writer’s block: “trapped within the rhymes of reason”

"Reading Gass is like reading Thomas Mann: The Tunnel‘s moral seriousness matches The Magic Mountain‘s and Doctor Faustus‘s, but I find Gass the better writer."


—James McCourt, The Yale Review



The narrator of the tunnel, William Frederick Kohler, is a professor at a midwestern American university. He has nearly completed his magnum opus, Guilt and Innocence in Hitler’s Germany, and sits in his cellar trying to finish thebook’s introduction. Instead, he writes produces an accounting of both his work and his life. Kohler considers possible reasons for his inability to finish his book:


Who thus constricts my chest? Confucius? that old chink? Livy then? Gibbon? O la! Tacitus? Gilgamesh. How many times have I fallen inside a sentence while running from a word? Winckelmann, Kafka, Kleist. You would not believe that long bodiless climb from Descartes to Leibniz. Lewis. Lemuel Gulliver. Catullus. Gogol. Constant. Sterne. I live on a ledge—a sill—of type—a brink. Here. Pascal. Alone. Among the silences inside my books… Frege, Wittgenstein…  within the rhymes of reason… the withheld breath, the algebra of alliteration, the freedom of design… Dryden, Zeno, Stevens, Keats… At the edge of space… I beg you, let me come out alive.

—William Gass, The Tunnel, p. 96




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