November 8, 2010
reproduction tajmahal
La Reproduction Interdit, Rene Magritte, 1937 (source)


A pair, when apart, are often comedic. Ever since Shakespeare’s A Comedy of Errors, which punned on two couples of identical brothers, a number of dramatizations have treated troublesome twins and the cases of mistaken identity—drawn out by spatial separation—that they cause. The Parent Trap (1961) is a particularly hallmark example as well as a preposterous premise treating the 50-50 division of ‘property’ recommended by the state of California in case of divorce: Dad acquires Susan, Mom Sharon. One wonders what the nature of this family film might have been were Hayley Mills cast as triplets.


Taken together, twinning often grows sinister; cellular separation might happen unevenly in the embryo, to present difference in eerily similar packaging. The possibility of an alternative personality—an alternative reality—is unsettling in its ceaseless urge to compare the pair. The twin is a reflection that can never be ‘resolved’; whose uncanniness disturbed Diane Arbus enough to evince its documentation (Identical Twins [1967]) while Stanley Kubrick felt a psychological thrill (The Grady Twins continue to haunt popular culture).


Mimicry and adaptation are as common in architecture as any other art, witnessed by the current vogue for replicating western settlements, wholesale, in Asia-Pacific. At the grand scale of the urban, such projects signify a sort of loss in the geographic estrangement from their original counterparts. It was, after all, architectural duality juxtaposed in time and space which drove Philippe Petit to enact the most daring performance in August of 1974: crossing the sky eight times between the World Trade Center’s twin towers before being arrested the same morning.


Kari Rittenbach


Taj Mahal, Photo by Jon Arnold


For centuries there has been speculation that Shah Jahan, the Mughal ruler behind the building of the Taj Mahal, had intended to mirror his wife’s mausoluem in black marble, across the Yamuna river, to serve as his final place of rest.


This legend emerges from the writings of Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, a Parisian pioneer of trade, who visited the site at Agra, in Uttar Pradesh, in 1665. Many suggest that Shah Jahan was unable to realize his dual vision because he was usurped by his son Aurangzeb partway through his Emperorship. Relics of dark marble were recovered in the facing Mahtab Bagh: the Moonlight Garden, which is located across the river from the original Taj. While these findings seem to support the existence of a Black Taj, excavations which were carried out in recent years, found that they were in fact fragments of white masonry which had become discolored over time, resulting in their surface appearance.


A more plausible theory regarding a secondary mausoleum was proposed in 2006 by archeologists who rebuilt a portion of the pool in the Moonlight Garden. A darkened reflection of the existing white mausoleum could clearly be seen in the water, ultimately resulting in yet another couple. Like Lava and Kusha, the Taj Mahal in its dual versions, joins the ranks of mythology’s famous twins.


Erandi de Silva



Edited by Erandi de Silva


3 Responses to “TWINS”


    I recently finished reading the book Gemini by Michel Tournier, a novel about twins who spend their entire lives fighting between the perfect specular security of the Geminate union of their early years, and the pressure to individuate themselves, to go out and create relationships and memories which are not shared, with of course one twin wanting more to move on and the other wishing to return to their primitive state, resulting in a round the world chase where the following twin enters the stories of his just-left brother via people with whom his brother had had relations thinking that he was the other twin. In every location he could only inhabit their old closeness by inhabiting the memories of others, and becoming the object of those memories in a melancholic play of usurpation. Somehow the strongest aspect I took of twinship from that book was not any duality as such, but the terrible loss that comes necessarily from it as it evolves from an initially perfect union. It is the total negation of duality in early childhood for twins, that form of total comfort, which leads inevitably to an even more painful realization of the isolation of adulthood, to that realisation of duality being something that separates as much as it joins, antagonizes as much as it comforts, a constant reminder of things lost and never to be regained. So instead of any sort of visual twinship in Architecture, it makes me think of the single child’s earliest memories of being in external space, with the very specific and particular colours, objects, fittings, smells and light that characterized that period, a certain warmth and comfort that replaces that of the womb and which is carefully constructed around us as children to be our first spatial surrogate for the parent. I cant help but think of that period, that age when there was no separation, no duality, between external space and that of personal identity, when there was a sort of infinite extension of self into external objects in certain confined spaces, as being the Architectural point of no return, the geminate union after which we are sundered into a specular twinship with the spaces around us, and which, like the twin chasing his twin’s shadow, we spend our lives running after, and trying to reproduce, in our designs, homes and houses…

  • Kari Rittenbach says:


    This, for me, is the entire crisis of the twin: that two things or people might be exactly the same — ie. identical — yet, inconceivably, also different. I (perhaps too poetically) understand Petit’s tightrope walk as a performance of the desire to fold the double back over onto itself, in a (clearly futile) attempt to reestablish the initial ‘perfect union’ of a whole; in this case the single skyscraper. It wasn’t only visual repetition but physical presence / proximity that precipitated his ‘irrational’ behavior — which in some ways, might also be considered an attempt at inhabiting the space between the towers, thus joining them. Instead of vainly attempting to reproduce the earliest experience of external space, he reacted viscerally to a ‘reproduced’ building. (ie. he was not an architect.)


    As for Tournier, ‘division’ always implies some sort of loss, no? I’m curious as to whether he has written about the hermaphrodite.


    He hasn’t as far as I am aware, although the idea of being sundered from a sublime unity in which the self is joyfully lost, is a recurring theme that he revolves around in the book Friday as well, where he has an intense relationship with the actual island itself, variously losing himself in the viscous, body temperature slime of a mire, and squeezing himself through tiny cavities, deep into the subterranean rock of a cave system with the help of a lubricating lather of milk, in both cases using the erasure of space and extension to dilute his sense of discrete existence. The hermaphrodite is different, and I’m not sure in the real sense anything to do with a feeling of completeness. I believe that someone who has both sexual organs still feels to be very much an individual and alone, but he-she happens to have a compound sense of identity within one single consciousness, rather than a union between two. In the case of Aristophanes’ lyrical hermaphrodites however the case is very different, and similar, since their punishment by Zeus by being cleft from each other leaves them wild with a sense of loss and longing for their other half, for all eternity, a story which posits our mythical origins as a particular kind of double-unity being, and explains poetically our futile desire to couple, and bridge the unbridgeable gap between each of us. I like the idea of the tightrope walker as a metaphor for the tenuous but irresistible drive to reach out and breach the isolation of singularity…



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