We are group reading William H. Gass’s The Tunnel on this website from September 30 through November 3. We are currently in Week 4, covering pages 379 through 522. Get the schedule here. Purchase the book here and benefit this site. All posts related to this group read are here.
We are in Week 4 of the Tunnel Big Read, but I’m going to begin this week with some thoughts on Week 3’s reading, since I did not have a chance to get to them last week. Week 3’s reading starts off with our longest, most concrete look at Magus Tabor, Kohler’s mentor and philosophical touchstone. The reading for Week 3 in fact gives us 35 consecutive pages of Mad Meg, including the scene of his death, one of the most touching and well-written sections of The Tunnel that I have encountered so far.
I think these sections also give us the long-awaited meat of The Tunnel’s philosophy of reality vis a vis historical fact and language. Here, Kohler introduces Tabor’s idea that “anything of which you could form a passionate conception automatically was,”  which gives us a very particular idea of what reality consists of. You can contrast this to the ideas of historical fact articulated by Planmantee and Herschel in the opening 40 pages of this week’s reading. These matters all, obviously, have a very clear application to Kohler’s own reality, concerned as it is with reconstructing and evaluating his life. Following Tabor, we would have to say that Kohler’s opinions on, for instance, his wife, exist in some meaningful sense outside of himself, even though they are quite obviously biased and the product of much anger. Do we buy that as readers? Would we take this philosophy into our own lives?
We reach something along the lines of the zero point of this philosophizing when Tabor declares that “Aristotle invents—okay, he finds—creates—the logic of the syllogism . . . and my good friend, the European mind is now in being! Well, the discovery of logic is nothing compared to the discovery of rhetoric . . . still . . . neither, you know, is an event in the same sense as a battle is, or an election, or the reign of a pope is it?”  So here we have Tabor making the very form of thought that undergirds all of Western history just one way of seeing the world among others. What does this do to any kind of reality that The Tunnel could be said to articulate? Referencing the great art of the Renaissance, Tabor later declares, “we can paint lies so allegorically belief will run to catch up, and create a culture out of sheer kookiness the eyes of others will envy, emulate, admire, adopt.”  Is historical and artistic fact simply sustained on belief? And if so, then what does that mean for Kohler’s philosophy of radical pessimism?
Interestingly, Kohler himself undermines any truths that we might take from Tabor, declaring, Tabor that “you could be certain of nothing with Tabor, for he was an absolute actor, and perfectly capable of raising and sustaining a purely rhetorical erection”?  But if this is the case, and if the world is nothing but words, as Tabor declares furiously, [268-72] then what does he become when, on his deathbed, “he had lost every medium for the spirit’s expression—all but his wary, unwavering eyes”? 
Another big theme in these opening pages is mortality: as Tabor recognizes that his death is approaching he begins to confront the fact of his own irrelevance, seemingly inevitable with mortality: “Not to be here, not to see tomorrow—which, when I see it I shall find as stupid and empty as I found today—is appalling, Kohler, appalling . . . to slip into the insignificance of history like a thought held in a dream . . . ” 
After this we get three curious sections: “Why Windows Are Important to Me,” [282-310] “Blackboard,” [310-7] and “Kristallnacht” [317-334]. These highly impressionistic accounts of moments from Kohler’s life are followed by his rather tragic account of “The First Winter of My Married Life,” [334-355] where he gives some hints as to the dissolution of his marriage. This week’s reading concludes with the interesting section “Family Album,” [355-375] where Kohler gives a photo-by-photo account of himself, and the rather harrowing “Child Abuse,” [375-9] where Kohler’s impatience with the cries of his infant son give some of the best testimony yet for his being a monster.
I’m curious to hear people’s impressions of “Windows,” “Blackboard,” and “Kristallnacht,” particularly the last. In there Kohler seems to be conflating actual things that happened to him (a homosexual encounter?) with historical episodes in the history of the Third Reich. Kristallnacht, the “Night of Broken Glass,” also seems to be linked in some way to “Windows,” where it appears Kohler attempted to participate in some kind of anarchist group by throwing a brick through a window (but failed, throwing his brick through a window that was open). Did Kohler participate in fascist activities in some meaningful sense? What exactly was his interest in Herschel Grynszpan, whose murder of a German was the pretext for Kristallnacht?
And lastly, to transition to a different subject, what did you make of Kohler’s youthful essay on reading , which begins “A book . . . is like a deck of windows: each page perceives a world and tells a fortune . . .”?
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