The great late great William H. Gass’s very big novel The Tunnel was one of four books I put on my 2018 Good Intentions Reading List that I didn’t previously own. (I did check it out from the library a few years back and download the audiobook—read by Gass himself–but I didn’t make a big dent). I ordered it from my favorite bookstore and it came in yesterday. The Tunnel is one of three Great Big Books I plan to (attempt to) read this year, including Middlemarch and some novel called War & Peace. I’ll probably start The Tunnel first.
Here are two selections from The Tunnel:
An Invocation to the Muse
O brood O muse upon my mighty subject like a holy hen upon the nest of night.
O ponder the fascism of the heart.
Sing of disappointments more repeated than the batter of the sea, of lives embittered by resentments so ubiquitous the ocean’s salt seems thinly shaken, of let-downs local as the sofa where I copped my freshman’s feel, of failures as frequent as first love, first nights, last stands; do not warble of arms or adventurous deeds or shepherds playing on their private fifes, or of civil war or monarchies at swords; consider rather the slightly squinkered clerk, the soul which has become as shabby and soiled in its seat as worn-out underwear, a life lit like a lonely room and run like a laddered stocking.
Behold the sagging tit, the drudge-gray mopped-out cunt-corked wife, stale as yesterday’s soapy water or study the shiftless kind, seedy before any bloom, thin and mean as a weed in a walk;
Smell the grease that stands rancid in the pan like a second skin, the pan aslant on some fuel-farting stove, the stone in its corner contributing what it can to the brutal conviviality of close quarters,
Let depression like time-payments weigh you down; feel desperation and despair like dust thick in the rug and the ragged curtains, or carry puppy pee and plate-scrapings, wrapped in the colored pages of the Sunday paper, out to the loose and blowing, dog-jawed heap in the alley;
Spend your money on large cars, loud clothes, sofa-sized paintings, excursions to Hawaii, trinkets, knicknacks, fast food, golf clubs, call girls, slimming salons, booze;
Suffer shouting, heat rash, chilblains, beatings, betrayal, guilt, impotence, jail, jealousy, humiliation, VD, vermin, stink.
Sweat through a St. Louis summer and sing of that.
O muse, I cry, as loudly as I can, while still commanding a constricted scribble, hear me! help me! but my nasty echo answers: one muse for all the caterwauling you have called for! where none was in that low-life line of work before?
It’s true. I’ll need all nine for what I want to do—perhaps brand new—all nine whom Hesiod must have frigged to get his way, for he first spoke their secret names and hauled their history by the snout into his poem. For what I want to do …
Which is what—exactly? to deregulate Descartes like all the rest of the romancers? to philosophize while performing some middle-age adultery? basically enjoying your anxieties like raw lickker when it’s gotten to the belly? I know—you want to make the dull amazing, you want to Heidegger some wholesome thought, darken daytime for the TV, grind the world into a grain of Blake.
O, I deny it! On the contrary! I shall not abuse your gift. I pledge to you, if you should choose me, not to make a mere magician’s more of less, to bottle up a case of pop from a jigger of scotch. I have no wish to wine water or hand out loaves and fishes like tickets on a turkey. It is my ambition to pull a portent—not a rabbit but a raison d’être—from anything—a fish pond, top hat, fortune cookie—you just name it—a prophecy in Spengler’s fanciest manner, a prediction of a forlorn future for the world from—oh, the least thing, so long as it takes a Teutonic tone—a chewed-over, bubble-flat wad of baseball gum, say, now hard and sour in the street, with no suggestion of who the player’s picture was, impersonal despite its season in someone’s spit, like a gold tooth drawn from a Jew’s jaw.
Misfits, creeps, outcasts of every class; these are my constituents—the disappointed people—and if I could bring my fist down hard on the world they would knot together like a muscle, serve me, strike as hard as any knuckle.
Hey Kohler—hey Koh—whistle up a wind. Alone, have I the mouth for it? the sort of wind I want? Imagine me, bold Kohler, calling out for help—and to conclude, not to commence—to end, to bait, to 30, stop, leave off, to hush a bye forever … to untick tock.