About Doppelgängers & Doubles

Doppelgängers & Doubles: Literary Alter-Egos, Automata, Mannequins, Clones, Avatars

The mysterious, eerie, uncanny doppelgänger, or “double walker,” has haunted western culture in folklore, myth, philosophy, romanticism, science and science fiction for more than two centuries, most recently influencing fashion, science fiction, film, virtual reality, social media, and video gaming culture. In literature, the doppelgänger functions as a literary device representing either the experience of a living person’s self-division or the phenomenon of a ghostly double that appears as twin, shadow, or mirror image—often of evil or misfortune. In modern consumer capitalism, human doubling evolves from the automaton, an early type of robot that replicates human form and function, into a reproducible and, more importantly, ideal and commodifiable form of “self as other” in wax museums, department store mannequins, and clones. Computer games and social media platforms provide virtual worlds for other possible selves: avatars.

In this course, we will read, analyze, discuss, research, and write about the concept of doppelgängers and reproducible doubling in a variety of guises—as shadow, automaton, mannequin, replicant, clone, and avatar—in a attempt to understand the meaning and relational function that disturbs or confronts the wholeness of self identity, dividing, fracturing, or mirroring the self. In other words, the doubling function of the doppelgänger not only as a figure, but also and more importantly as a process in disciplines like painting, fiction, poetry, opera, cultural studies, fashion opera, TV and cinema, and virtual reality.

We will explore the creepy + uncanny figures of Doppelgängers & Doubles in Freud’s essay on “The Uncanny,” E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Grimm’s Fairy Tale-esque story “The Sandman” (and its sampling in a modern performance of Jacques Offenbach’s nineteenth-century opera The Tales of Hoffman, the divided self of “double consciousness” theorized by W.E.B. Dubois, and literary doubles in Gilman’s “Yellow Wall Paper,” Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray, and a short story by Langston Hughes titled “Passing.” Our attention will move to the commodification of gender in human doubling we see mirrored in the figure of the mannequin, in fashion models, and in clones. Recent developments in biotechnology and computer technology raise new questions + concerns about robots replacing human workers, and the psychological affects of social media/computer game avatars.

Some of the video and film sources we will view include episodes from the original Twilight Zone series, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, Ridley Scott’s Bladerunner, Michael Crichton’s Looker, David Fincher’s Fight Club, Lana and Lilly Wachowski’s The Matrix, and Jordan Peele’s Us.

Double Dialogue

Olimpia’s Uncanny Significance in “The Sandman”

I have set some of the key passages from this online article in boldface type and italics. Note how what the writer, Michael Hauskeller, concludes in the last paragraph included below, parallels and intersects with the conversation of t”uncanny body double” that comprises the focus of Unit 2. A 2013 blogpost about “E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Olimpia” …

From the 19th Century to a fairly famous 20th century musical reproduction

” ‘The Sandman’: tale of horror and trauma still haunts, 200 years on” (from The Guardian, 2016) “In 1816, only four years after the Brothers Grimm brought out a collection of fairy tales carefully selected and edited for the use of children, ETA Hoffmann published his Nutcracker and Mouse King. To the extent that Hoffmann’s …


Unit I: Internal Conflicts of Literary Doppelgängers & Doubles (Ethnicity-Race-Sexuality-Gender-Class-Psyche)

Unit II: Capitalism’s Uncanny Doubles: Automata-Wax Figures-Dolls- Mannequins

Unit III: Scientific Doubles: Clones, Robots, & Replicants, Oh My!

Unit IV: Technological & Virtual Doubles & Avatars