Pale King Preview
“Backbone,” a new excerpt from David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King, appears in the new issue of the New Yorker. An expository excerpt:
Most professional contortionists are, in fact, simply persons born with congenital atrophic/dystrophic conditions of major recti, or with acute lordotic flexion of the lumbar spine, or both. A majority display Chvostek’s sign or other forms of ipsilateral spasticity. Very little effort or application is involved in their “art,” therefore. In 1932, a preadolescent Ceylonese female was documented by British scholars of Tamil mysticism as being capable of inserting into her mouth and down her esophagus both arms to the shoulder, one leg to the groin, and the other leg to just above the patella, and as thereupon able to spin unaided on the orally protrusive knee at rates in excess of 300 r.p.m. The phenomenon of suiphagia (i.e., self-swallowing) has subsequently been identified as a rare form of inanitive pica, in most cases caused by deficiencies in cadmium and/or zinc. The insides of the small boy’s thighs up to the medial fork of his groin took months even to prepare for, daily hours spent cross-legged and bowed, slowly and incrementally stretching the long vertical fasciae of his back and neck, the spinalis thoracis and levator scapulae, the iliocostalis lumborum all the way to the sacrum, and the interior thigh’s dense and intransigent gracilis, pectineus, and adductor longus, which fuse below Scarpa’s triangle and transmit sickening pain through the pubis whenever their range of flexibility is exceeded. Had anyone seen the child during these two- and three-hour sessions, bringing his soles together and in to train the pectineus, bobbing slightly and then holding a deep cross-legged lean to work the great tight sheet of thoracolumbar fascia that connected his pelvis to his dorsal costae, he would have appeared to that person either prayerful or catatonic, or both.