Doppelgänger

In 1830 Berlioz wrote a five-movement program work called An Episode in the Life of an Artist, in Five Parts: Symphonie Fantastique. The protagonist of the episode is a “young musician of morbidly sensitive temperament and fiery imagination” (Cone, Hector Berlioz: Fantastic Symphony 31) who is “borne upon the ebb and flow of the wave of passions,” as Chateaubriand would describe his “moral disease” (23). The fourth movement of the Symphony is called “March to the Scaffold.” Between its opening solo timpani and the concluding snare drums rolling with the entire orchestra, the musician is hallucinating and watching himself. He fell in love with the woman of his dreams and has been seeking her everywhere while hearing a musical idée fixe. When he concludes that his passion will not be fulfilled because he never meets her, he poisons himself with opium and has the vision described in the Symphony’s last two movements. Together with the recurring melody he is now also haunted by another idée fixe that, starting with Romanticism, has troubled both music and literature, the idea of the Double. In its five minutes the fourth movement depicts a procession that is taking the musician’s double to the scaffold for the murder of his beloved:

According to this literary idea, a male person who entertains higher artistic, intellectual or social ambitions begins to encounter his double. Such autoscopic experiences usually occur at night or dawn. The person is infatuated with the most beautiful woman in the world but he cannot have her for any number of reasons: she does not exist, he met her or had a glimpse of her only once, or she is indifferent to him. This hopeless love makes him contemplate murder or suicide and also feel that he is followed by a male companion who seeks to control him.

Defining the Double is complicated because he can be confused with several figures. The Double is not a mirror image of the protagonist or his repressed identity. He is not a different self since there is only one self who is encountering his double. He is not the evil side of a split personality where the animalistic (low) nature of a wolfman is struggling with the spiritual (higher) one of a manwolf. He is a ghostly counterpart and companion of a living person, whom he confuses by making him feel torn between two identities. Such tormented characters seek to sell or lose their shadow in short stories like “Peter Schlemihl’s Miraculous Story” (1814) by Chamisso, “Biography of Kapellmeister Johannes Kreisler” (1819-21) by A.T.A. Hoffmann, and “The Shadow” (1847) by Hans Christian Andersen; novels like Doktor Faustus (1947) by Thomas Mann; and operas like The Tales of Hoffmann (1880) by Offenbach and The Woman without a Shadow (1917) by Richard Strauss.

In Berlioz’s Symphony the suffering musician feels that his love is never appreciated and decides to commit suicide. However, he cannot take enough opium to die and instead falls into a nightmare. He dreams that his double kills his beloved and is condemned for his crime. Duplication leads to damnation. He cries for forgiveness but it is too late. A procession to the sound of a march leads the double to the scaffold where at the end of the movement he is executed to the sound of a repeated brass fanfare, a tremolo on the snare drum and cymbal crashed.

The self who sees himself turning double develops a Doppelgänger/double-goer because he does not have a friend to whom he may talk. He is going through an erotic, spiritual, or existential crisis like the one that Jean Paul Richter had in 1790, when he experienced a vision of his death and came up with this neologism that he later used in his novel Siebenkäs (1827). And because he does not have “an other self” with whom to share his crisis, he begins to see a frightening double self everywhere and is alarmed by this Doppelgänger. Thus the self cannot possess his ethereal beloved neither can he put his arm over the shoulder of a friend. He is cursed to be a solitary journeyman. While seeking his beloved in town, in a ball and in the country the young musician in the Symphony never talks to anybody. Indeed in most of the Western music and literature when a self is preoccupied with a double, he does not have an other self, a Serenus Zeitblom who may write the life of an Adrian Leverkühn. With the Double, Romantic dualism turned into a nightmare, as we hear in the syncopation and dotted rhythm as well as the staccato articulation of the theme of the march in Berlioz.

Berlioz called his Symphony an “instrumental drama,” and its sequel, Lélio, or the Return to Life (1831), a “mélologue,” a musical melodrama. The anonymous musician who is the single character in the two-part work constantly tries to live life as a play where he is the sole protagonist, as a drama of hopeless love and irredeemable solitude. He represents a typical case of the demonic artist who over the last two centuries has been playing the role of the pianist, violinist, or composer. This modern individual performs a musician who is performing music. He is a true soloist in that he gives a recital in the role of the unaccompanied musician. However, he often ends up playing for himself and watching his double play his self.

The case of the young musician who does not have the courage to commit suicide (and probably feigns one) and instead witnesses the execution of his double shows that a friendless, solipsistic self is an individual’s worst enemy. As the modern person faces the dissolution of his personality, he tries to defend himself by demonstrating that he is a unique person who cannot be duplicated, exchanged, or replaced. But in many cases he takes the path of isolation by individualizing his person from the impersonal forces around him. Thus he goes his own way and lives apart. He fears life’s responsibilities and longs to disappear. But at the same time he also wants to run away from himself and become someone else. The double constitutes the internal threat to the modern self who is trapped in his interiority, and he leads him to his annihilation. In literary and musical works where he does not die, the self gives up his subjectivity and lets the double take his place, as it happens in the famous story “Borges and I” (1960): “Little by little, I am giving over everything to him, though I am quite aware of his perverse custom of falsifying and magnifying things” (Borges, Labyrinths, Penguin 1970, p. 282). At the end, self and double become indistinguishable: “I do not know which of us has written this page” (283).*  Yet the artist may reach a different understanding.  He thinks that he is alone but, as the years go by, he may discover that he is surrounded by friends who love him:

September 21, 2014

*  Here is how Dimitris Kalokyris, a consummate man of letters with a dazzling command of Borgesian thought, defines the Double in the Argentinian writer: “Το ύψιστο επινόημα δεν είναι το ένα ή το άλλο του φιλολογικό τέχνασμα, που κάνει ενδιαφέρον ή συναρπαστικό κάποιο συγκεκριμένο κείμενό του, αλλά η οργάνωση ενός συνολικού Έργου, που αποτελείται από ένα άθροισμα εμμονών, διατεταγμένων σε τρόπον ώστε να σχηματίζεται το εκατόφυλλο, ουροβόρο τείχος του Εγώ ως όψεις του ‘Άλλου’:  ένα πλέγμα απόλυτης αυτοαναφορικότητας (εύρημα ίσως σουφικής καταγωγής) και διαρκούς αυτοερμηνείας, η οποία συνεχώς αντικατοπτρίζει τον ψευδώνυμο απέναντι – αυτόν που ονειρεύεσαι, αυτόν που σ’ ονειρεύεται, αυτόν που σε κοιτάει μέσα από τον καθρέφτη, αυτόν που σε προϋποθέτει μέσα από τη σελίδα, το πρόσωπό σου, το πρόσωπο (καθ’ ομοίωσιν) του νοητού Θεού.  Ο ‘Άλλος΄, στο Ταλμούδ είναι ο αιρετικός, ο Αχέρ.  Στον Μπόρχες, είναι η αναίρεση του κατόπτρου” (“Μπεθ” [1992], Λεξιλόγιο, p. 128).

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