Saturday, May 31, 2008

Lesch-Nyhan Syndrome, Gene Wolfe

Lesch Nyhan and "Gene Wolfe" yields nothing in google. See this excellent report by Richard Preston in The New Yorker for a description of the syndrome. People suffering from the genetic disease are compelled to hurt themselves - they eat food they hate, they say no when they want to say yes, they bite off their fingertips, they rip off their own faces.

When I was perhaps thirteen I read Wolfe's _The Shadow of the Torturer_. In it, a character is subjected to a device called the revolutionary, which is described as waking an enemy in the condemned. The effect is exactly that of Lesch-Nyhan. The subsequent events in the novel disturbed me enough that after I finished the book I never thought about it again until, in college, I accidentally read another work by Wolfe and was lead back to _The Book Of The New Sun_. Surely he was thinking of Lesch-Nyhan.

Side-note - in college some friends played a game in which they asked each other if they would rather have x or y happen, where x and y were horrible. Something like L-N was x or y once. I never understood the appeal of the game, though they each had some self-destructive tendencies. Sadly one of them later drank himself to death.

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