25th Anniversary of The Tunnel

Banner from “The Soul Inside the Sentence”

This year marks a quarter century since William Gass‘ long-awaited tome, The Tunnel, was published by Knopf. In 1995, after nearly 30 years of writing and 26 years of published excerpts, postmodern fiction lovers could finally immerse themselves fully in William Kohler’s subterranean exploration of history, autobiography, psychology, sociology, sexuality, philosophy, etc. with a bitterness and cynicism nearly unmatched in all of American literature.

Perhaps not surprisingly, reviewers were sharply divided on this dark and detailed depiction of a self-described bigot. The book has stayed in print since and maintained a reputation as a prescient masterpiece by an unabashed wordsmith with an ear for beauty and an eye for criticism. For example, this past July, The New York Times published an essay by Alec Nevala-Lee, “A 1995 Novel Predicted Trump’s America.”

Graphic from The Tunnel at 25: An Online Symposium

We are marking this anniversary in two ways: first, by participating in “The Tunnel at 25: An Online Symposium,” created by writer, scholar and educator, Ted Morrissey. Conceived as an online version of an in-person symposium that wouldn’t be possible this year because of the pandemic, the site includes contributions from Nevala-Lee, Joy Williams, Greg Gerke, Tim Youd (an artist who retyped the novel this past May), and myself, among others.

My contribution surveys the 23 excerpts of the book, published over 26 years, and Washington University’s research materials related to them. It is intended to serve as a comprehensive guide for scholars, students and fans for years to come.

Graphic from invitation to September 22 event

Secondly, we are hosting a one-hour event via Zoom to explore and discuss the research materials we have related to the book, as well as its lasting importance as a work of literary art and a commentary on the human condition. “The Tunnel: 25th Anniversary Celebration” will feature Ted Morrissey, Greg Gerke and myself in dialog about these topics, with time for questions and comments from the audience.

We hope you can join us on September 22 at 4:00 CST for that event, and we hope you can take some time to explore The Soul Inside the Sentence, The Tunnel at 25, and our other Gass-related resources anytime on your own!

About the author

Joel is the curator of the Modern Literature Collection and manuscripts at Washington University Libraries.