It had such promise.
Dostoevsky’s The Double is a mess. One of the strange problems of reading the writers of Great Books is that you usually start with the Great Books, and then move onto the rest of the corpus. It shouldn’t be a surprise that once you move to the B-list, it isn't as good as the A-list. Yet, it is always a disappointment nonetheless. Dostoevsky’s four Great long novels are as good as it gets. Indeed, The Brothers Karamazov is a legitimate contender for greatest novel of all time. Crime and Punishment, The Idiot and Demons? All long and all worth rereading. Notes from Underground is fascinating.
The Double? Ugh.
The most coherent summary is that this is the tale of a bureaucrat who becomes schizophrenic. On this reading, the double is just some sort of projection of his other self. Fight Club does this sort of thing much better (well, at least the movie—I haven’t read the book), though in that story the Double is not an identical twin of the person doing the projecting. But, in this case (Dostoevsky, not Pitt/Norton), it isn’t clear that the schizophrenia story works all the way through. I’d have to go back through the book to see if it all fits. That’s not going to happen. It probably doesn’t work. The book is just messy. I think I said that already. If it isn't a story about schizophrenia, then it is the tale of a guy who is a bit insane who also has a double and there is no way to tell where the insanity stops and the real double exists. That would be an even messier, and utterly pointless, story.
So, parting from the story entirely: suppose you found out you had a double, a person who looked so exactly like you that nobody could tell the difference, and that person moved into town. (By the way, I have a double. Some friends of mine found him. (Thanks, Aimee.) You can see my double here. Eerie. Fortunately, my Double died on the Titanic. Hmmm. Maybe “Fortunately” is the wrong word. It sure sounds wrong. Should that be “Tragically”?) Imagine further your double takes a job at the same place you work. Would you then go insane? Or would you figure out how to cope with the fact that you never knew if people knew they were talking to you or had talked to you the past? And if your double was evil, how much would your life be destroyed? OK, this is really a pointless thing to ponder. Some questions just aren’t worth asking.
Oddly, however, you can learn a thing or two asking pointless questions which don’t need to be asked. (Good life lesson, that.) After finishing that last paragraph and before starting this one, I was interrupted with some bureaucratic annoyances. My place of work is full of idiotic bureaucracy of late. Faced with the question of how to respond, I realized there are two separate selves living within my head. There is the patient, kind, thoughtful me. That me would have ignored the nonsense. There is also the impish agent provocateur who enjoys annoying people who deserve to be annoyed. That me would respond to the nonsense in a way designed to engender even further nonsense and have a merry time pointing out the incoherence of it all. The latter me won. So, it turns out I do, in fact, have a double who does, in fact, look just like me, and does in fact, work at the same place as I do.
And, that immediately makes me realize that Paul also talks about one’s Double in Romans (chapter 7, verses 15-24). I have that Double inside me too.
All of which wraps back to this song.