Life in a Chair
Kohler introduces the reader to his scholarly work on the Germans, and contemplates the implications of spending the majority of his working life in a chair. The chair he occupies in the novel belonged to his mentor, the German history professor and Nazi collaborator Magus Tabor. Gass uses quite a bit of typographical variety in this section (a window and a Star of David, both constructed out of text, are notable examples) and includes pictures, drawings and watermarks.
2. Koh Whistles Up A Wind
Section two begins with a compilation of excuses from Kohler’s university students, then segues into a contemplation of the Muse. This leads Kohler to list his literary preferences, a litany that includes Proust, Mann, Lawrence and Rilke. These reflections trigger Kohler to recall a childhood walk to Market Street, which then leads him to an examination of the literary tastes of his youth. The section ends with a long introduction of Kohler’s mentor, Magus “Mad Meg” Tabor, which alternates from the professor’s lectures to the narrator’s memories of the man.
3. We Have Not Lived The Right Life
Kohler reflects on his life, interspersing childhood memories with descriptions of his house. The character of Uncle Balt, a tall, sonorous farmer whose folksy pronouncements (“THEY’LL MAKE YOU INTO MAN JAM AND SERVE YOU ON TOAST”) Kohler records and contemplates. This sections also contains a visit to Kohler’s university office, and the first extended passage concerning the narrator’s parents.