And it’s easy

“The greatest gift you can give another human being is to let them warm you till, in passing beyond pleasure, your defenses fall, your ego surrenders, its structure melts, its towers topple, lies, fancies, vanities, blow away in no wind, and you return, not to the clay you came from—the unfired vessel—but to the original moment of inspiration, when you were the unabbreviated breath of God.” – William H. Gass, The Tunnel

Yield to merging traffic

“The automobile is the world’s most effective killing machine, with victims outnumbering any war, with millions maimed, shocked, crazed by the car, half the world trashed by its production, made brutal, ugly, used up, useless, with endless highways and hospitals to maintain, most citizens in debt to their eyes for this toy . . . . Mr. Hitler’s Holocaust can’t hold a candle. After all, his is kaput. This way to the gasoline, ladies and gentlemen.” – William H. Gass, The Tunnel

The routine burden of evil

“It is easy to be a victim, you don’t have to do a thing, you simply weep and bleed—but, ah, the beater, to be the beater is not a role whose easy mastery is readily admittable; sympathies in such a cause are not idly, not routinely, not frequently enlisted; and were they to be, what then?” – William H. Gass, The Tunnel

Not a mensch

“Sure, Adolf Hitler knew how to play the piano (badly), how to type (slowly), how to drive a car (erratically), how to draw (inadequately), how to write (drivel), how to remember (photographically), and how to bombast (beautifully). But bombast isn’t bombing. He was in fact a petty little twerp. A man of such meager means he could only wish the way the weasel wishes it were a looker like the tiger and a lord like the lion. What I wonder about are all of those who weren’t twerps who willed what Hitler wished, who pondered and planned and organized and sacrificed in order to establish the thousand-year Reich, who donned the uniforms and fired guns and made planes and prepared food and forged those famous chains of command, who invented and connived and lied and stole and killed, because they willed what the little twerp wished; they, who idolized a loud doll, who loved the twerps-truths, who carried out the wishes of a murderous fool, an ignoble nobody, a failure so unimportant that failure seems a fulsome description of him.” – William H. Gass, The Tunnel

But everyone knows more is better

“Slowly slime is covering the earth, more of it made every day—more whiny people, more filthy thoughts, crummy plans, cruddy things, contemptible actions—multiplying like evil spores (we were told to be fruitful, not to trash the place); so that now there are more artifacts and less art, more that is tame, little that is wild, more people, fewer species, more things, less world, more of the disappointment we all know so well, the defeats which devour us, the hours we spend with our heads buried in our books, blinding our eyes with used up words, while the misspending of our loins leads to more lives and less life—just think (we members of the better species) what divine sparks we might have played at being, and come and gone with spirit; instead, around us, as before, nobodies are killing nobodies for nothing.” – William H. Gass, The Tunnel

The politics of resentment

“Revolutionaries and other malcontents, because they are not in the place of power, or perhaps, in a nation, are the country’s restive minorities, or sometimes because they are spiteful courtiers out of favor: these desperadoes—sort of, aren’t they?—preach a rigid dogma to their followers, and wild relativism to the rest. Anarchists. Communists. Suffragettes. Separatists. Special pleaders. Splinter groups. Sects. The way they try to weaken official opposition, and get a hearing for themselves. Foxes make good chickens, the foxes say, pretending to cluck kindly in the direction of the henhouse. Then, having tempted tolerance to get in, their fangs vote.” – William H. Gass, The Tunnel

Playing the trump card

“Who of us has not destroyed our enemies in our heads. Suppose but a whisper of our wishes leaked out and half a continent was ready to rise and do your bidding? Orders are easy. Liquidate the trailer parks. Murder motorbikers. Silence the soaps. Clean up the town. Bust up the trusts. It is the killing—hands-on and nearby—that takes fortitude and commitment.” – William H. Gass, The Tunnel

This will be on the final

“History, I do believe, is not a mighty multitude of causes whose effects we suffer now in some imaginary present; it is rather that the elements of every evanescent moment endeavor to hitch a ride on something more permanent, living on in what lives on, lengthening their little life by clinging to a longer one, and in that manner, though perhaps quite unintentionally, attaching what will be to what still is (and so far has survived).” – William H. Gass, The Tunnel

You will not be the last one left

“Death, they say, is democratic. Right? It makes no class distinctions: richer or poorer, better or worse, sick or well, white or black, jew or gentile; o mortal is mortal o, don’t we moan? and mother will go though she suckled us, and father will go though he paid our way, and brother will fall and sister sicken, the snow, the poet says, is subject to the same, the beauty of the breast, damp on a wet stoop, light on a bright day, look on a face, every strength of character, every vice, every species, every holy place, the list of the fragile even has its end, though the list is as long, o mortal is mortal as mortal o, as any which can be composed; whereas the momentary song, which seeks to save itself in memory, and reemerge through another’s tongue, on other lips, which infects mankind with its rhythms, meanings, metaphors, and rhymes, its sentiments and small desires, and tries to placate the implacable by praising it, fearing its powers, praying to its priests, crying mortal is mortal o mortal o, such a resourceful tune is doomed just as certainly as the solidist theory, the grandest design, the most convoluted plot, the simplest, plainest, purest line.” – William H. Gass, The Tunnel

It’s just another word

“It’s a war of lie against lie in this world where we are, fancy against fantasy, nightmare throttling nightmare like two wedded anacondas, and anyone who’s taken in is nothing but a bolo and a bumpkin. But that’s just exactly what we all are—hoddydoddies—aren’t we? Aren’t we all so hungry, anxious, eager to believe? like men in prison, aren’t we skinny to be screwed? and don’t we think that we’ve escaped to freedom when we drink our wits out, dance our reason loose, and crack our nuts between the fat legs of some four-mark whore?” – William H. Gass, The Tunnel

We do so love our rights

“To love is to trust another with your self-esteem. And then to see them measure you, to see the red line drop into the bulb at the bottom—my god, how you hate yourself, then, for the gift of your vanity, the care of your conceit! Think of it: you have given someone else the right to think ill of you.” – William H. Gass, The Tunnel (emphasis in original)

There’s bees and spiders in there

“If we had the true and complete history of one man—which would be the history of his head—we would sign the warrants and end ourselves forever, not because of the wickedness we would find within that man, no, but because of the meagerness of feeling, the miniaturization of meaning, the pettiness of ambition, the vulgarities, the vanities, the diminution of intelligence, the endless trivia we’d encounter, the ever present dust.” – William H. Gass, The Tunnel

All against all

“Clashes are perfectly normal, what is the purpose of the pitiless bronze? certainly labor and management cheat one another—are suspicious, sullen, lazy, greedy, deceitful, Mafia-manipulated—you name it, no surprises, ordinary shiftlessness, ordinary exploitation, ordinary rapacity; physicians pill their poor patients to death and then bill the estates, which are already being fucked over by lawyers who specialize in quarrels and in quarreling: in instigating quarrels, nurturing and sustaining quarrels, in broadening quarrels, in aggravating and deepening them, in spelling quarrels (pretending the word needs no q, arguing against doubling the r), in quarreling among themselves then, in sucking quarrels so dry they whapper back and forth like sheets in the wind (whereas the Third Reich tried to eliminate quarrelsome elements, sought peace inside itself, sought to flatten fulminations); but no one likes their state, their place, or what they’re doing—the copper quarters their pockets, the two-dollar bill; thus riders kick their horses, peasants beat their oxen, dissociated personalities play mean pranks upon their not-so-innocent other selves; wars break out in the bleachers; psychoanalysts betray confidences and make out with their patients; journalists rake muck and ruin reputations; mystics and assorted fakes, lovers, men of the cloth, the soil, the sea: all go at it. The sparrows have learned from us how to fuss and sputter, squirrels saw away at their grievances; locusts stridulate; thorns prick; aspens clatter. What a world!” – William H. Gass, The Tunnel

Haters gotta hate

“Lay the length of a lasting love alongside any hate, that of the Armenians, for instance, the Turks for the Greeks, the Serbs for everybody. Do you suppose if the Armenians had been done a good turn back then, instead of being thinned, they would remember? three square meals and clean clothes in corded bales and darned blankets and bandages and modern medicines for their festers and their flu? would such deeds be held tenderly against generations of grateful hearts? No one would think so. No one. No.” – William H. Gass, The Tunnel

Flavor-of-the-month club

“O yes, O yes, O yes, O yes, I am aware, O how I know, that there are those who write like tenors, stock their books as though each were a fish pond, dry goods, hardware, or a pantry; who jerry-build, compose sentences like tangled spaghetti, piss through their pens and otherwise relieve themselves, play at poetry as if they were still dressing dolls, order history as though it were an endless bill of lading; but there were genuine bookmen once: Burton, Montaigne, Rabelais and other list-makers, Sir Thomas Browne and Hobbes, in the days when a book was not just a signal like a whiff of smoke from a movie Indian or a carton of cold crumb-covered carryout chicken, but a blood-filled body in the world, a mind in motion like a cannonball.” – William H. Gass, The Tunnel

What’s the price on that?

“Everywhere nothing now but a revocation of the muse. Cancel Clio, cross out sweet Calliope, for history’s been buggered by ideology, and farts its facts in an odorous cloud, while poets have no breath whatever, are in another business presently, where Parnassus is a pastry, and produce their poems promptly on request like short-order cooks shake forth a batch of fries. Mark out Melpomene. The lines of the anonymous are nothing like the lives of the saints; a celebrity is but a draft from his fans; crooks establish dynasties on stolen dimes.” – William H. Gass, The Tunnel

To be so clean again

“We lie with the Fates from our first conception; for it is said—and truly too—that the flesh is built up over the bones at birth by the caresses of those star-guarding harlots whose pawed passage clings there like a cloth, just as the soul in our life is the silted delta of the senses, their accumulated fat; and it is Clotho whose touch becomes our tissue, and Atropos who trims it to the shape we’ll take, and Lachesis who then stitches it about us like a shroud; so when we go to ground, as eventually we must, we lose our lusts with our linens, arising on the last day as clean and shriven as the one on which we were begot.” – William H. Gass, The Tunnel

It might not prove the joist we sought to hammer

“We live in a world of whirling air just as Anaximenes concluded, a world of whiffs, puffs, breaths, zephyrs, breezes, hurricanes, monsoons, and mistrals; and if they all died away suddenly, and we were Sargasso’d in a sea of circumstance, then one small draft through a winter window might drive us at our destiny like a nail.” – William H. Gass, The Tunnel

Fancy a fancy-eating tree

“A flat and wooden style, words nailed like shingles to the page, the earnest straightforward bite of the spike, is the one which suits sincerity; sincerity cannot gambol, cannot play, cannot hedge its bets, forswear a wager, bear to lose; sincerity is tidy; it shits in a paper sack to pretend it’s innocent of food; it cannot quote its masters like Montaigne, or fly its fancy even in a tree, or pun upon a wholesome opportunity, draw up lists like Burton, burst at all its seams; sincerity makes every day dull Sunday, does lump sums, keeps tabs, lies through its honesty like a Bible-beater’s pious threats and Great Good News.” – William H. Gass, The Tunnel

To be young and upright again

“Classicists cannot soil themselves with simple-minded seeing the way empirics do: empirics are too dewy, eager, brash, young, innocent, naive. No. And not because experience couldn’t bring them to wisdom better than the Greeks, either, but because experience is broad and muddy like the Ganges, with the filthy and the holy intermixed in every wash; because it is itself the puzzle and the surd; because it teaches primarily through pain, defeat, disappointment, loss; and these leave a groveler inside the heart; to preside in the spirit, they appoint a hanging judge; and create a resentful cripple in the mind, bent to one side in the continuous clutch of its truth.” – William H. Gass, The Tunnel

And reparations cannot be paid

“Neither guilt nor innocence are ontological elements in history; they are merely ideological factors to which a skillful propaganda can seem to lend a causal force, and in that fashion furnish others—in disguise of their greed as it may be, their terror sometimes, pride possibly, remorse even, or, more often, surly resentment—a superficially plausible apologia for tomorrow’s acts of robbery or cowardice, revenge, rape, or other criminalities already under way; because the past cannot promise its future the way a premise stands in line with a ticket good for its conclusion (the past is never a justification, only a poor excuse; it confers no rights, and rights no wrongs; it is even more heartless than Hitler).” – William H. Gass, The Tunnel

What’s the forecast? And over there?

“At a certain level, prose simply makes statements. There are times when all you need to know is that it is raining, but a hell of a lot more is going on. And there are other times when you’ve got to get into every raindrop. And sometimes the sentence has to do that.” — William H. Gass (interviewed by Arthur M. Saltzman in The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Fall 1991, Vol. 11.3)