Sexing or Specularizing the Doppelgänger: A Recourse to Poe's ‘Ligeia'

Publication: ResearchBook chapter

  • Department of English
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 fortify 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 doppelgänger literature by inquiring how the otherness of sexual difference - under the guise of castration - forms a conceptually coherent nucleus at the interface of both the uncanny and the doppelgänger motif. Doppelgänger narratives are racked with the persistent themes of unreliable 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 and the operations of the fetish. However, the repressed returns as other: sexual difference - one in which womb is equated with tomb as seen through the lens of male anxiety - indelibly marks the alterity within male subjectivity and the latter's concomitant crisis. Since the sexed doppelgängerin is disclosed as specularized, she features a disconcerting otherness that proves to be construed less in opposition to selfhood than as a constitutive element integral to the formation of subjectivity. To substantiate this framework, Edgar Allan Poe's "Ligeia" will be read as a paradigmatic example, in which its title character emerges as a terrifying Medusa-like doppelgänger.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationFear Itself : Reasoning the Unreasonable
EditorsMichèle Huppert, Stephen Hessel
Volume61
Place of PublicationAmsterdam
PublisherRodopi
Publication year2010
ISBN (print)978-90-420-2806-7
ISBN (electronic)978-90-420-2807-4
StatePublished - 2010
SeriesAt the Interface/Probing the Boundaries Series

    Keywords

  • doppelgänger, gender, castration, fetish, uncanny

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