The Doppelgänger

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The Doppelgänger originates from Germanic folklore. It is the paranormal double of a living person, the hallucinatory result of stimuli to the left temporoparietal junction of the brain. The figure has been associated with bad luck, for it embodies the concept of bilocation or being in two places at once, clearly impossible. The vision of a doppelgänger by family members is said to foreshadow illness or impending danger, whereas when seen by oneself it becomes an omen of death. Various accounts of visions of the doppelgänger are apparent in the notes and letters of the likes of John Donne, Mary Shelley and Goethe. All saw doppelgängers of their wives, children or themselves shortly before a fatal accident within their families. In researching the figure of the doppelgänger it became apparent that these paranormal visions are a result of neurological stimuli, which in turn relates this folk figure directly to psychoanalysis. Otto Rank’s book, The Double: A Psychoanalytic Study, introduced to me the connection between Freud’s theories of the unconscious and the doppelgänger. Before Freud’s theories of the unconscious revolutionized psychiatry, artists foreshadowed his discoveries in their own probing of the mind. The 19th century brought about an artistic obsession with the doppelgänger. The notion of the “double” or “duality of the soul” became a common literary trope, through which artists were able to explore the realms of madness. For the artists the figure of the doppelgänger served many functions: it personified memory, while also contained the ability to join two extreme personality types in one individual. Doppelgängers most importantly allowed for a flirtation with madness. Through the sources it was apparent that again and again the theme of the doppelgänger or double recurs in literature from the German authors Chamisso and Hoffmann to Dostoevsky, Oscar Wilde, Conrad, R.L. Stevenson and Bram Stoker. 

Sources:

1. Rank, Otto. The double; a psychoanalytic study. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1971. Print.

2. Kautsky, Catherine. “Eusebius, Florestan And Friends.”American Music Teacher. (2001): n. page. Print.

3. Craft, Christopher. “Come See About Me: Enchantment of the Double in The Picture of Dorian Gray.” Representations. 91.1 109-136. Print.

4. Elbarbary, Samir. “Heart of Darkness and Late-Victorian Fascination with the Primitive and the Double.”Twentieth Century Literature. 39.1 (1993): 113-128. Print.

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