from My Dear Double

by Donald Nicholson-Smith, translating from the French by Abdellatif Laâbi



My double
an old acquaintance
whom I visit with moderation
He is a shameless fellow
who plays on my shyness
and has the knack of profiting
from my distractedness
He is the shadow
who follows or precedes me
aping my walk
He even winkles his way into my dreams
and speaks the language of my demons
fluently
Despite our close intimacy
he is still a stranger to me
I neither hate nor love him
for after all
he is my double
the proof by default
of my existence

Notes on the Poem

This week's Poem of the Week is an excerpt from "My Dear Double", a selection from the 2017 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlisted In Praise of Defeat, a collection of the work in French of poet, novelist, playwright, translator, and political activist Abdellatif Laâbi, translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith. The poem touches with beautiful simplicity on an age-old human fixation, that of the clash of opposite natures in the world around us, and in ourselves. The dualities of good and evil, life and death, beauty and ugliness, power and weakness and more are often encapsulated using the literary device of the doppelgänger. The doppelgänger is a look-alike counterpoint to a main character or figure that, while the same or similar in appearance, is the polar opposite in terms of other features or qualities. The popular culture trope of the "evil twin" is a common illustration of this device, and might be what Laabi and Nicholson-Smith are referring to here: "He is a shameless fellow who plays on my shyness and has the knack of profiting from my distractedness" Laabi and Nicholson-Smith are in fine and varied company exploring the doppelgänger as a symbol of an individual's capacity to contain these conflicting attributes within onself. "The Semiotics of the Doppelgänger: the Double in Popular Culture" (2014 in Culture Decanted) offers a lively and extension examination. As recently as this year, the newly revived and acclaimed series "Twin Peaks" has tackled the idea of doppelgängers in an intriguing fashion. As "My Dear Double" notes: "Despite our close intimacy he is still a stranger to me I neither hate nor love him" The concluding line of this excerpt posits why we have this enduring, albeit often wary, fascination with our own dualities: "for after all he is my double the proof by default of my existence"

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