Sexing the Doppelgänger: A Recourse to Poe’s “Ligeia”

Abstract

The fictional doppelgänger resists narrow categorization and definition, yet exhibits a peculiar feature: it is claimed to be the exclusive property of the male gender. As a sole male phenomenon, the doppelgänger would seem to underpin the essentialist scheme of a gendered identity. However, as the doppelgänger decisively decenters the idea of a unified subjectivity, it cannot be presumed that gendered identity remains miraculously intact. I seek to extend the traditional critical approaches to the iconography of the doppelgänger narrative by inquiring how the otherness of sexual difference forms a conceptually coherent nucleus at the interface of recurring and intertwining associations of both the uncanny and the doppelgänger motif. To this end, I shall resuscitate and demonstrate the theoretical and practical value of the castration complex, aspects underdeveloped in recent theory, by relocating it as a significant analytical terminus of the uncanny. Doppelgänger narratives are racked with the persistent themes of the unreliability of vision that pertain to the transposition of symbolic castration. It is not only blindness that figures as a displaced trope for castration, but also the sight of the castrated female and sexual difference; a danger circumvented by veiling the female body. However, this veiling remains tenuous as the uncanny dialectic between veiling and unveiling also operates according to a fetishistic logic in which sexual difference is both disavowed and affirmed. This fetishistic logic and the doppelgänger, moreover, become two versions of the same doublingmechanism, in which the self is narcissistically protected from castration and death by duplication of the phallus and self respectively. However, the repressed returns as other: sexual difference one in which womb is equated with tomb indelibly marks the alterity within male subjectivity and the latter’s concomitant crisis. To substantiate this framework, this paper will read Poe’s “Ligeia” as a paradigmatic example, in which Ligeia emerges as a terrifying Medusa-like doppelgänger.

Cite this paper

@inproceedings{Sencindiver2007SexingTD, title={Sexing the Doppelgänger: A Recourse to Poe’s “Ligeia”}, author={Susan Yi Sencindiver and Jorge luis Borges}, year={2007} }