Curious Case

I read this book in one sitting.

This took on the coming of age format perfectly.  Christopher is so innocent in his observations.  But I should call them recordings, because while he observes everything, he does not intuit anything.  So as a reader, I found myself agonizing during the moments just before discovery.  The tension was so well built.  The heaviest example was when he found the first letter.  It was obvious to us that there were no other explanations, that the box was full of similar letters, and that his father had lied to him.  I was very interested in his physical response to the emotional badgering that occurred when it dawned on him.  He vomits on himself and blacks out while curled up in a ball on his father’s bed.  He tells us “I don’t know what happened then because there is a gap in my memory, like a bit of the tape had been erased.” Only “because there was sick all over the bed and on my hands and arms and face,” did he know he threw up, but he did not remember the act of it.  I am wondering how Damasio would categorize these feelings.  In the professor’s glossary of Damasio’s terms, “feelings can be non-consciousness, but when we become aware of them that’s consciousness.  “Background feelings,” arising from background emotions, include fatigue, energy, excitement, wellness, sickness, tension, relaxation, surging, dragging, stability, instability, balance, imbalance, harmony, and discord.”

Christopher does not have these “background feelings.”  We do see fear, joy, and he knows something is wrong, maybe he is angry, when he begins screaming during moments jarring for him (like most with his mother), but he does not talk a lot about feeling emotions clearly.

The scene with him sick on the bed to me is an explicit suggestion that his autism causes him to experience emotions physically, but not consciously.  It is a confusing idea, but I think it is clear when he describes his panic on 177, when “it was exactly like having flu that time because I wanted it to stop, like you can just pull the plug of a computer out of the wall if it crashes, because I wanted to go to sleep so I wouldn’t have to think because the only thing I could think was how much it hurt…”

He can describe what his emotions did to him physically.

I was also struck by how completely and quickly he was able, emotionally, to sever his relationship with his father.  While his father’s actions were deplorable, most people are able to consider the circumstances, not Christopher.  Things are “logical” for him, black and white.  I was so relieved the father was able to figure a way back in at the end, but those moments in which Christopher refused to lock fingers with his father were horrifying.

My final comment is in regard to the savantism of Christopher.  I only want to note that often in media outlets that feature characters on the spectrum they have Asperger’s or are savants of some kind.  I feel that the reason for this is because those characters are more high functioning or interesting, easier for the audience to like.

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2 Responses to Curious Case

  1. I wasn’t at all surprised by Christopher’s ability to sever ties from his father. Christopher experiences reality in a mathematical sense; unknowns or variables to Christopher can be solved by formulating an equation for the data presented to him. Upon the revelation that his father not only lied about his mother, but about killing Wellington, Christopher could no longer compute a satisfactory equation which made their relationship make sense. This is not to say Christopher experiences his father solely as math, but take it as a metaphor that order supersedes blood ties and familial love in Christopher’s world. The differentiation is integral for understanding how he responds with his world.

  2. I was interested by how he could detach. I end that sentiment at the word “detach,” because usually when people use that word it is reference to a strong emotion or a relationship. In Christopher’s case it gains a an almost new meaning. It becomes part of a complex mathematical system. From Christopher’s point of view, if it is cannot be logically explained it has no place in existence. At one point her says his father loves him, but only because he told him that. To Christopher this word lacks the connotation that it would have to his father. His father is distraught after their break, because, for him, love has a deeper felt inexplicable emotion behind it, whereas for Christopher this translates to a quantifiable reaction like trust (I trust you for these reasons, x and y, and if evidence is placed against those reasons, trust is removed from the equation). The episode when he cannot process or relate to the feelings he is having and suffers the blackout, seems almost like a safe guard for his mind, set in place to allow his inner system of logical to function, kind of like blocking out a painful memory, except in his case it physically hurts.

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