hello hello! twins in art & lit
November 29, 2005 5:34 PM   Subscribe

Twins of the world! This is a question for you: what media (books, movies, documentaries, poems, photographs, paintings etc), fiction or non, do you feel best expresses your own experience as a twin? All lengthy anecdotes welcome :-) [Here's your opportunity to deny or confirm the suspicion that all twins love the Polish Brothers.]
posted by ibeji to Media & Arts (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm a twin, I've never heard of the Polish Brothers, and I've never felt that my experience as a twin in any way has been acknowledged by any particularly form of artistic expression. Such a thing has never occurred to me and, now that I consider it, I can't comprehend any fundamental aspect of twinness that would be best represented by any of the above.

Being a twin, for me, entails having a brother who is the same age as me. If there's anything special about that, I don't know what it is.
posted by waldo at 7:04 PM on November 29, 2005

Best answer: I'm an identical twin. I've never found a really good expression of what it is like to be an identical twin. I've given it lots of thought, it is kind of like being married to someone for 50 years but even that doesn't capture growing up side by side from before we were born. How can one accurately express a sense of self being wrapped up in and around another?

Identical twins are like two expressions of a single design. That gives rise to a feeling, perhaps false, that I know my twin like I know myself, which is not so well but better than I know my wife or my other brothers. And I think all people see their shortcomings best in others, but for twins that can be taken to an extreme. I'd also say that my grandfather is a fraternal twin and I've generally found a big difference between the experiences of identical and fraternal twins.

I think the cover photo of this book is great and the book itself does a decent job of illuminating the world of twins. I'd never heard of the Polish Brothers.

If I have a favorite anecdote about twins, it is being told by a doctor during my teens that the likelihood of having fraternal twins is hereditary but that identical twins are a freak of nature. That sounds about right.
posted by McGuillicuddy at 7:40 PM on November 29, 2005

Dead Ringers is the closest thing to my own experience as a twin... no, just kidding.

I have to second what waldo says -- I've never seen any art that has much relation at all to what being a twin is like. The experience, such as it is, is completely ordinary, which is what non-twins don't understand.
posted by xil at 7:44 PM on November 29, 2005

I'm a twin, too. Fraternal, not identical; I'm 3 minutes younger. It is indeed like having a close sibling, but a little bit cooler ;)

The Polish Brothers are pretty hot, but I had never heard of them before...and I don't have a twin fetish, so I can't really recall any media that documents twins. A friend once gifted me Arundhati Roy's God of Small Things, but it came nowhere close to my experience as a twin.

I've found throughout life, when introduced to other sets of fraternal twins, I get along best with also the younger twin, whereas my sister gets along better with the older twin. Which is a pretty cool phenomenon.

A big handicap that took years of adjustment has been to omit the word "we" when I spoke about myself or refered to myself. You are just so ingrained with a collective consciousness about yourself in conjunction with another person in all decisions and motivations, that it really always was about "we". As you get older, you build new lives and drift towards new mates, and grow less dependant on each other. Which is good.
posted by naxosaxur at 8:12 PM on November 29, 2005

I have to say here, and I mean no offence to McGuillicuddy, but twin art kind of creeps me out. I feel a little, but only a little objectified. Being a twin is just normal to me. But sexual fantasies about having sex with twins really freaks me out (would you like to have sex with one of your siblings?), and matching outfits and twin themes just annoy me.

I think you need to disaggregate twins into identical and fraternal, and those who find being a twin meaningful, and those who find it a coincidental.

I was only really touched by one portrayal of twins in the media: Life is Sweet. I like it because one twin was like my brother-- resentful of always having to share attention with another person (me), and another was completely blase, but sorry my brother had a hard time with the experience. I also liked the portrayal because it's a good movie where two interesting characters just happen to be twins, and one just happens to be gay.

It's frequently hard for me to explain to people that my twin and I are on very good terms, love each other very much, but aren't particularly close. We developed our own personalities, our own lives and interests. We don't like being pressured into being a pair. We hate being compared. He's an investment banker, I'm a librarian. We don't envy one another. We're just happy that we're both happy with our very different lives.

Gosh. I did write a lot, but you asked.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 8:30 PM on November 29, 2005

First, in one of Plato's books he talks about love being twins that made a whole (kind of like yin and yang) and are separated and trying to get back together. I read it long ago, but I remember grasping that thought best of all of Plato's writings. Even though I took it as complete bunk compared to many of his less philosophical ideas.

Second, I think for twins the experience is completely ordinary, but for non-twins it is not. I've been told so many times "I wish I had a twin". I love all my brothers and sisters the same and they're all just my brothers and sisters, but I have a relationship to my twin that is somehow different. Not like we can read each others mind, but I know how he thinks. Not what he thinks, but how he thinks. Because by nature and nurture we are clones. For good and bad, he thinks more like me than anyone in the world, while the cognitive state of 50% of the world think is a complete mystery to me. I'm looking at you, crazy fundamentalists.

I'll echo naxosaxur that the idea of me always included a we that was different than "me and my family". And also that I tend to get along best with the oldest twin (I'm older by 7 minutes). But I've never met a twin I didn't like anyway.

I'd also agree with gesamtkunstwerk that both societal expectations and bad twin art are often really creepy. Twins interest me but I generally won't discuss it with most folks. I hate the stupid questions. I make exception for random strangers on the internet.
posted by McGuillicuddy at 8:50 PM on November 29, 2005

The experience, such as it is, is completely ordinary, which is what non-twins don't understand.

That's a great way to put it. As a kid, my brother & my best friends were twins. (Purely by coincidence -- they were our neighbors and were our age.) I figured everybody had a twin -- I bet it wasn't until I was in second grade that I figured out otherwise.

I've only been a twin. I have no idea what it's like to not be a twin.
posted by waldo at 9:04 PM on November 29, 2005

Best answer: One unique experience I have had as a twin is that no one told us who was older. Our parents say there was confusion as to who was boy 1 and who was boy 2. My dad doesn't seem to know. My mom claims not to know, but the family doctor admits that he has promised to say nothing.

We don't really care and find it funny that such pains were taken to guard the feelings of the yonger twin. We're only ten minutes apart, but we came within 1 minute of having different birthdays. That would have been two parties, two cakes, etc. Perhaps that was reason enough for the intrigue.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 9:05 PM on November 29, 2005

The Bobbsey twins.

Just kidding. I meant Brenda and Brandon from Beverly Hills 90210.

Um yeah no. My twin brother is just a sibling who is the same age as me. That's a bit too boring for television.

Also, keep in mind, that being a twin is most exciting/special to people who aren't twins themselves. For me it's just my life, and it's ordinary. We aren't any better represented/reflected by twins in the media than we are by other sibling sets.
posted by Kololo at 9:46 PM on November 29, 2005

Never heard of the Polish Brothers either, but me and my twin used to get a big kick out of imitating the twins from The Shining.
posted by Sara Anne at 10:39 PM on November 29, 2005

Oh, and every once in a while we still proclaim "Wonder Twins! Activate!"
posted by Sara Anne at 10:40 PM on November 29, 2005

Best answer: I am a fraternal twin (without any other real (long story) siblings to compare it to), and manage the significant mental feat of feeling both completely normal and completely strange. Outsiders seem fascinated not only by the fact that I have a twin (and I just love the reveal and the reaction - totally over the top for something that seems so mundane), but by how completely different we are, in looks and personality. Hell, I myself am fascinated by it. It's affected my self-image as much as anything.

Even so, the idea of having an identical twin blows my mind, probably because it'd be diametrically opposed to my own twin experience. But I guess we all share the experience of using "we" when talking about our pasts, of being referred to as "the twins," of cheap bastards buying us one birthday present to split, of people scrutinizing our faces for samenesses and differences, of having a companion since time began.

As for the original question, uhhh...I really don't think there are any for me. It's quite underused as a plot device. Especially fraternal twinship.

Oh, and people always ask who's older, like it matters all that much who was plucked out of my mother's gaping stomach first, or maybe I'm just bitter because I'm one fucking minute younger which means I have "Twin B" on my birth certificate, and which my sister will never let me forget. Oh look, she's calling now...
posted by granted at 10:48 PM on November 29, 2005 [1 favorite]

Here's a lesson for me: don't post until you've thought the question through.
I remember digging up a classical reference to twinship, but i can't remember where from, that the youger of the twins belong to the dead, which is convenient as the younger is usually the weaker, and probably was more likely to die.
Twins are sacred in the Voodoo religion.
Most of the plots I can remeber used to be about twins as personality opposites (The Parent Trap, The Patty Duke Show, Tia and Tamara, Mary Kate & Ashleys teen-age movie). I am an identical twin and so are my older sisters. They seemed to fit the whole personality opposites model of twinship, while my twin and I were more like the creepy, stereo twins ("We want to play with you. Forever. And ever. And ever.")
posted by Sara Anne at 10:59 PM on November 29, 2005

Best answer: Me: It's quite underused as a plot device. Especially fraternal twinship.

OMG, I totally forgot about this classic!!! Couldn't be more true to my life!
posted by granted at 11:03 PM on November 29, 2005

Oooh! A twin thread! he thought eagerly. Imagine his dismay when he read the comments and found that everything he was going to say about his own twin-ness had already been eloquently and succintly said.

So in short, to echo:
- I have never found anything in art or lit that I identified with, twin-wise, nor had I ever considered the question until now.
- Being a twin is ordinary for me. When people say "I wish I had a twin" all I can do is shrug.
posted by PercussivePaul at 11:16 PM on November 29, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for all your great answers! Many of you seem to resent "specialness" that society imposes on you, which goes against my own experience, but this is a necessary side of the coin for me to see. The good twin/bad twin thing is awful, and clearly a myth, yet the twins I've known inevitably have parents who fall victim to it... (one set's "bad twin" was seen as such since the age of 2 because of her very vocal playfulness--I used to babysit--and she has acted accordingly since). Not much different than regular sibling relationships actually, yet people read more into it because of the rarity.

FWIW the Polish Brothers reference was an attempt at xil's much better Dead Ringers joke ;-P (They are one example, at least, who see some specialness in twin-ness. They make good movies too!) But special-ness aside, I really was just wondering what best showed your experience period, ordinary as you wanna be! Thanks, everyone :-)
posted by ibeji at 6:36 AM on November 30, 2005

What a great thread—thanks for posting it, ibeji. I used to live with a woman who had an identical twin, and it fascinated me to see how over the years they got less and less identical: in childhood pictures they were indistinguishable, but during the time I knew them they got visibly more distinct until no one would have had a problem knowing which was which. I never envied them, but it fascinated me to see the relationship, very close and yet often as tense as any other sibling relationship.

MetaFilter: I make exception for random strangers on the internet.
posted by languagehat at 7:26 AM on November 30, 2005

Best answer: I've had to admit to my fiancee that the bond between my identical twin brother and I is stronger than the bond I have with her. I'm fortunate that she is highly intelligent and understands/accepts this.

I echo the phrase, "I've only been a twin. I have no idea what it's like to not be a twin."
posted by camworld at 10:18 AM on November 30, 2005

Best answer: I agree with my brother, camworld. I've never known anything else.

Cam and I often spend time together doing things in public. For instance, we went gambling in Atlantic City last weekend and--I'm not kidding--more than twenty different people saw us together at a card table, or getting into an elevator, and said some variation of: "Whoa, I'm seeing double", or "You guys must be brothers." Ad naseum.

After awhile, it just gets old. I've become so accustomed to it that I respond usually with a polite smile and canned response, "Yes we're twins," when what I really want to be saying is, "Of course we're twins; are you really so shallow that you can't tell and have to reinforce your clever observation with an inane comment?"

I know people are fascinated with identical twins. I've been one my entire life. I can't help but to know it. However, I sometimes truly resent how people see it as being "special" somehow. I'd rather be seen as special for my intelligence, wit, sense of humor, and personality, instead of an interesting genetic accident.
posted by mrbarrett.com at 10:28 AM on November 30, 2005

Best answer: A couple of books worth reading, for both twins and non-twins.

The End of the Twins : A Memoir of Losing a Brother, by Saul Diskin

Twins, by Marcy Dermansky

Entwined Lives: Twins and What They Tell Us About Human Behavior, by Nancy L. Segal

Diskin's book is about losing his twin brother to cancer; very moving and well-written. Dermansky's book is a fun read, though I think she could have used a better editor. Segal's book has more of a scientific approach but is easy to ead.
posted by camworld at 12:27 PM on November 30, 2005

Best answer: I've always liked this poem:

The Twins
Henry Sambrooke Leigh

In form and feature, face and limb,
I grew so like my brother,
That folks got taking me for him,
And each for one another.

It puzzled all our kith and kin,
It reached a fearful pitch;
For one of us was born a twin,
Yet not a soul knew which.

One day, to make the matter worse,
Before our names were fixed,
As we were being washed by nurse,
We got completely mixed;

And thus, you see, by fate's decree,
Or rather nurse's whim,
My brother John got christened me,
And I got christened him.

This fatal likeness even dogged
My footsteps when at school,
And I was always getting flogged,
For John turned out a fool.

I put this question, fruitlessly,
To everyone I knew,
"What would you do, if you were me,
To prove that you were you?"

Our close resemblance turned the tide
Of my domestic life,
For somehow, my intended bride
Became my brother's wife.

In fact, year after year the same
Absurd mistakes went on,
And when I died, the neighbors came
And buried brother John.
posted by McGuillicuddy at 3:02 PM on November 30, 2005 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you sincerely, guys. This helps a lot :-)
posted by ibeji at 8:10 PM on November 30, 2005

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