The Sunday Tunnel: Dogs have Ears
Here I am, looking at the book seeing how my dog ears are few and far between at the beginning becoming more frequent to the end where they stand together like a pack of hounds. Now I have about two hours per week to unpack them and see how they bark. If they bark. Anyway, I have no option but to howl.
“I began, I remember, because I felt I had to. I’d reached that modest height in my career, that gentle rise, from which I could coast out of gear to a soft stop. Now I wonder why not. Why not? But then duty drove me forward like a soldier. I said it was time for “the Big Book.” the long monument to my mind I repeatedly dreamed I had to have: a pyramid, a column tall enough to satisfy the sky. Duty drove me the way it drives men into marriage.” (pp. 4-5)
That wasn’t even dog-eared. Two hours per week for – who knows? – 20 weeks to go through a book which took – what? – 20 years to write. And I don’t like re-reading. The only column I ever re-read was Musil’s pyramid only to find in its chambers my supposedly original thoughts lying around like the mummified remains of my pretenses.
“I faced the four corners, cupped the bowl of my glass like a breast, began the construction of my anecdote, and let the wine die.” (p. 8)The lonely dogs of the first 100 or so pages don’t bark. Their ears are small. Maybe they didn’t want to hear. Probably the noise was so loud they had to shrink their hearing. One does not enter The Tunnel the way one exits it, even if the exit and the entrance are at the same location. Zeno gets mentioned a lot; we cannot abstract our way out of reality.
“There’s death in every diary. I’ve found it there the way I’ve found so many words, lying silent and forgotten like old shoes stiffening in a closet, or moving at the approach of my eye like a spider in a toolbox, as though some small piece of metal were alive.” (p. 9)
How many reviews did these sentences have to endure before the spider successfully jumped into the closet to find itself dead stiff under one of a pair of old shoes? Was this book meant to be reread the way you have to re-enter the tunnel over and over again in order to increase its length? God knows and that, for me as I guess for Gass, says all.
“What is important is that Jerry – what was he called? – gave me my first demonstration of the power of the word. Didn’t Emerson develop his sense of things in the same way? So did many politicians, writers, scholars in the rural South. Adolf Hitler had a similar experience – only it was in that movie about a political agitator he saw in Vienna, the one made from a Kellermann novel. Der Tunnel, it was titled. Yes. At least I’ve got that right. Though K. may be spelled with one n. I’m not sure.” (p. 39)
Now we’re making progress! Hitler. ‘With such a name how could he but wind up shouting inspiration to the silenced’, isn’t the right answer, indeed. I doubted whether dead shouldn’t have been spelled with th as English isn’t my native language. Then again somebody once reviewed something I had written in Dutch metaphorically alleging a tree grew faster than the speed at which my alter-ego thought. He (why is this an all male make-up world?) criticized me because, you know, trees grow slowly. He was right of course except when you’re so bored you try to find a metaphor as desperately as you search out a fuck when you’re horny. So ended my writing career. The only thing I have left now is to end my reading career, as I have never ever listened to anybody.
“Well, there’s nothing my firm doesn’t know about weaseling. Procrastination a specialty. President by my own acclamation, I’ve made a profession of putting off payoff. Why diddle Dido when you can found Rome – is that the question? What dumb dong could not contrive a dozen reasons?” (pp. 51-52)
This calls for 1., and 2. and 3. & so on &c. (times 4) but (my first but!) the shortcut is to note that grand thoughts are only dangerous when combined with grand actions. Although for sure amassing grand thoughts can lead to a constipation that is as explosive as The Tunnel’s subject matter. Disappointment is a giant turd that just doesn’t want to exit the bowels and from time to time drips a stink of cultural optimism gassing everybody’s stomach to the brim with ill will. Pardon the pun.
“Only our numbers will be remembered – not that you or I died, but that there were so many of us. And that we were we were, weren’t we? we? we were, were once, we were, were” (p. 34)
Like any man Gass goes too quickly to it so I have held him back. Because I can. Disappointment is the essence of man, of coming early, of wondering what it was all about. This is how men are: as soon as a future has failed to become the past we loathe the present and our future always fails to become the past. We don’t have vision, we envision. And that word starts with envy (at least almost, if it were different we were not men). So the quoted sentence is untrue: they are remembered and the proof is in the paragraph above, a matter of history and therefore also a matter of literature.
“And because I dithered musically for nine lines (and shall venture but one verse and nine lines more in my life), and because John Dowland has set me to such sweet and docile measures, I expect my soul to be redeemed; I expect I shall forever be remembered, and eternally esteemed.” (p. 58)
Dear readers, will you bark at the mouse this mountain made?
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