s humano.Leyendo la rese a de Michael Silverblatt para L A Times me encuentro con algo que dice con lo que concuerdo completamente y vale la pena mencionar El problema con el personaje no es que sea un monstruo, el problema es que el monstruo haya tomado una forma humana reconocible La gente com n siente sus desilusiones con ardiente resentimiento todos los d as La gente com n piensa en pegarle a sus hijos, y otras personas ordinarias incluso lo hacen Nos sentimos c modos culpando a un Hitler, pero en este libro Hitler es solo una chispa que incendia el resentimiento William Kohler es un pensador, no una persona que toma un papel activo contra lo que cree a excepci n, una vez m s, del incidente de 1938 , y varias aristas de su odio, se ve y se explica, est n persuasivamente justificadas Es por eso que The Tunnel apunta al rencor que anida dentro de muchas personas, a la ira por la falta de justicia mientras uno contempla, por ejemplo, c mo otros tienen xito en cosas que no merecen pero uno s Como dice la frase en ingl s, it hits too close to home Muchos de nosotros, en alguna fase de nuestras vidas, o siempre, somos, en mayor o menor medida, William Kohler De eso se trata este libro de inquietarnos Dicho sea de paso, una novela que logra un efecto parecido es El fin de Alice, de Amy Homes, la cual recomiendo mucho.En cuanto a la escritura, es fant stica Cada oraci n de Gass est esculpida con minuciosa consideraci n y cuidado Las oraciones son suicidas, asfixiantes y maravillosas, oraciones que se prologan tanto que te quitan el aire y te transportan hacia los pensamientos de Kohler junto con los impulsos nerviosos que hacen posible su memoria Existen pocos autores que conozca capaces de lograr este nivel sublime de escritura ahora se me vienen a la mente Joseph McElroy, Vladimir Nabokov y no muchos m s A veces me hallaba releyendo p rrafos enteros una y otra vez de lo espectaculares que eran, y no estoy exagerando Treinta a os estuvo escribiendo Gass este libro, as que dense la idea de que no fue hecho a la ligera Sin esta calidad de escritura, probablemente la novela hubiese ca do muerta v ctima de su propio peso, puesto que no habr a nada que la sustentase Porque olv dense de encontrar acci n o una trama Aqu no hay nada de eso Solo hay un hombre solitario que cava y, como dir a Hemingway, se desangra ante el filo de sus p ginas The Tunnel, sin lugar a dudas, es el mejor libro que llevo le do en el a o, y s desde ya que es uno de los mejores que he le do en mi vida como lector No obstante, esta no es una obra que pueda recomendar as como as , ya que, s , es muy pesada y compleja aunque las primeras 250 p ginas son las peores despu s todo se vuelve m s accesible, esto debido al intento de Gass de formar una especie de filtro al inicio para que solo los m s merecedores pudiesen llegar a la parte m s clara de la historia No hay di logo y tampoco Gass tuvo piedad de nosotros los lectores, sino que se empe en mostrar como un espejo el stream of consciousness de Kohler sin dejar de lado ni un poco su locura narcisista De todos modos, es un libro que disfrut al m ximo, con much simo contenido filos fico y un personaje detestable pero tan humano que el lector se asusta ante el extra o apego que se puede llegar a sentir por l The Tunnel es una novela brillante, de lo m s extraordinario que he le do en a os, y quiero que la lean Do not hate us because you aren t perfect or the world is unimprovable because wrongs can t really be righted injustice lingers on like a congestion in the lung, waiting for reinfection do not despair because there is no cure, for there is no cure, no cure for any of it there s no stopping the fall of man, but at least we all fall along with one another. The Tunnel ConceitThe tunnel is an authorial conceit on the part of William H Gass as well as his protagonist, William F Kohler.It s probably best to abandon any preconceptions of what it might mean when you enter either tunnel as a reader.The metaphorical tunnel doesn t represent an escape route out of anywhere, nor does it represent a method of entry into somewhere else.Instead, it constitutes a long strange trip or journey through the mind of the first person protagonist At this level, the novel is simply an account of the intellectual life of the protagonist It s not clear whether it s merely thought or written down I ll settle for the latter, because of its self consciously literary tone.Language is the vehicle by which this mind s ore is drilled bored , extracted, conveyed to us and laid bare, so that, if we re interested enough, we can sift through it, looking for gold or gelt or guilt.The Dirty DiggerSo much for the metaphysical tunnel At a physical level, Kohler his name is German fordiggergoes down to the basement of his home, and starts digging a tunnel or hole It s not clear what he intends to do with his hole or where he hopes it will take him It s almost as if it s sufficient, as if it s an act of liberation in its own right, that Kohler is digging his own hole This hole belongs to him It is his very own piece of nothingness Kohler is a man for whom nothing is enough.On the other hand, Kohler is a dirty digger The act of digging a hole requires him to dig up and remove dirt He doesn t want his wife, Martha, to realise he is digging a hole for himself So he shovels the dirt into the chests of drawers and dressing tables upstairs in all of the rooms other than the room in which, this might come as a surprise, she sleeps separately.Of course, Martha finds out and quite reasonably remarks,I don t want your dirt in my drawers any than I want your ideas in my headYou ve got to admit, this is pretty funny in the absurdist manner of Beckett Only the playwright didn t take 651 pages to achieve a similar result Plus, structurally, the two act play enabled Beckett to ensure that, at least, nothing happened twice Here, nothing only happens once It s just that there s a whole lot of nothing going down.That s enough about the conceit of the tunnel It s little than a framing device for a monologue.Digging All the Dirt on KohlerOver the course of these 651 pages, we literally get to know everything about Kohler Perhaps, a better way to say it is that we get all the dirt there is to know about Kohler The he digs, the dirt we get The remarkable thing is we get Kohler, warts and all, from the horse s mouth Needless to say, it s not pretty In fact, he is a disgrace in just about every aspect of life Even remarkably, we don t get any sense of embarrassment or shame about anything he has to say about himself It s as if he has to tell somebody else, for it to be really true In the telling, his story becomes history You don t have to be a king to make history You just need to have lived, to have been alive To this extent only , he has something in common with everyman.Ironically, or perhaps not, Kohler is an academic historian He has written a book calledGuilt and Innocence in Hitler s Germany. At the beginning of the novel, he sits down to write the Introduction to the book, only his own story distracts him This alone suggests that history can t be written objectively there will always be something subjective of the historian or author in the telling Thus, we are misguided, if we think that history is objective Conversely, we re entitled to ask, what can we learn from history It seems that we will encounter unreliable narrators in history than we do in fiction.We don t learn much about what Kohler has written in his book Perhaps, if we did, it could have constituted his Introduction However, we learn a whole lot about his past.The Mad Meg LegacyGass started writing the novel in 1965, when he was about 40 He took another 30 years to finish and publish it It s difficult to judge when the novel is set, or at least when the narration is taking place A couple of times, it s mentioned that Kohler is 50 There is little reference to contemporaneous events, other than a brief mention of protests against the Vietnamese War There is some incidental mention of hippies, but no suggestion that the Summer of Love has occurred Thus, it s possible that the narration occurs about 1965, which means that Kohler was born in about 1915 and was about nine or ten years older than Gass himself.This difference in age makes it possible for Kohler to have spent at least a year studying in Germany, after Hitler came to power It seems that he studied history under a charismatic, persuasive and compelling pro Nazi Professor MagusMad MegTabor who greatly influenced his actions and beliefs It s tempting, but ultimately futile, to try to work out who Mad Meg represents view spoiler Hitler Nietzsche Heidegger hide spoiler O William GassSuch a pain in the assHis difficult proseGets right up my noseNote I ve been reading this novel on off for about 6 months But not no IT S YOUR FAULT, CLEAR AS DAY The Tunnel comes to you with the maximum number of intellectual endorsements possible for a novel that isn t James Joyce s Ulysses Before you pick it up you ve been beaten into submission by the priestly class of all that is good and holy in modern literature You are acutely aware you re in the Presence of a Masterpiece So let it be as clear as possible if you don t like The Tunnel by William Gass, it s your fault You aren t bright enough, we re so sorry It s not for you Here s your money back Go and play with Jonathan Franzen or Joyce Carol Oates or David Mitchell Don t bother us up here in the Gassosphere THE CLASS SYSTEM OF NOVELSThere s a class system in the happy world of the novel like there is everywhere else And there s almost no social mobility This is the thing I mean The highbrow canon Proust, Flaubert, Joyce, Nabokov, Gaddis, Gass, Thomas Mann, Pynchon, DFW, Bolano, Faulkner, Dostoievsky, Bernhardt, Alexander Theroux, Saramago, Kafka, Virginia Woolf, Flaubert etc etc Also Flaubert Don t forget him Middlebrow Jonathan Franzen, Cormac McCarthy, Joyce Carol Oates, Philip Roth, Martin Amis all those Booker prize winners and losers F Scott Fitzgerald, Raymond Chandler, D H Lawrence, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, etc etcLowbrow Everything else, starting off with Fifty Shades of Grey all genre fiction except that written by Ursula le Guin, Neil Gaiman and David MitchellHey, don t frown, I didn t make the rules This is not an anti elitist rant I think Ulysses is the greatest ever novel I love Virginia Woolf Don t shoot I m coming out with my hands up THE CASE OF WILLIAM GASSIt s both strange and not strange that William Gass is in the Highbrow section.The not strange part is that William Gass can write many terrific sentences, those ones where you feel the top of your brain lifting up up up Many sentences you just want to bequeath to posterity or have Beethoven set to music or make your kids marry them or make them Pope Also, he loves his stream of consciousness and his chaotic make of this what you will torrential form of writing All expository material is removed All indications of who is speaking and why is ejected with a clip round the earhole This stuff is for people who can cope All that plotty stuff and indentations and quotation marks are for dweebs who can t cope Gass takes no prisoners And I don t mind that too much I gave Omensetter s Luck a whole 3 stars The strange part, where it seems that the literary elite which clutches The Tunnel to its bosom should actually be throwing it up over the side of the bridge over the troubled water of bad literature, is that everything you can identify as character or incident or major theme in The Tunnel is tired, cliched and monotonously foghorned about like Gass thinks he has invented this stuff There s a fat white middle aged tenured professor who hates himself and his wife also fat and his kids.There s an awful lot about the disappointment of middle age, esp as regards sex.He d like to diddle his teenybop students.He s written a big book on the German population under the Nazis and the big issue of guilt and innocence under the Nazis is, he has found, ambiguous, imagine that.He is in the process of digging a literal tunnel out from the cellar in his house Like you do Which is a metaphor I guess for Gass trying desperately to find a way out of his own novel.Which for the first 200 pages is peppered with really very lame post modish typographical amusements these will make any reader of House of Leaves or The Familiar or the works of Alasdair Gray sneer mightilyOur professor bangs on forever about his midwestern childhood, like about 500 other novels do that I could refer to.He is also obsessed with a previous great mentor teacher of his, and bores on for pages about him.All of this is very groanworthy We ve been here before so many many times Another microscopic self flagellation by a male person revealing the true repulsiveness of male persons Great.Then there s the tone, which is unremitting Our professor has woken up on the wrong side of the bed on page one and doesn t stop spraying bile and dripping venom on everybody and everything until the final page 652 How do I know this, given that I ran out of puff and the will to live just before page 200 THE TUNNEL A SCIENTIFIC CORE SAMPLEI took a core sample Here are the results.Page 99 I hate all soft pillows they close over you like soft fat walls.Page 199 It s Lacelli s strut that gets me it s his dimpled dandification I can t abide.Page 299 The Fascist salute looks borrowed from one of Karl May s awful books about American Indians How and Heil are harmonious.Page 399 His accent is substandard suburban, Jersey Shorish, and ugly in every way, but not overly voweled and wavy he does not speak, to sum the situation, any miserably than most nevertheless, what a wop Mama mia and so what a wop Page 499 I had to lecture on the Treaty of Versailles, or on some other sublime silliness of so called human society I had to listen to student excuses I had to mark exams as if I cared whether the dumb klutzes lived or died.Page 599 I hate that pork faced picture.THE GASS OVENThe highbrow canon is full of miseryguts like Bernhardt and Theroux, so Gass fits right in Some fans might say well, you know, this is all black humour, doncha geddit It probably is, but it wears you down It s the same tone of voice page after page The same guy with not a good word to say for anybody Hey, Gass fans, doesn t it ever wear thin But in fact liking or disliking The Tunnel is a complicated business, as is everything to do with this monstrous puthering bloviation because The Tunnel is both brilliant and awful at the same time Page by page, line by line, it s fabulous and loathsome Wonderful and horrible, searingly intelligent, beautiful and repulsive, all at the same time.I found that I didn t want to stick my head in this Gass oven any so, this being the first day of a new year, my first resolution was to give up digging I m left with the thought, heresy to Gass fans, that all the time and effort Gass took on this novel was perhaps could be just maybe a hideous misuse of his brains and time in the same way that Joyce wasted his last 18 years with the unreadable Finnegans Wake FURTHER READING FOR THE CURIOUSFor a brilliant demolition of The Tunnel here s a 1995 reviewhttps article 14616For a great evenhanded and mostly positive Goodreads review here s this from Ian Graye It feels like I have been reading this for as long as Gass spent writing it it s a hefty tome and not easy to read The primary character around whom all this revolves is William Frederick Kohler I am reliably informed that in the US the word Kohler has plumbing connotations He is a middle aged history professor at a mid western university who has just completed writing his magnum opus, Guilt and Innocence in Hitler s Germany He is struggling to write the introduction and reflecting on his life and marriage Kohler is trying to escape from his life and a symptom of this is the fact that he is digging a tunnel from his cellar, under the yard As one reviewer says, the whole is a plotless stream of notes which covers his awful childhood, his deteriorating relationship with his wife, his infidelities with his students, politics with other lecturers, and his general loneliness Embedded in it all is an undertone of vitriol and bigotry Kohler, however is an equal opportunities bigot he hates everyone and adeptly insults and abuses all who are not him He doesn t like himself either It is driven by language and in some ways has a Dickensian feel only child raised in a bleak town with an alcoholic mother and a bullying father Gass could have painted the childhood he does paint at the beginning of the book to get the reader onside with Kohler and to create a sense of journey and understanding He doesn t do this he starts with the middle aged Kohler who is sex obsessed, repulsive, sharing some of the fascist views of those he writes about and seducing students And Gass lays it on, making Kohler deliberately cartoonish in his repulsiveness There are plenty of cultural references which non Americans will probably struggle with and perhaps those who are younger A whole section on the sweets and candies of childhood would probably be a delight to readers of a certain age What there is not certainly near the beginning of the novel is interaction with other characters We spend most of the time with Kohler, in his head Kohler s views on Hitler and the Nazis are also challenging Kohler believes he would have followed Hitler Kohler puts in a plea for the abuser because it s easy to be a victim He is accustomed to making off the cuff remarks that are staggering offensive, such as I ve been in bedrooms as bad as Belsen Clearly untrue and just adds to the reader s picture of Kohler Kohler is an awful character, routinely racist, sexist and offensive A number of questions arise Obviously one asks how much Gass identifies with his creation Gass has answered that himself To write of such a man, you have to know loneliness, of course, but only of the kind that everyone has experienced at one time or another It s like the terrible blizzards I once put in a short story I had never experienced blizzards like that, but I had experienced snow You just turn up the volume One rather clever reviewer made a comment about Gass sitting in a chair for thirty years writing a novel about a man sitting in a chair for thirty years writing a book Another question that occurred relates to a British sitcom of the 1960s, Till Death Us Do Part written by Johnny Speight It was about an East End Londoner called Alf Garnett and his family played by Warren Mitchell Garnett was racist, sexist, obnoxious and anti Semitic and was meant to be so outrageous that it would be obvious that it was a satire Speight was working out his issues with his own father as Kohler was doing He was shocked when Garnett was treated as a hero who represented the feelings of many ordinary people in the US the series was redone with the main character being Archie Bunker Does Kohler feed into that sort of feeling There are certainly people around like Kohler He s not a criminal, murderer or the sort of monster who populates popular fiction He is an ordinary university lecturer in an ordinary town Gass has argued that history is about values and their weighing up Gass very effectively sums up his creation and why he is as he is Kohler is a master of sophist reasoning He certainly knows right from wrong, but that does not guarantee that one will make the right choices Plato said that no one would knowingly do evil I think people knowingly do evil all the time for selfishness or revenge or all sorts of reasons Evil has always given pleasure than virtue, and we don t really like virtuous people there s contradiction and confusion and deliberate darkness In terms of the writing Gass produces verbal pyrotechnics on every page and it is certainly the work of a great writer There is also a good deal of truly awful poetry, crude and offensive limericks particularly those about concentration camps Kohler seems to loathe women most of them , but his base and inner feelings probably reflect a strain in men which insists on pursuing the illusion of youth The font changes, and there are drawings and sketches and a whole variety of other stuff Given all the above what do I feel It is a great book, a great literary novel I didn t love it in the same way I did Omensetter s Luck but I don t think it is a book to be loved It s not comfortable or easy The scholarship on The Tunnel makes that clear For me Gass is saying that whatever caused the Holocaust and the rise of Nazism it s still there alive in people like Kohler who just need to be led and captivated The Tunnel captures the ordinariness of human evil.