DOPPELGÄNGER | Group Show
A Group Exhibition
Curated by Aasim Akhtar
MEANING: Double, Twin, Look-alike, Apparition, Ghost, Alter ego, Hamzaad (Persian). The German word doppelganger is the most common term for the double in Western anthropological studies.
OUTLINE: The Double belongs unquestionably to the dark side of world mythology and folklore. It represents duality in its most perplexing and sinister aspect: the Twin as monstrous or metamorphic duplicate of its original. Even more potent is the notion that doubling involves the risk that the duplicate will overwhelm and consume the powers of the entity that generates it.
Nothing is more common to primitive mentality than the idea of doubling a person or thing by way of an image or object, even a name. The cliché says the ‘savage’ does not let his picture be taken for fear that his soul will thereby be stolen. The soul can be duplicated in an image, but the mere act of duplicating does not threaten to rob the native of his soul. The image itself is the problem. It can serve as a potential reservoir, a medium capable of drawing vital and spiritual force from its original, or transmitting impressions to it. What is done to the owner is done to the image.
Doubling is both a simple and an enormously intricate affair. In the mirror we are doubled and few of us get the chance, like Alice, to find out what it’s like on the other side.
Curiously, there appears to have been an outbreak of double mania in Europe in the last half of the nineteenth century. Obsessions with the double occur widely in art and literature, especially in the milieu of Symbolist painting around 1885, when occultism and satanic pretensions were all the rage. Dostoevsky wrote a famous novella about the double, and Gogol and other Russian writers treated it skillfully. Kafka’s beetle is a metamorphic twin of the poor Gregor, while Robert Louis Stevenson produced the classic tale of Dr Jekyll and his monstrous double, Mr Hyde. In America, Poe and Hawthorne dabbled with the double theme, and at the fin-de-siècle Oscar Wilde contributed his harrowing tale of Dorian Gray, a cruel, narcissistic aesthete who manages to transfer all his despicable moral defects to a portrait of himself, then dies gruesomely when he finally destroys it.
These, and many more, artistic renditions of the double theme captivated a wide audience at the very time that Spiritualism was on the rise in drawing rooms across England and the Continent. Maupassant, a French writer with a penchant for the supernatural, was sitting at his desk one afternoon in 1889 when he saw himself enter the room, sit down opposite him, bury his head in his hands and begin to dictate the very words of the story that Maupassant was then writing. When finished, the apparition stood up and vanished before his eyes.
Taken more intimately, then, the Twin proves to be something more than the product of straightforward duplication. It cannot be confined to the simple case of visual look-alikes, or the literal instance of two creatures born almost at the same time from a single womb. Biological twins, in fact, prove to be merely a special and limited case of the larger category of the archetype, which includes the Double and other variants, such as the rivals, scapegoat and soul mate.
Far more complex than it first appears, the matter of Twins requires us to develop a sophisticated version of ‘duality theory’. In the language of William Blake, these are ‘warring contraries’ that perpetually invade and repel each other. ‘Without contraries there is no progression,’ wrote Blake in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. And likewise, there is no desire without division.
Goethe, Maupassant and others were able to witness their own double and, for some reason, not expire, but the English Romantic poet, Shelley, was not so lucky. Prone to hallucinations from childhood, Shelley first saw his double strangling his wife, Mary – she, the author of Frankenstein. Not too long after this, while living in Italy in the summer of 1822, he encountered his double as he strolled on the veranda one evening. The apparition struck him, as if physically, with a scorning look and demanded, ‘How long do you mean to be content?’ This was on June 24, and by the 8 of July Shelley was dead, having drowned in a boating accident.
As a metamorphic twin, the double appears to embody the most powerful aspects of the strange conflictual bond that unites twins, making them firm but often unwilling partners in both life and death.