In the apartment block where I live, there also lives a pair of very identical twins. I couldn’t tell them apart if I tried, I suspect even their own mother couldn’t. To give you a visual, they are Eastern European, Polish perhaps, extremely well built, both sport a very orange all year round tan, and wear copious amounts of aftershave. Of course it might just be that it’s only one of them that has a weakness for the eau de whatever it is, but my hunch is that they are both drawn to it, equally.
As I stood in the elevator with them the other day, choking on that cloud of eau de whatever, studying their reflections in the three sided mirror which reflected not two but at least several hundred of them in fragmented slivers, I noticed that apart from all their natural similarities, they also had the exact same tattoos in the exact same places. As soon as I saw them, I came over all Freudian and wanted to quiz them about this conscious desire to be identical and the lengths to which they would go to sustain it. But don’t be misled by the weakness for fragrance and the obsessive grooming, these guys are very intimidating. I decided to keep my thoughts to myself.
I have always been fascinated by doppelgangers. It might well be that we are all attracted to the idea that there is someone out there who is the exact replica of us. Because no one else truly understands you, not fully and wholeheartedly, not the way that they should. The idea appeals to the narcissism that beats quietly at the heart of every single one of us. Consider how your ego flutters when an acquaintance tells you that you remind them of someone they know. What you would give at that moment to take a little peek at this other person and judge what this perceived resemblance says about you and how others see you.
A resemblance is one thing, but your exact double? That’s a little more complicated. The thought of it fills me with fascination and horror in equal measure. And therein lies (in part) the reason for literature’s own fascination with the subject: a double represents friend and foe in the same neat package. Your very best friend, and your very worst enemy rolled into one. But whatever enthusiasm you might feel for your double at the outset, be warned that it will always end in tears, as it almost always does in literature. Could this be a moral reaction against such an unnatural occurrence? Or a caution against that drip, drip of narcissism?
In fact, and in case we didn’t already know it; there is no such thing as a double. The latest developments in Epigenetics confirm that we are all more unique than we ever suspected. Even identical twins, whilst sharing the same DNA, have the same genetic capacity to be different, and often are in totally unexpected ways. This science is new and exciting and poses as many questions as it answers, but it does tell us that even identical twins can tattoo the same Celtic bands on their skin, but on the inside there is a genetic drift that means they are a little more unalike today than they were yesterday. Fascinating stuff. I might communicate that to the twins when I next share that mirrored elevator with all several hundred of them. But then again, I might not.