First edition. Signed on half-title. Gass’s masterpiece—the story of professor William Frederick Kohler’s badly derailed attempt to write an introduction to his magnum opus, Guilt and Innocence in Hitler’s Germany—was almost 30 years in the making. “I write slowly because I write badly,” Gass once said of himself. “I have to rewrite everything many, many times just to achieve mediocrity.” He achieved what critics have regarded as a bleak, darkly comic masterpiece of 20th century literature. He told an interviewer in 2011 that his favorite occupation was “writing beautifully about nasty things.” Here, for PEN, he has largely eschewed words. Gass’s second thoughts take the form of color, adding lively pinks, blues, yellows and greens to the pages of this typographically daring work (he has supplied a key to guide the reader to his alterations). On a rear fly-leaf Gass has pasted in a poem, in comic strip form, titled, “Fuck the Formalities.” It begins: “Just say right out what it’s about / No need to shout the names of the realities / We feed, sleep, breed utter banalities / Life’s not deep / and not a tragic drama / though odds are good your papa / Cheated on your mama …” He has also pasted in an image of Satan by Louis Raemaekers (1996), that bears a mischievous resemblance to the author.
GASS, William. The Tunnel. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995. 8°. Original cloth-backed boards; dust-jacket.