Between Pain and Pleasure

I really cannot deal with Randy Lenz right now (any of you other guides up for the challenge?), so instead of talking about taking pleasure in causing animals pain, let’s revisit the brothers Incandenza. They have their own pain and pleasure issues in last week’s reading.

Mario’s disability, we learn, results in an an inability to feel physical pain:

The birth-related disability that wasn’t even definitively diagnosed until Mario was six and had let Orin tattoo his shoulder with the red coil of an immersion heater is called Familial Dysautonomia, a neurological deficit whereby he can’t feel physical pain very well. A lot of the E.T.A.s kid him about they should have such problems, and even Hal’s sometimes felt a twinge of envy about it, but the defect is a serious hassle and actually very dangerous.

He has a serious burn from inadvertently leaning against a hot stove, and his hip is covered in bandages and salve. When he walks, it makes a sucking sound. The description no doubt bothers readers more than than the burn bothers Mario.

What Mario can feel, however, is psychic pain. It’s been three weeks since Madame Psychosis went off the air, and Miss Diagnosis is not cutting the mustard . He’s becoming less attuned to Hal’s well-being, his heart beating hard whenever he thinks of him. And people are laughing at him laughing at Michael Pemulis’ jokes. We get words like “worst,” “unable,” “sad,” “worries” and “lost.”

Fast forward a few pages, and we encounter Orin, who we learn “can only give, not receive, pleasure.” After his encounters with his latest Subject, the Swiss hand model, he feels “an abrupt loss of hope,” and, when looking at her, feels “the sort of clinical contempt you feel for an insect you’ve looked down and seen and known you’re going to torture for awhile.”

Yet, when the legless interviewer comes to the hotel door, asking Orin what he misses, he rattles off a series of pleasant memories about broadcast television – things he once took pleasure in and can summon in his mind. We get words like “memories,” “floating,” “order,” “love,” and “gather.” After he’s done, he finds himself feeling tender towards the man (who he suspects is there for an autograph) just for a second, before snapping back into his reality “suddenly dimly stunned and sad inside.”

So what about Hal? Like Mario, we’re losing our radar on what Hal is feeling, doing and thinking. For now, he is lying in his bunk in the middle of the day, breathing.

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