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Friday, January 4, 2008

On Dopplegangers and Memory


The other day, I heard a loud honking outside. I went out and there were Mark and his car, Clive. Like a mother penguin recognizing her penguin babe's squawk in a sea of penguins, I'd recognized Clive's plaintive toot.

The fact that people can have such distinctly differing features, even though our range of features are limited, (eyes, nose, mouth, hair, skin color) baffles me. Only on rare occasion will I spot Mark's doppleganger. You'd think in large cities we'd run into each other's dopplegangers all the time.

Oliver Sacks wrote an excellent article in The New Yorker about a man with a severe case of amnesia. I'm surprised to find it online because the article was so intriguing and well-written.

Sacks' subject was 'Memento' personified. Every few minutes, his memory would reset, and he'd have no memory of what had just happened. You could come into the room, be introduced, and a moment later, he'd ask you who you were. He'd look at you as if he just woke up from a dream. (Interestingly, the amnesia patient was also named Clive. No relation).

Human Clive's diary entries were the most incredible things. Here's an excerpt from Sacks' article:

'His journal entries consisted, essentially, of the statements “I am awake” or “I am conscious,” entered again and again every few minutes. He would write: “2:10 P.M: This time properly awake. . . . 2:14 P.M: this time finally awake. . . . 2:35 P.M: this time completely awake,” along with negations of these statements: “At 9:40 P.M. I awoke for the first time, despite my previous claims.” This in turn was crossed out, followed by “I was fully conscious at 10:35 P.M., and awake for the first time in many, many weeks.” This in turn was cancelled out by the next entry.'


Even though Clive forgot pretty much everything - the present moments, and gradually, his long term memory, he retained a deep emotional memory. He remained married to his wife of twenty years, although they eventually lived apart. She'd walk into the room and he'd light up. When she was away, he felt blue.

In was inexplicable why Clive would light up around his wife, even though he'd forget things like repeated trips they took to Europe, their years together and whatever she'd tell him five minutes before. Sacks determined there was a deeper emotional memory that transcended facts, figures, even faces.

I thought about all this after racing out of the subway tonight and seeing Mini Cooper Clive parked across the street. I crossed at the light, opened the door and without a thought, plopped into the passenger's seat.

Clive could have easily been his doppleganger, another green Mini Cooper with certain rims and a certain antenna and certain side view mirrors. There aren't that many distinguishing features to choose from. I could easily have opened the door and plopped into the seat beside a completely different person than Mark. And then what?

It would've been an awkward moment. Unless Mark's doppleganger were driving Clive's doppleganger.


Photo by myself in Union Square.

9 comments:

Susu said...

Hi from Paris!

I recently discovered your blog, and I love coming over and reading about your homecity in such a fresh way. I find NY exiting, not always easy to live, but enticing in its difficulty. Paris is a bit the same - that's probably why I've already stayed here for 5,5 years. My blog is about expat life in Paris - pop in if you're interested! And all the best for the new year:)

Kitty said...

Hi Susu,
Thanks so much for stopping by, and your kind words.

I am a certifiable Francophile. Mark and I visited Paris last August and it was heaven. I wrote about moments during the trip, but certainly not enough.

Here's one inspired post .

I will certainly check out your blog! Cheers!

Ruvym said...

And here I was expecting that you'd gotten into somebody else's car. That would have been kind of awesome. I have the doppleganger thing going on a regular basis, or at least I used to. I really don't like wearing glasses, and my eyes used to be good enough to not have them on when I walked around. I can't tell you how many times I thought I saw someone I knew, only to run towards them, smiling, mouth slowly opening to say hello, and to see at an awkwardly-late moment, that it was some stranger. Does that count? I guess that's the sort of recognition brought on by bad eyesight. Otherwise, people always say they've seen my doppleganger, but I've never seen this guy. It might actually be more than one person, because it happens on a regular basis - "oh, I saw your twin." Maybe it's just because I got that "typical" dark wavy/curly hair and bushy eyebrows thing going, I don't know. Yesterday at Pianos on Ludlow, this waitress brought me a drink and was expecting me to pay for it. I was like "I didn't order anything." She looked at me like I was crazy. "You just ordered a drink." No, I didn't. "Then it was your friend." I point to the guy next to me - this is my only friend here. I don't know anybody else. She stuck around with her bill, looking around confusedly, looking back at me, thinking I was being a jerk. Then this guy comes around and asks if she has his drink. She apologizes, but then I look at this guy and all we have in common are glasses (with very different rims), scruff, and brown hair. Dude looked a little whack, if I have to be completely honest, to the point where I found myself a little offended - you thought I looked like that guy? I didn't actually say it but that's what was running through my head. Yeah so long story short, what I was trying to say is dopplegangers make the world go round.

The Uneasy Supplicant said...

Excellent excellent post. Very well written. I feel inspired :-)
I also love the photo Kitty. Excellent. You should go into journalism photography. Your work is great.
~JD

Kitty said...

Ruvym, that's amusing that you were a little insulted by her mistake. Sort of similar to your CVS misadventure, being mistaken for an employee. So I suppose you're the CVS employee's doppleganger?

I haven't met my doppleganger yet. I hope to.

JD, thanks awfully for your compliment. I am flattered.

I would make a career change if I had the gumption. I feel passionate about buildings but I can truly express myself via writing.

I was very tired last night and my brain was making wicked associations.

For now I will keep at it and we'll see how it goes. :-)

Tammy said...

I see my hubby's doppleganger all the time, but it's actually his twin brother. LOL!

Kitty said...

lol, Tammy.
It must've felt odd when you first started dating!

Ruvym said...

Speaking of photos, I like your photos too. I'm assuming you have a nice dSLR? I couldn't imagine that all that stuff is done on a regular point-and-shoot. If it is a dSLR, I was wondering if you know enough about cameras to help me get one for myself? I've been thinking about it for a while but don't know where to start.

Kitty said...

Thanks Ruvym!
I use an outdated Canon G5 (5 megapixel). It has a manual setting and has interchangeable lenses, though I only use the one.

I highly recommend Canon or Nikon. Canon makes the EOS 5D, which is a 12-megapixel camera. Mark is thinking of buying one.

Nikon makes the D200, which is a 10-megapixel camera. The pictures I've seen from both these cameras are beautiful.

I recommend going on Flickr. You can do a search by camera and compare which the pictures people are taking with whatever model.

Here's a search for the
Canon 5D, for instance, and here's the one for the Nikon D200.

The main thing is playing around with the Fstop and aperture settings. Bring your camera wherever you go. Then have fun with it!