One must content oneself with selecting the most prominent of those motifs that produce an uncanny effect [...] of the “double” (the Doppelgänger) [...], a person may identify himself with another and so become unsure of his true self; or he may substitute the other's self for his own. The self may thus be duplicated, divided and interchanged. Finally there is the constant recurrence of the same thing, the repetition of the same facial features, the same characters, the same destinies, the same misdeeds, even the same names, through successive generations. (Freud 141-142)
Edgar Allan Poe's “William Wilson” offers a textbook example for the inexhaustible aesthetic potential that lies within the conflict of the split self. Yet, the doubling is first introduced in a prefiguration for the William Wilson Doppelgänger in the externalized character of the Reverend Dr. Bransby. An authorative figure of a principal, John Barnsby’s persona displays traits of a “double nature” having a countenance at times “demurely benign” and yet, on other occasions, a “sour visage” is observed by students (335). The building of the school itself, which is reminiscent of the infinite regresses and mise-en-abymic dimensions of a pars pro toto space of soul with “no end to its windings,” is divided into “two stories” and attended by “two ushers” (336). These doubles are interiorized and regressed into the mirror images hidden behind the names of two William Willsons, twins who are confounded by “detestable coincidence”, and separated merely by the third element, a connecting surface in oscillation, the spectral voice of the other, “a very low whisper” (340). In consequence, a gradual breakdown of the narrative plane is being performed within the triadic structure of the (1) unnamed narrator as a destructive force, (2) William Wilson as compunction personified in a separate identity, Freud’s eternal soul, and the (3) voice, which regains its essence only in unifying death. Irrational fear, a gothic atmosphere of impending doom, a sense of inescapable imprisonment motivates the drama of the narrative. The innovation in poetics is created by the substitution of the conventional conflict between protagonist and antagonist with a compulsive insistence for the Doppelgänger to return to his double. This compelling will is embodied in the endless language games hidden in the rhyming pair of the mirroring names, the initial “double yous,” the hidden capacity for language games: “will I am, will’s on,” “Will, I am Will’s son”. In the climax it is a destructive act of aggression and transgression, the irreducible collapse of the third element that inverts the polarity of host and parasite, thus replacing the ghost-like echo of the other with the voice of the narrator. The narrative of the homley, heimlich name, the originary secret of the story in the end is not possible to be told, rather it is the unheimlich horror of the double, the collapse of the opposition between the ego and the other that is presented as a sublime singularity by the closure of the plot.
A memetic variation of a similar conformation around an externalized double gradually shifting into an internal split is at work in H. P. Lovecraft’s short story “The Dunwich Horror” as well. Here, it is a series of generational metalepses, a regression of geneological mise-en-abymes that creates a mirroring effect reflecting on the inadmissibility of an originary father. Wilbur Whateley’s figure is portent with the same duality as the William Wilson character. The double nature of their names opens a gateway toward the singularity of an unknown, invisible, unassimilable trauma. In “Dunwich Horror,” the transparency the albino mother in Lavinia—a counterpart for her “dark, goatish-looking infant”—creates the oscillating surface as a territory for the incessant movements between the Doppelgänger and the inaccessible unity of the traumatic locus (636). The farmhouse in the story incorporates boundless, immeasurable expanses indexing the soul as a system containing a bigger pars pro toto structure than itself. A compulsive return to a genealogical origin is paralleled with a proliferation of dualities. Whereas the plot line follows a pattern of continuous progression towards the possibility of alluding to the name of the unnamable originary singualrity in the father Yog-Sothoth, “double yous,” and other rhyming alliterations contaminate the text. “Wilbur Whateley” (636), “witch Whateley” (640), the repeated moniker “Wizard Whateley's” (651, 652, 661, 667), the ever present “whippoorwills” (a word repeated twenty times on thirty-three pages), “Arkham Advertiser” (641), “Fred Farr” (659), these textual alliterations, doublings reach their dramatic peak with their collapse. The entire plotline revolves around duplicating hints towards the singularity of the unnamable father. In the climax of the narrative, the implosion of these dualities discloses the lacuna embedded in the text. As the copious number of alliterations imply, the dramatization of the unassimilable trauma is played out at a phonological level. The “W” splits into double “V”-s, then, losing essence, becomes unvoiced transforming into two “f”-s and ultimately, into one single consonant, the first letter in “Father” as the initial of the final referent: “ff—ff—ff—FATHER! Father! YOG-SHOTHOTH!...” (666). The irrevocable deconstruction of the narrative is swirling around the dead center of the paradoxical singularity in the name of the father: a name, which presents itself as a violent and contaminating textual intrusion by a narrative never to be told.
In the same vein, Poe's “William Wilson” is the dramatization of the inability and impossibility of uttering the name of the narrator. “Let me call myself, for the present, William Wilson. The fair page now lying before me need not be sullied with my real appellation. This has been already too much an object for the scorn, for the horror, for the detestation of my race” (330). The story that is not to be told unfolds in the singularity of the name behind the mask(s) of William Wilson. The narrative thus is nothing but an expression of its very effort to create a discursive condition when direct speech—addressing the self in the second person singular—becomes a possibility, even if at the expense of putting an end to an imploding plot. “In me didst thou exist—and, in my death, see by this image, which is thine own, how utterly though hast murdered thyself” (354).
Meme in genre transmutation
A memetic permutation of Lovecraft's doubles, Prince of Darkness (1987) directed by John Carpenter creates a parallel with just another short story on the author's Doppelgängers, namely “The Outsider” (1921). Its plot, which is centered around the uncanny experience of recognizing an abject other in the mirror image, is unfolding in an unheimlich place, “a venerable ivied castle in a thickly wooded park; maddeningly familiar, yet full of perplexing strangeness to me” (167). The sublime climax both of the short story and the movie is the dramatic point when the protagonist's hand is touching the “cold and unyielding surface of polished glass” [emphasis in original] (169), at which moment these narratives collapse. The singular instance of a union with the “Anti-God” just as with the “Anti-Outsider” constitutes a whirling aporia, the place of the impossible. The narratives, which are direct expressions of the effort to allude to a story never to be told, generate an implosion. The poetics thus created radically differs from the schematic closure of horror stories, wherein the final scene portends that the evil seemingly subdued is still in our midst. Lacking the capacity to open up for incessant homogenous repetitions, the Doppelgänger as a meme reifying a search for unity in identification inevitably leads to the weird shock of ending all communication, to the dreadful death of the work of art itself.