Returning home now to my small flat on boulevard Raspail, I stare at myself in the mirror and try to imagine that somewhere out in the world I have a sister who resembles me. In constantly looking at my own reflection, have I been inadvertently looking for her -- my doppelgänger?
The notion of the double had always fascinated me. At college, I had taken an entire class centered on self-reflexivity in cinema. It was this class that motivated me to become a director. Watching Ingmar Bergman's Persona, in which a mute actress and her nurse fuse identities at a secluded seaside town, I was mesmerized. My emotions were mirrored in the nurse's question "Is it possible to be two people at the same time?"
Now that the concept of the doppelgänger has become strangely relevant, I start to read whatever I can find at the local library. Doppelgänger comes from the German words doppel, meaning "double," and gänger, "goer" or "walker," but is commonly rendered in English as "double" or "look-alike." I remembered reading Freud's 1919 essay, "The Uncanny," in which he describes the phenomenon of the double as encountering something very familiar that becomes frightening.
Seeing one's double is often construed as a bad omen, which portends death. In fact, the poet Percy Shelley drowned in a river shortly after seeing his doppelgänger appear on his balcony. In folklore, doppelgängers are similar to vampires in that they cast no shadow and have no reflection in a mirror or in water. They provide advice to the person they shadow, which can be misleading or malicious. In many cases, once someone has viewed his or her own doppelgänger she is doomed to be haunted by images of that ghostly counterpart. In Edgar Allan Poe's short story "William Wilson," written in 1839, the eponymous protagonist encounters a classmate who eerily shares his name and birth date. Tormented by his double, whom he believes to be a saboteur, Wilson kills him in a climactic duel. Likewise, in Dostoyevsky's novella The Double, the protagonist's doppelgänger threatens to ruin his good name and usurp his position in society.
As I daydream about my newfound twin somewhere out in the world, I wonder why the idea of twinship has such a dark cultural legacy. Finding out I have a mysterious lost twin only exponentially increases the gothic overtones.
Just last month, my friend Laurent had chanced upon a sculpture that, he felt, bore an uncanny resemblance to me. While he was wandering through a small museum in Montparnasse, the sculpture The Polish Woman, who appeared to be one of my ancestors, had startled him out of his Sunday reverie. On Laurent's insistence, I visited her at the Bourdelle Museum the following Sunday. Expecting to see her at every turn, I walked with anticipation through the stately museum. As I passed through a gathering of monumental Greek gods, she came into view. Though she was just a small bust made of clay, the resemblance was remarkable; we had the same mane of thick hair and the same mischievous smile.
Until now, I had based my life on a fallacy: that I had been born alone. Rocking myself to sleep at night, the stuffed bear I bought myself the first day of college nestled against my chest, I repeated like a mantra, "I am alone. We are all born alone." I could no longer be lulled by that lie, though I would never be able to truly replace what I had lost. Was my twin the "we of me" that I had been unconsciously searching for all my life?