Monday, February 12, 2007

dissonant sib-ilance

I've never dated an identical twin, but I imagine it must be pretty creepy. People always ask my brother and me if we're twins (as our features have respectively gelled and sharpened over the years, the question has decreased in frequency). It's mostly positive for us--a phenomenon that boosts our familial pride and alleviates our fears that strangers at bars think we're dating.

There's something inexplicably off-putting about meeting siblings who bear a strong resemblance to each other. It's a weird feeling that's especially amplified in the university setting, most likely due to the combination of enforced intimacy and the sudden detachment from the outside world (as in, you probably won't meet your best friend's teenage brother until graduation, unless he shows up for a weekend, in which case you should force him to binge drink and try to trick a peer into hooking up with him). It's also hard to articulate why it's so odd; we love the idea of siblings who look alike, but it's faintly alienating in practice, like a conversation with a Canadian, or dried pineapple rings.

In Violence and the Sacred, French anthropologist Rene Girard has some funny ideas about why this happens (I'm reading this book for an English course, and I can't stop giggling as I flip through it in the library; anthropology is so hilarious and silly to me). In one of the chapters, Girard attempts to apply his sacrificial theory to ancient Greek tragedy and comes to the conclusion that violence--impure violence, as opposed to the "purifying" violence of sacrifice--is an inevitable product of undifferentiation, a chaotic state that results when hierarchies collapse. In tragedy, this is often symbolized in the conflict between brothers: Consider the section he excerpts from Malinowski's The Father in Primitive Psychology.
"I was then told by my confidential informants that I had committed a breach of custom, that I had perpetrated what is called "taputaki migila," a technical expression referring only to this act, which might be translated: "to-defile-by-comparing-to-a-kinsman-his-face."
This is, in many ways, a conception of the tragedy and the breakdown of boundaries that is antithetical to Nietzsche's view of the form as a positive, productive marriage of the Apollonian and the Dionysian that enables us to overcome the real root of suffering, which is individuation (While Girard doesn't discuss Nietzche's theory, he does flippantly accuse him of being a Hellenophile).

Besides being totally hilarious, the idea of taputaki migila--the negative connotations of inter-sibling resemblance--does, in a bizarre, twisted way, begin to explain why the experience makes us uneasy. While noting intense physical similarities between people doesn't drive people to murder them or sacrifice a goat, it does draw their individuality into question. Or, in the case of twins, causes one to constantly worry if they're pulling an old school switcheroo.

11 comments:

NickAntosca said...

It's like the Uncanny Valley, except with siblings. The more resemblance your friend's sibling bears to your friend, the more discomfort you feel.

Rich said...

ah, twins. a subject near and dear to my heart. i've always felt fortunate to be a fraternal, rather than identical, twin. but despite the fact that the the resemblance between me and dan is just familial (at least in my opinion), i've often found that simply being a twin is enough to make people get confused and often lump you together...like phone calls from friends asking for "rich or dan", or people calling us by the wrong names, etc...

those minor inconveniences can be laughed off, but not surprisingly they probably helped lead to more competition as each of us tried to prove his individuality and be known as better at sports or school or blogging, etc...and unlike with other siblings, the lack of age difference gave neither side an excuse...but i believe that the extreme levels of competition were much more evident when we were growing up, as opposed to now (except for short, finite events like squash matches, which still get pretty heated)...and at least in our case, i hope that the past 23 years have shown that we're not trying to pull a switcheroo...

elmrockcity said...

You never pulled a switcheroo? Not even in like, 4th grade?

Rich said...

well, that doesn't mean we didn't come close to the switch...

dan: hey rich, why don't we mess with ms. crabtree tomorrow and switch seats in social studies?
rich: not a bad idea, but she might notice our different eye colors, no?
dan: yeah, well, you can just wear blue contact lenses.
rich: why don't you wear brown ones?!
dan: you wear blue!
rich: fine, let's play tecmo super bowl for it.
(rich scores a 3rd quarter touchdown, dan throws his controller down in disgust and resets the nintendo)
dan: whatever, the machine was cheating for you. jordan jammer shooting contest?

and you can imagine how this might have continued on...

elmrockcity said...

Haha..

My brother and I used to decide significant matters by playing a game called "Wrestle for the Ball." Rules self-explanatory.

sebastian said...

jeez, who's making you read rene girard?

elmrockcity said...

I'll give you a hint: she wears diamond rings on every finger and a caftan, and her breath smells like booze.

Steve said...

What's hilarious and silly about anthro? I never took anything beyond an introductory course, but it seems to have a lot of useful tools.

[ said...

Damn, your bro's got pipes!

elmrockcity said...

Anthro is completely useful and intelligent; the other day, I found myself applying Girard's theory of sacrifice to a book I was reading for the 18th century novel..

The humor, I think, lies in the fact that anthropological texts tend to be a lot more lucid, anecdotal, and hyper-specific. And they use funny words.

fin said...

I always wanted a twin. And red hair. Unfortunately, I have neither...