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Is JOI Autistic?

Well I’m not clearing new ground here or anything. On page 736, we learn that Jim “said so little to Joelle on their first several meetings that Orin kept having to reassure her that it wasn’t disapproval — Himself was missing the part of the human brain that allowed for being aware enough of other people to disapprove of them.” Less than a page later: “The man was so blankly and irretrievably hidden that Orin said he’d come to see him as like autistic, almost catatonic.” At various times earlier in the novel, we’ve seen glimpses of Jim’s laser-beam focus on areas of specialty, his problems relating to people.

But then, lots of people are like that. I’m reminded of a flowchart or sort of illustrated narrative I saw fairly recently (I can’t find it now or I’d link it) that invited the reader to speculate whether or not he had Asberger’s (lots of people in Information Technology who are probably just weird seem to think they’re somewhere on the autism spectrum, and maybe a lot of them are) and then promptly answered that no, you’re just an asshole.

We surely can’t trust Orin’s assessment of his father. On page 738 (as if we needed such advice regarding Orin), we’re instructed never to “trust a man on the subject of his own parents.” Back on 737, after Orin has told Joelle not to read JOI as disapproving, we’re told “how no amount of punting success could erase the psychic stain of basic fatherly dislike, failure to be seen or acknowledged.” Still, we have these other clues that JOI is a little off-kilter.

So what do you think? Is he autistic or just eccentric? Or something else altogether?

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  1. September 1, 2009 at 12:33 pm

    I never thought of JOI as autistic, just terribly sad and damaged and withdrawn.

  2. September 2, 2009 at 4:51 pm

    I’ve always just taken it at face value that (a) Orin is unreliable and that (b) JOI had such a piss-poor role model where fathering was concered, it’s a wonder he was able to get by without actually abusing his kids and instead preferred to abuse himself.

    He did have a very intense bond with Mario, ironically enough, and this is mentioned frequently, so it’s not as though his distraction and withdrawal were consistent.

    It’s certainly the case that many people with extraordinarily high IQ or “genius” are also disastrous w/r/t social interaction. But that disastrousness usually does not get labeled autism. Or, it traditionally hasn’t. Everything is autism these days, so maybe by those standards we could lump the Sad Stork in there too.

  3. September 2, 2009 at 4:52 pm

    ahem…concerned

  4. September 8, 2009 at 1:37 pm

    Wasn’t planning to catch up on any infsum blogs for a fortnight or so, since the infsum site raised the spectre of spoilers. Glad to see it isn’t so!

    Regarding autism, I am going to stick my neck out and say that categorically JOI does not have Asperger’s Syndrome, nor an autistic spectrum disorder of any other kind.

    For evidence I would cite the bed moving scene with his father, where the young JOI tries to redirect his father’s ire away from the mother. A moving scene in several ways. JOI also helps his mother, unprompted, as she struggles with the vacumn cleaner.

    Further, JOI is concerned with his cinematic audience. He claims that he seeks to entertain.

    I don’t think that autism would serve this book well, since such characters would suffer from a non-self imposed restriction of choice, where the freedom to choose or choose to lose the capability to choose is all important.

  5. September 8, 2009 at 1:44 pm

    Thanks, Sarah. Good points all.

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