Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Instead Of A Mirror: Anne Tyler’s Twinform

I learnt about Twinforms in Anne Tyler’s  novel A Patchwork Planet.  Barnaby, the protagonist, finds  an old  Twinform ---a wooden cut-out model with custom -painted face - so a lady could plan an outfit without having to get undressed,  in the attic of one of his elderly clients. It belonged to her mother.
From the description the Twinform seemed so real that I had to check it on Google, but was not able to find any information about it. 
Still regardless of its physical existence the idea of having a twin, or at least someone who looks like me so I could really see myself from the outside, is inspiring,
I have always suspected that mirrors were not enough, but Mikhail Bakhtin conveys the full complexity of the issue.
Mikhail Bakhtin, "Man in Front of a Looking Glass"
"[Those] falsehoods and lies that inevitably reveal themselves in one's relations with oneself. An external image of thought, an external image of the soul. It is not myself looking at the world with my eyes from inside myself, but myself looking at myself through the eyes of the world, through somebody else's eyes; I am possessed by the Other. In this, there is no naïve wholeness between the inner and the outer. [In front of a looking glass, I am t]aking a peep at myself in my own absence. The naivety of [believing in] the fusion between the self and the other in a mirror image. An excess of the Other. I have no point from which to contemplate myself from the outside, I have no way to approach my own internal self-image. There are somebody else's eyes gazing at me from my eyes."
In this beautiful and short passage Bakhtin confirms that I would never be able to look at myself from the outside.
Yet, the concept of a Twinform is comforting, it could enable me, at least, to see my outward appearance in a detached way. I could observe whether the blue skirt goes well with a yellow blouse.  
Seeing a favorite piece of clothing on someone else, even a Twinform, would allow me a different point of view , devoid of emotions.  Besides, it is a great way to prepare combinations of outfits for a journey, or for the week ahead. 
Since it is only a model, the delightful Twinform does not allow for changes in size throughout the years.Thus, just like mannequins in the store window, who normally look nothing like the real customers of that store, eventually could become irrelevant.
In the world of the novel  the Twinform, which was invented by the protagonist’s paternal great great-father, is a literary device, and it has significance in terms of the plot of the character. For example, when it appears for the first time Tyler uses it to introduce the protagonist’s history and to present him as the black sheep of the family.

But as a reader I kept thinking that, in the absence of my mother who could tell me honestly how I looked, I wish I had a Twinform.

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