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Orin Incandenza

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Orin Incandenza is the eldest son of James Incandenza and Avril Incandenza. He once played tennis at the Enfield Tennis Academy, then continued to Boston University on a tennis scholarship. While there, however, he lost his motivation to play tennis, and instead discovered a new sport: football. In particular, Orin became the team's punter, and graduated to play professional football for New Orleans and then the Arizona Cardinals (#71).

Orin is estranged from his entire family except his brother Hal, and it is unclear why this estrangement has occurred. It is suggested that Orin and his mother Avril have had some sort of sexual relationship. Orin becomes a serial womanizer after the end of his relationship with the "P.G.O.A.T" (Joelle Van Dyne).

Orin is afraid of roaches.


As both Himself and Avril are extremely self-absorbed, it is only natural that Orin, too, would inherit these traits. From his father, Orin “learns to mimic the self-absorption he has been taught” (Holland 227), resulting in readily apparent psychological damage. Orin inherits his father’s cold, removed tendencies, becoming what one of his friends describes as “the least open man I know” (Wallace 1048)—Holland points out that this is a “charge that could easily be extended to his father Jim” (Holland 227). The very fact that Orin is estranged from all members of his family except Hal is reminiscent of the closed, removed nature of their father, and cannot be coincidental. Although Orin sees his father as so removed as to be nearly autistic, Orin himself is self-absorbed and more like his father than he believes.

From his mother, Orin learns the notion of “sincerity with a motive . . . I saw Orin in bars or at post-tournament dances go up to a young lady he would like to pick up and use this fail-safe cross-sectional pick-up Strategy that involved an opening like ‘Tell me what sort of man you prefer, and then I’ll affect the demeanor of that man’” (Wallace 1048). This self-absorbed sincerity with a motive is strangely reminiscent of Avril, about whom Joelle states that “she could detect nothing fake about the lady’s grace and cheer toward her, the goodwill. And at the same time felt sure in her guts’ put that the woman could have sat there and cut out Joelle’s pancreas and thymus and minced them and prepared sweetbreads and eaten them chilled and patted her mouth without batting an eye” (Wallace 747). Orin therefore learns to mimic the self-absorption of his parents at a young age, resulting in a permanent state of narcissism.

The cold self-absorption of his father and the sincere yet motivated narcissism of his mother combine in Orin to create his ultimate psychological damage: serial womanizing. As Holland remarks, Orin “mostly regards and approaches girls as objects, not subjects” (Holland 310), despite the fact that he refers to his conquests as “Subjects.” Indeed, at one point Orin ruminates that “this is why, maybe, one Subject is never enough, why hand after hand must descend to pull him back from the endless fall” (Wallace 566). But far more disturbing than his objectifying and womanizing is his target Subject: young mothers. Orin even asks his Subjects to display family photos around the location of the sexual encounter, which Holland rightly notes “reveals both the roots of this need to validate himself by pretending to love others and his desperate striving to gain the mother’s love he never received” (Holland 227). Orin is indeed psychologically crippled to the point of manipulation and disturbing sexual preferences, all of which is driven by the narcissism that he virtually inherited from not one but both of his parents.

Hideousness/Sexual Dysfunction

Orin's sexual dysfunction, brought on by the end of his relationship with Joelle, exposes readers to DFW's ability to detail very personal and nuanced anxieties. DFW reveals some deep-rooted intimacy problems in Orin Incandenza’s life, which are reminiscent of several of the conversations from Brief Interviews with Hideous Men.

Pages 565-567 detail Orin’s encounter with a Swiss hand model, and we see his detachment from her, and need to refer to her as a “specimen” or more frequently a “Subject.” Also, it is immediately clear that sex for Orin is all about Orin, not them both, as he says, “It feels to the punter to be about hope, an immense, wide-as-the-sky hope of finding a something in each Subject’s fluttering face, a something the same that will propriate hope, somehow, pay its tribute, the need to be assured that for a moment he has her, now has won her…” (Wallace 566). Orin finds more satisfaction in achieving his own weird goals than anything else. And forget about a connection, the sexual act brings him no closer to any of his Subjects than before. The fact that each of his Subjects are nameless does not help either. He desires to be the sole, all-encompassing object of desire for every woman he sleeps with, desires to be “the One.” Wallace suggests, “This is why, maybe, one Subject is never enough…. For were there for him just one, now, special and only, the One would be not he or she but what was between them, the obliterating trinity of You and I and We. Orin felt this once and has never recovered, and will never again” (Wallace 566-567). Wallace here reveals some trauma in Orin’s past that causes his current dysfunction. He also affords readers a lengthy and revealing interview with Orin in footnote 234, pages 1038-1043, which delves into Orin’s relationship with his parents and Hal’s episode with eating the mold.

The interview format from footnote 234 is identical to that of Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. The sexual problems are relevant as well, especially one interview from the beginning of the book, where one hideous man says, “The real fall-down of these wanna-be-Great type fellows is they think a lady is, when you come right down to it, dumb…. She wants to see herself as a Great Lover that can blow the top of a man’s head clean off in bed. Let her… Then you truly got her” (Brief Interviews 33). Orin clearly falls into the wanna-be-Great type, but are his problems deeper than that? He may want more than just to please women; he seems to want to encompass their entire range of desire. Does that mean he is still the fool spoken of in the interview, or does his exceptionally obsessive case make him, in fact, the hideous one?

Orin and Lacan

Marshall Boswell writes that Orin has "internalized Lacan, so much so that he uses Lacan's ideas to justify his pathological need to seduce woman after woman, all of which he ironically refers to as "Subjects." Hel captures the irony when he tells Orin, 'It's poignant somehow that always use the word Subject when you mean the exact obverse' (1008). The Subject position in Lacan is always, in a sense, an Object position, since the SUbject is always already a signifier of a deferred subject. Likewise Orin, whose name begs us to read it (also ironically) as 'origin' seems to accept the Object-like nature of Subjectivity... he is often referred to simply as'O,' Lacan's shorthand notation for 'the Other'" (152).

External Sources

"'The Art's Heart's Purpose': Braving the Narcissistic Loop of David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest."