Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Two For One

I keep casting about for themes for story ideas. Just looking for something that crackles and energizes a plot. Last night, looking at myself in the mirror, I gave consideration to the old concept of the doppleganger. Good enough for Poe. Good enough for me.

A doppleganger is defined as

Etymology: German Doppelgänger, from doppel- double + -gänger goer
Date: 1851
1: a ghostly counterpart of a living person

2 a: double 2a b: alter ego b c: a person who has the same name as another

This concept of duality deserves a greater examination than is about to be offered on a blog, but it's intriguing to think of how fascinated we have been with this concept through history. Good and Evil. Christ and Anti-Christ. What would happen if when looking in the mirror we thought that there was something different about the image staring back at us, something unaccountable?

Is there horror to be found in this concept? Not overtly. But I think the idea mines discomfort from the need for individuality. If there is a doppleganger out there, then perhaps we aren't so unique. And perhaps everything we thought we knew about the nature of existence, or at least or place in existence, can be called into question.

Some folk truly believe in the idea of their double being out there somewhere. Some have explained it as a manifestation of out of body travel.

Consider if you will the case of Emilie Sagee. With thirteen students looking on, this 32 year old French woman was writing lessons on a classboard when her exact double appeared next to her, writing as she wrote. I think the documentation on this is questionable, probably an 1800's version of tabloid journalism, but it still captures the imagination.

And although we don't know of Sagee, we do know the names Guy De Maupassant, Percy Byron Shelley, and Queen Elizabeth---all three claimed to have seen their double at one time or another.


SQT said...

I remember as a kid this was a popular concept. It seemed like all the kids my age were fascinated by the idea of a double of ourselves running around somewhere. At that age I'm pretty sure it's an ego thing.

I like the idea as a concept for writing though. Stephen King had "The Dark Half" and I know Koontz has had a similar idea in at least one of his books-- though which particular title escapes me right now. I think it would be fun to write the story from the viewpoint of the 'evil' doppelganger.

Lana Gramlich said...

Interesting post. If you really pay attention & look around, you'll find that there are definitely large groups of people scattered throughout the world who all tend to look alike. Flipping open a photography magazine once, I came upon my ex's nephew, dressed as a bedouin in front of the Pyramids, staring back at me. I had to give it to his mother, who was flabbergasted. Even now a lot of people seem to think they know me from somewhere. One even insisted we went to school together (impossible, as I went to school in NY & Canada, never Louisiana.)
As for the duality concept, I find Westerners are almost locked into it & can't imagine possibilities beyond "A or B." "You're with us or against us," "you're a repub or a demo," etc., etc. The media promotes this to a large extent, unfortunately. I'm just floored at how so many people have been trained to think only in terms of duality, when there's actually a virtual universe of possibilities out there.

Donnetta Lee said...

Stewart: I did NOT know this about Percy Shelley. Hmm. Do you remember the old Twilight Zone episode with Martin Milner about doppelgangers? It sure scared me as a kid. If I had one, I would send her to work in my place. I just wrote a "pitiful post" about looking in the mirror and not knowing who was looking back. I was in a mood and not writing very well. Or was that my doppelganger???

Donnetta Lee said...

Hey, Stewart: Isn't it Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron? You know my toy poodle is named Percy Bysshe Shelley. My favorite poet. My favorite poodle.

Travis said...

I like to blame things on my evil twin, but I think I might freak out just a bit if I actually met that evil twin.

I might even wonder which of us was the real Travis.

Charles Gramlich said...

I try not to be anywhere around Brad Pitt for just this reason. Folks just can't tell us apart. But, of course, Lana is much more beautiful than Angelina Jolie so I've beaten Brad there.

Lana Gramlich said...

Charles; Awwwwwwwwwwwwwwww. (Brad's a filthy pig compared to you, sugardumplin.)

Stewart Sternberg said...

I feel like telling Charles and Lana to get a hotel room. Yeeesh. No, no..it's sweet. Really.

I think there is a lot on this topic to explore. It fits into religious concepts, ideas dealing with human nature and the cosmos. Of course the concept of duality is greater than the concept of the doppleganger.

Jon said...

I am my own evil twin.

Charles Gramlich said...

Looks at Stewart with complete lack of understanding. "A room? Whateverfor?"

marsha said...

Then there is always the twin you never knew you had. These days people talk a lot about clones. Maybe when your mom gave birth to you someone was randomly stealing stem cells and running secret experiments. Making babies, of course their lives wouldn't be as good as the original. Used as lab rats until the day of the escape. An accidental meeting on a dark evening. Who knows! I might have to use this story myself. :)

Stewart Sternberg said...

Charles, that's the kind of statement that gets one slapped by one's wife. I know these things, because I'm permanently bruised.

Marsha, I am always amazed at how people feel about clones. I've never felt any sense of unease about them. Of course, I'm the least religious person I know, next to Bill O Reilly, so I guess it's not surprising.

One film that fascinated me was BOYS FROM BRAZIL, based on a book by Ira Levin, the man who gave us Rosemary's Baby. I love the idea of trying to recreate the life experiences that would bring about a Hitler. Such an experiment would be doomed to failure, of course, because the set of circumstances that led to that perfect storm of personality could never be reproduced deliberately. Of course, if you kidnapped the kid and tortured him and programmed him..well...then maybe. I think that's probably what happened to Dick Cheney.