Sunday, 14 September 2008

Journal #10: Contraries Meet in One: Conjoined Twins as Symbols of Conflict Resolution

The Lives of Amphibians and Chimæras:
Journal #10
Contraries Meet in One:
Conjoined Twins as Symbols of Conflict Resolution
Recalling the two-headed hermaphroditic proto-people, the dual-self women, and the difficulties of a single text (or city) containing seemingly irreconcilable views, I turn to two sources, one I’ve discussed already and one I have not: the poetry of John Donne and conjoined twins.

“Oh, to vex me, contraries meet in one:/Inconstancy unnaturally hath begot…” So Donne opens Holy Sonnet 19, and it seems at first a description of the metaphysical conceit: “vexing” “contraries” “unnaturally” brought into “one”. Instead he discusses his constant inconstancy in religious devotion, which is not so contradictory as the language may appear. But I think we can use the metaphysical conceit to propose a temporary solution to our problem of the internally inconsistent work: in writing a text with divergent viewpoints (as Bakhtin insists we must, if we are prose-writers), we are committing an act of ‘yoking by violence together’ those languages. Just as the reader of a metaphysical conceit can work through the logic of the comparison, so a reader, with the ability to examine every view, work through the connections and comparisons and thus resolve the inherent contradictions. This does not mean that the languages will necessarily sit comfortably with each other in the text; it means that the reader can perhaps propose a solution, having seen from each person’s point of view. (This, of course, requires that the reader try to understand and then resolve them.)

A similar analogy that I have been slowly getting to all this time: conjoined twins. These are twins who are physically attached at birth, and sometimes share major organs. I shall here dispel two opposite misconceptions: 1) the twins do not have the same mind or always know what the other is thinking, nor 2) do they always argue. They sometimes agree and sometimes disagree.

Brittany and Abigail Hensel are dicephalic twins currently living in Minnesota; dicephalic means that they share their entire torso, appearing to be ‘two-headed’ (‘two-headed’ is inaccurate; because any person has only one head by definition, there is no entity which could have two heads… ‘one-bodied twins’ might be more accurate). Because of their physical state, they are forced to come to resolutions on decisions about which they do not necessarily agree. According to an interview, they argue a lot,[1] though other sources claim that they do so only rarely now that they’re older. Despite their many differences of opinion, they have learned to resolve conflicts most people cannot imagine facing.

I thus suggest we look to the Hensel girls not simply as an example of resolution but as a symbol of ‘contraries met in one,’ of heterglossic voices in a single text.[2] They are lessons in living together in spite of disagreements—even ones never resolved. I think that the Hensel twins, and cooperative conjoined twins in general, are emblematic of the necessity and possibility of different voices finding resolution in a single body.[3]
[1], accessed Dec. 6, 2007; for more information, search their names on Google or in YouTube.
[2] Apparently their mother dislikes it when people talk about them as anything but persons, but I refer back to Journal #8: symbols can be real people and vice versa.
[3] I really hesitated about putting this journal on my blog. I was concerned about bringing excessive publicity to the twins discussed here; certainly I would not enjoy being unwilling blog-fodder or the subject of various philosophical debates and lewd speculations. However, I am beginning to suppose it won't hurt them overmuch if I post this article, and may help others instead wrestle with their own experiences of duality and ambiguity. So I'm posting it. If I have caused ill, please let me know. And obviously I added this footnote afterwards. For new readers, refer to "journal series" under the list of themes to get the all 10 journals and the introduction.

1 comment:

Thinking about conjoined twins said...

read my imagination about conjoined quadruplets at

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