• Who Are You? Identity, the Self, and Their Many Multiples

    Mairead Small Staid Considers What It Means to Not Recognize Ourselves and the Ones We Love

    Madame M. had been married to more than eighty men. They looked identical: had they ever gathered in the same place, she could have lined them up like paper dolls, holding hands, cut oh-so-carefully from a single folded sheet—but they never did. Instead, each replaced the last, as he had replaced the man before him, and he the man before him, and on and on until there had been one man, her husband, the real one, long since lost to the distant haze of memory. She could hardly recall his face—though, of course, the same face peered at her now, its mouth frowning, its eyes concerned. The same face, and yet she knew—she knew!—that it wasn’t his. Wasn’t him. He had been abducted, murdered, who knew.

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    Who knew? She did.

    “If this person is my husband, he is more than unrecognizable, he is a completely transformed person,” Madame M. told the doctor—and why was this doctor bothering her? She needed to speak to the police, the government! At the very least, she needed a lawyer, to help her obtain the divorce she had requested from this new man, this man who was not her husband. “My own husband has not existed for ten years, is not the person who is keeping me here,” said Madame M.

    The doctor was sorry, but he would not be able to help Madame M. with her petition for divorce, nor with her request to speak to the police about the dozens of men who had appeared in her house only to vanish soon after, replaced by imposters. He would not be able (he was so sorry) to help at all. He would, however, publish a scientific paper describing her concerns, her explanations, and her insistence—her delusion, in short, which would thereafter bear his name: Capgras syndrome.


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    I have been married to no men, though I’ve promised to marry one. Or is he— one? At times—his familiar features relaxed in sleep or masked by sunglasses, his words glossy with the patina of polite lies or unvarnished in anger—I’m less certain. The man I know better than any other becomes a stranger, toward whom I feel an indefinite tenderness or a surer apprehension. He is, however briefly, not himself, and these other selves accumulate over the years we spend together, ghosts haunting the edges of our home.

    We are haunted not by subjective but by subjunctive doubles, multiplying.

    I proliferate into specters, too, I’m sure, my selves furious or distracted or manic or cold. How many people we might seem to be, from the outside. How brutal, to be reminded of this unstable fact. Who are you? C. said once, when we were fighting. A terrible question—didn’t he know? Wasn’t that his very responsibility, to know me even if no one else did? To see me not beneath or despite or around the edges of my frustration and my rage, but in them? Inseparable? Singly selved? Only the fiercest bonds keep us entwined with these people we know and do not know, love and do not love. We would never again speak to a stranger who had treated us so terribly, whom we had tormented so much. But we return to our lives and homes and beds, forgiving the one we find there for how they did not see us as us, forgetting how we did the same.


    The 1923 paper on Madame M. written by Joseph Capgras and his intern, Jean-Reboul Lachaux, was titled “L’Illusion des ‘sosies’ dans un délire systématisé chronique.” Sosie means double or doppelgänger in French, the word derived from an ancient play. In Plautus’s Amphitryon, Mercury assumes the appearance of the eponymous soldier’s servant, Sosia, to deflect attention from Jupiter’s seduction of Amphitryon’s wife while the hero is away at war. But Jupiter, too, wears a false face: he is posing as Amphitryon, who has come home early, and the wife, Alcmena, thinks she sleeps with her husband. Half the dramatis personae are doubles or doubled, a cast full of doppelgängers. “The man is crazy,” Mercury says of Sosia, baffled to find his own face refusing him entry to his home. “Crazy?” Sosia replies. “You’re putting your own complaint off to me.”

    Early researchers theorized that Capgras syndrome was purely psychiatric, rather than rooted in damage to the brain, as now seems likely. Because they found the disorder occurring more often in women, those Freud-battered doctors thought it a symptom or side effect of hysteria. (The oft-recommended cure for which, throughout the centuries, was marriage.) But can you blame a woman if she sees imposters everywhere? She’s read the stories; she knows the plays. Gods are always taking the form of husbands, tricking their way into bed.

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    “I believe that we should be made to suffer for actions committed in dreams,” says a character in Aaron Kunin’s The Mandarin, “in our own dreams and when we appear to others in dreams.” I find the line delightful in its strangeness and its surety, and I repeat it at least once a year. When I curl up to C. in bed, sleep-slurred and childish, and tell him You were mean to me in my dream, he apologizes, without fail; I do the same when our roles are reversed. He knows my love for the Kunin quote; he never says, It wasn’t me.

    But it wasn’t—that’s what made the dream a nightmare. It wasn’t him at all.

    I often repeat the line, but I misremember it: I say held responsible instead of made to suffer. A euphemistic rendering, diplomatic and farcical, as if stern yet just punishment might be meted in response to our unreal sins. As if some Tribunal of the Imaginary might hear our case, our respective arguments. But Kunin’s words imply a more vivid retribution, no judge and jury but a more primitive form of justice: made to suffer. Are we? Made to suffer for our misdeeds in each other’s dreams? If so, it’s a slow punition, a creeping sense of unease that manifests in our waking hours when we are tired or irritated, when we start to grow suspicious of the other’s many selves.


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    The current understanding of Capgras explains it as an inversion of the more common prosopagnosia, or face-blindness, whose sufferers rely on emotional responses to tell them what they cannot consciously be certain of: that the person standing before them is someone in particular, loathed or admired, feared or beloved. Someone with prosopagnosia recognizes Mom not by her eyebrows or her cheekbones but by the feelings flooding their limbic system, feelings (one hopes) of warmth, safety, and nourishment.

    Someone with Capgras syndrome, on the other hand, recognizes their mother’s eyebrows and cheekbones but feels none of that warmth, safety, or nourishment. Their conscious recognition remains intact, but their unconscious is unconvinced. When researchers gauge the emotional response of a Capgras patient—by measuring the perspiration exuded, an effect of the limbic system—they find no more reaction when the patient views a loved one than when they view a stranger.

    Researchers theorize a neurological basis, perhaps triggered by trauma, for this disconnect. “[T]he temporal lobes contain regions that specialize in face and object recognition,” writes V. S. Ramachandran in Phantoms in the Brain. “In a normal brain, these face recognition areas…relay information to the limbic system, found deep in the middle of the brain, which then helps generate emotional responses to particular faces.” In the brain of someone suffering from Capgras, Ramachandran believes, some part of that connection—from the temporal cortex through the amygdala to the limbic system—is fractured.

    This breakage, this failure to connect fact with feeling—another kind of fact, and a handy one at that, as anyone suffering from prosopagnosia could tell you—demands explanation. “He would not feel a ‘warm flow’ when looking at his beloved mother,” Ramachandran writes of a patient. “Perhaps his only escape from this dilemma—the only sensible interpretation he could make given the peculiar disconnection between the two regions of his brain—is to assume that this woman merely resembles Mom. She must be an imposter.”


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    We don’t feel how we should feel upon seeing our mother or husband or friend: something isn’t as it always has been. Something is wrong—and it must be wrong with them, for to admit that the wrongness might be with us, in us, that we might not be who we always have been, is an untenable proposition. “Sometimes an image can place its spectator under serious accusation,” said the painter René Magritte, whose bowler-hatted heads look away from the viewer, the all-important face denied. The image of a beloved’s face places the Capgras patient under the most serious accusation of all—That’s not you—an allegation that will not stand. So the patient denies it: disturbed by the reflection of himself glimpsed (or absent) in his interaction with the beloved, he refuses its veracity. It is the other that must be mistaken, the mirror that must be broken.

    An elaborate narrative is crafted by the Capgras patient to account for the uncanny resemblance of people taken for strangers: Madame M.’s delusion included the kidnapped children of royalty, underground operating theaters, and the imprisonment of thousands of people beneath the streets of Paris. Where else could all those imposters have gone? The mad, wrote John Locke in 1690, “do not appear to me to have lost the faculty of reasoning, but having joined together some ideas very wrongly, they mistake them for truths…by the violence of their imaginations, having taken their fancies for realities, they make right deductions from them.”


    Occasionally, the Capgras patient doesn’t reject the accusation leveled by the disconnect in his brain: That’s not you. One of Ramachandran’s patients, upon seeing old pictures of himself, refers to the person in them as an imposter. “He looks just like me,” the patient says, “but isn’t me.” This additional delusion, in which the self is duplicated along with others, is called the syndrome of subjective doubles, and Madame M. endured it too. “[T]he captivity that I am suffering really should be suffered by someone else,” she told Capgras. “I know perfectly well that someone was released instead of me…who bears some resemblance to me, someone from the district whom I knew, who dresses like me and who takes my place in my flat during my absence.”

    The subjective double takes its sinister place in countless cultural touchstones, from Invasion of the Body Snatchers to Us, from Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Double to Jorge Luis Borges’s “Borges and I.” “It’s Borges, the other one, that things happen to,” the story begins. The fear of someone else wearing our face, speaking with our voice, taking our place in our homes and beds, committing actions for which we’ll be held responsible (or made to suffer) is an ancient and ongoing fear.

    But if Capgras syndrome seems like something out of a horror movie, the plainspoken strangeness of the Borges story gestures toward a more ordinary sort of terror: the face we present to the world is not who we are. Borges articulates the paradox of celebrity—the better known the face, the less known the man behind it—but each of us experiences the surreal disconnect between self and the many ways that self can be perceived. This fracturing doesn’t even require other people. Glancing at a mirror or an old picture, recalling the shame or guilt of the past, we recoil: That’s not me. We grasp at hypotheticals, conditionals, aspirations; we imagine selves we never were or might yet be. We are haunted not by subjective but by subjunctive doubles, multiplying.

    Over time, Ramachandran’s patient became concerned that he was the imposter, while the real him was elsewhere. “Mom,” Ramachandran quotes the man as saying, “if the real Arthur ever returns, do you promise that you will still treat me as a friend and love me?”

    “If I started to regard myself as several people, which one would I plan for?” Ramachandran wonders. “Which one is the ‘real’ me?” This question, complex as it is, is complicated further by the knowledge that one is as unstable a signifier as real. In Reality Is Not What It Seems, the physicist Carlo Rovelli writes, “The world of quantum mechanics is not a world of objects: it is a world of events…A stone is a vibration of quanta that maintains its structure for a while, just as a marine wave maintains its identity for a while, before melting again into the sea.” Even the earth beneath our feet is not an object but an occurrence, eons-long. And much like the earth, like its stones and its waves, we are not solid facts but happenings. We are paper dolls, strung out.

    Which one is the “real” me? I’m biased toward my present self: I protect her from the recriminations of the past; I concede to her moods and impulses at the occasional expense of the future. But that future self, whoever she might turn out to be—I do plan for her, as best I can. I say yes when C. kneels before me on a sun-drenched rooftop in the throes of early spring. I say yes with every day that passes: seeing C. in each of his many selves, and trying to make it just the slightest bit easier for him to see me in mine. This fact, this action, feels like an adherence to my real or realest self—we like to think that means best—but how can I be sure? How can I know that she—my future self, that soon-to-be-real me—will do the same, will want the same, will keep the promise I have made?


    My edition of Amphitryon begins with two “arguments”—summaries of the play not written by Plautus but after the fact—that read like two sides in a court case. “While Amphitryon was engaged in a war with his foes, the Teloboians, Jupiter assumed his appearance and took the loan of his wife,” begins one, while the other proposes: “Jupiter, being seized with love for Alcmena, changed his form to that of her husband.” The axiom that two sides exist to every story is literalized in this play ruled less by Jove than Janus. The story, like its characters, is twinned: seen from a different side, it wears a different face.

    When the real Amphitryon returns home from war, he rages: at Sosia, spouting nonsense about being beaten up by his own self; at Alcmena, confused by her husband’s second triumphant return. Chaos reigns until, in the play’s final scenes, Jupiter steps in, revealing himself and explaining all. This explanation is accepted—happily!—by everyone involved. The story closes when Alcmena gives birth—without pain or assistance, as swiftly as a bolt of lightning—to twin boys, one fathered by her husband and one, a young Hercules, fathered by the god.

    Even the Greek root buried in the Latin title—amphi—hints at a doubled nature, a bothness. Plautus called his play a “tragicomedia,” straddling genres. But is the play made more by this bothness, or is it split and somehow watered down? Are we? Do we gain from our amphibious, ambiguous natures, or do we lose some wholeness, some part of ourselves shorn away? Are we doubled or are we divided? “Ye immortal gods!” Sosia cries, when confronted with his own face refusing him entry to his home. “For heaven’s sake, where did I lose myself? Where was I transformed? Where did I drop my shape?”


    We spend most of most days together, C. and I. We watch each other stumble or race through moods and energies over the course of seasons, weeks, and hours. We are close and near-constant observers of each other—dispassionate or sympathetic, depending on the state of our own moods, our own energies, though they are inevitably influenced by the other. His joy is amplified in me, as is his misery, his worry, his anger; mine finds its way into him. Doubled? Or divided? We are expert in each other. I know his face as well as I know my own.

    “Reality is reduced to interaction,” Rovelli writes of quantum physics. “Reality is reduced to relation.” We orbit each other like twin suns or particles; we press together as the core of some nucleus, our arms and legs and lips and words the protons and neutrons making it up. This is my reality: the dance of his hands on the piano as I read in the next room, the warmth of his neck against my buried forehead, the fleeting absurdity of jokes known only to two people in the burgeoning universe. Our joy is dense, compressed within these walls, their blank faces adorned with evidence of the life we’ve built together.

    But still, there are days: he is not he; I am not me.

    I am not so enamored as to think these statements rise and fall in tandem, not so foolish as to misuse Rovelli’s facts as metaphors any more than I already have. I lived alone for a decade; I was myself for many years before I met him. Identity doesn’t require an external force to feel unstable, fragmented, or unforgivably wrong: Where did I lose myself? Where did I drop my shape? But it’s true that part of the appeal of solitude, the tug of it running under my cohabited life, is the promise of stability it offers: a way of staying myself, my doubt lessened. The crime of thinking myself a constant and consistent presence is easier to get away with when there is no witness.


    “[S]cientists recording cell responses in the amygdala,” Ramachandran writes, “found that, in addition to responding to facial expression and emotions, the cells also respond to the direction of eye gaze.” The person looking directly at us means something different from the person averting their eyes—though we don’t need the glowing map of a brain scan to know this. But for the Capgras patient, these people don’t mean differently but are, in fact, different people. When Ramachandran’s patient was shown a series of photographs of a model taken at different angles, he believed the model to be a new person whenever the direction of her gaze changed.

    Our brains are attuned to the slightest shifts of eye and nerve—this is evident in the daily measures we take, distinguishing the fine gradations of another’s moods. But in the thick of a fight, in the throes of our indifference or anger or fear, I wonder if our limbic system pulls back in some small degree, marshalling its forces in retreat. Can our unconscious recognition of a beloved—that usually warm feeling—be lessened, however slightly? Do we experience, if only in the most fractional degree, the disconnect of the Capgras patient? If ever he could be an imposter, it is now, my blood boiling and his eyes averted. Who are you? we ask, in our outrage, for we do not know; we have been tricked.


    At the museum, C. and I find Magritte’s The Promenades of Euclid at the end of a long room. The painting shows an easel standing before a window, the cityscape on the canvas aligning perfectly (or so it seems, at least) with the city beyond. The conical gray top of a tower dominates half of the painting-within-a-painting and is mirrored, in the other half, by the gray, barreled curve of a road below, narrowing to a point as it vanishes into the distance. The Promenades of Euclid, Magritte titled it, though the tower would be measured, were it real and three-dimensional, using non-Euclidean geometry: curved surfaces stymied classical equations. But the canvas renders all geometry Euclidian, for a painting of a curved tower is, of course, necessarily flat. A joke, I think: Ceci n’est pas une tour. “I love it,” C. says, and I agree. We walk through the shocking beauty of each room slowly, separating and then coming together again, drawing each other’s attention to what details we have seen. Doubled, I think. It is doubled.

    A friend of Magritte claimed, in his memoir, that the artist made and sold fake Picassos, Braques, and Ernsts to support himself in the 1940s. With the help of a brother who was a printer, says the friend, Magritte forged banknotes, too. The accusation is too perfect, like the painting of a city overlaid on the city itself. “Magritte’s alleged forgeries are part of a ‘counter-oeuvre’ existing in opposition to the official, art historical ‘Magritte,’” writes Richard L. Matteson Jr. “This counter-oeuvre subverts and undermines any simple summary of ‘Magritte’ as a coherent, self-consistent figure.” Ceci n’est pas un Magritte. This isn’t a Magritte, nor one. How could it be? There are so many.


    In a paper co-written with William Hirstein, Ramachandran theorizes that studying Capgras syndrome might provide neuroscientists with insight into the relatively mysterious field of memory. The brain of a Capgras patient, Ramachandran writes, displays “a relatively intact or even exaggerated ability to individuate different episodic memories, but a deterioration in the ability to generate enduring categories (e.g., ‘my father’) by extracting and linking a common denominator across successive episodes.” The failure is not one of memory loss but a kind of object constancy: the person—father, mother, husband—is remembered in detail, but cannot possibly be the person standing before you. Seen anew, they must be a new person.

    From a certain angle, the memory and perception of the Capgras patient seem to be overly capable rather than flawed. Of Madame M., Capgras writes: “Her deeply detailed examination, when applied to strangers, leads her to disregard the characteristic features of their facial appearance and leads her to concentrate upon imperceptible changes which she exaggerates and which are sufficient to prove to her that doubles exist.” Ramachandran’s clean-shaven patient pointed to a moustache in an earlier picture of himself as proof that it showed a different man. Memory and perception are not missing but hyperactive in these examples; the patients resemble the protagonist of another Borges story, “Funes, His Memory,” who possesses perfect recall—semantic, episodic, all of it. “[I]t irritated him that the ‘dog’ of three-fourteen in the afternoon, seen in profile, should be indicated by the same noun as the dog of three-fifteen, seen frontally,” Borges writes of Funes. “His own face in the mirror, his own hands, surprised him every time he saw them.”

    In An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Locke posited that memories were essential to identity formation, that memory makes us who we are. “[A]s far as this consciousness can be extended backwards to any past action or thought,” Locke writes, “so far reaches the identity of that person; it is the same self now it was then.” Capgras syndrome is often comorbid with Alzheimer’s, that more prevalent loss of backwards-consciousness; those who are so twice-afflicted lack the episodic capabilities of Madame M. and Ramachandran’s patient. Their enduring categories (“my father,” “my self”) endure no more. Locke’s formulation—memory equals identity—is a commonplace in the language surrounding Alzheimer’s: It’s not him, a wife might say of her suffering husband. But isn’t it her own identity that the disease throws into doubt? Who are you? becomes not an accusation but an honest question. Memory makes us who we are, Locke says—and makes others who they are, perhaps.

    But Locke’s equation is missing a few variables. There are the ordinary failures of memory, for one thing: I don’t recall the first few years of my life—does that mean they weren’t mine, weren’t me? I also have what seems to me a staggeringly bad sense of memory, unable to recognize the times described by other people’s prompting words. Was that really me? A kind of mental vertigo comes on when I try to remember my life in its variegated entirety: the rushing flood of innumerable scenes is overwhelmed by the vaster mass of days I cannot recall, not in fractions, not one bit. What I can remember is a gentle wave; what I’ve forgotten is a tsunami.

    Isn’t it possible that memory might not reinforce our identities but cause us to question them?

    It’s the successes of memory, though, that give me greater pause. Isn’t it possible that memory might not reinforce our identities but cause us to question them? Able to recall all the times I have been other—have been not myself—I am swayed, like a jury, by reasonable doubt. I can recall those times, yes, but I cannot always feel them: I recognize my past self only consciously—those are my actions, my kinetic sense of the body in which I live—but I feel no subconscious warmth. Like Madame M., I might say of my past self only that she bears some resemblance to me, dresses like me, takes my place in my flat during my absence. Surely, she is an imposter—for if she isn’t, then I must be. “Who am I, if I’m not Sosia?” Sosia asks his impersonator, asks himself.

    But I feel, now, like I’ve written this on other pages, in other essays. I feel like I’m repeating myself, or not myself—repeating the words of that other person, those other people, who look rather like me and with whom I so often agree.


    In Magritte’s The Human Condition, the easel on which a landscape has been painted stands before a window-framed view of the landscape itself. “Which is how we see the world,” the painter claimed. “[W]e see it as being outside ourselves even though it is only a mental representation of it that we experience inside ourselves.”

    Some Capgras patients also suffer from reduplicative paramnesia, a condition in which the patient believes inanimate objects have been replaced with identical doubles. These objects can be small—a vase, a chair—or they can be massive—a house, a town, a whole country—as if a place, too, can be re-placed. Ramachandran’s patient believed there to be two Panamas, where he had been on a recent vacation, and two United States. The painting of the landscape grows large enough to enter, to walk beneath its shade and sun. Which is the truer grouping of trees and grasses? Which the real sky, and which the false—the one without, or the one within?


    “It’s easy, though, to confuse the act of eating with the thing eaten,” writes Matthew Gavin Frank in The Mad Feast. Or the act of reading with the thing read, the act of writing with the thing written, the act of loving with the thing loved. The person, I mean: the person loved. That’s part of the problem: everything breaks down this way, foods and words and bodies alike, until you’re just a thinking, feeling, devouring self, separated from the world by the filmy skin of your obsessive awareness, a border you cannot cross—it’s a skin, after all, and it’s yours. You cannot flay yourself and live.

    But I know this isn’t true. With all due respect to Magritte, I know that the apple exists beyond the bite I take from it, even if that crisp hewing, juice pulped between my teeth is what apple means to me. What something means to me, I know—though it’s taken too many years to get here, selfish beast that I am—is not all that something is. The words I read don’t need my reading to live, and even the words I write grow away from me, a severed and transplanted branch.

    The person I love exists outside my loving him. C. walks through the world even when I’m not there to keep pace; he speaks whole sentences I’ll never know. And when he is in sight, in reach of eye or ear or hand, still he exists beyond what I can see or hear or touch, beyond the discussion we have about the day’s errands or the arms he lifts me with, catching me distracted by the bookshelves, pages falling to the floor below our laughter. Somewhere behind and beyond this evidence of my senses, his own senses taste and glimpse, his mind hums along, utterly independent of my witness.

    I can’t prove this. I can’t know it in any real or useful way, but saying it seems at times like the best impulse I have, the most generous. It feels a little like faith, like a tenet worth believing in and acting upon. And when he disappears behind sunglasses or in sleep, when he is transformed in rage or sorrow into those others, those imposters who wear his features and bear his name, I require just another article of this faith in which I’ve chosen to believe: to know every one is him, to find him—known, loved—in every one. Identity lies, says Locke, “in nothing but a participation of the same continued life, by constantly fleeting particles of matter, in succession vitally united to the same organized body.” Locke speaks of a single person, but I think of Rovelli and his quantum world, made up of interactions. I think of the devastations of Capgras, of Alzheimer’s, of how in failing to recognize another we fail to recognize ourselves. What a miracle of tissue and neurons it is, that makes me, me, that makes him, him. Vitally united. We possess our own worlds—two Panamas, two United States—but how they overlay each other, paint bleeding onto the landscape. I can hardly tell, sometimes, where one stops and the other begins.

    In another gallery, Magritte’s The Lovers depicts two figures, one in a jacket and tie, the other in an open-collared dress. Their faces are hidden entirely by draped white cloths—the folds and shadows rendered in great detail—but their heads are pressed together, a tender closeness despite the cloth.


    The eighty husbands were nothing. “I have had more than two thousand daughters in five years,” Madame M. told the doctor. “They are doubles.”

    The daughter she believed to have been replaced was Madame M.’s only living child: a year after marrying, she had given birth to a son, who died, followed by twin girls, one of whom died, and then twin boys, both of whom died. Four of her babies were dead, in less than a decade. But not according to Madame M., no: all of her children had, in fact, been abducted and replaced with imposters before their deaths. The children she buried were doubles, said Madame M. They weren’t hers, those dead children. They couldn’t be.

    That’s not you.

    The truer horror story lies below the apparent one; the uncanny is all too real. It was a few years after her youngest sons had died that Madame M. accused her husband, too, of being an imposter. She had been replaced herself, she said. Everyone had: the doctors, the nurses, the people she passed on the streets of Paris, strangers she’d never met. Thousands were imprisoned in the tunnels beneath her feet; the catacombs were full, and wailing. She could hear it, she said. She could hear them.

    Everyone was doubled; the whole world was unreal. Madame M.’s delusion had persisted for more than ten years by the time Capgras met her and wrote it down, lending it a name. The real woman vanishes into a pseudonym, a case study, another kind of imposter. Madame M.’s daughter grew up surrounded by the ghosts of those who never would. She was twenty, the daughter, when Capgras arrived on the scene, and “in good health”—an assessment her mother couldn’t trust. What use were the pronouncements of doctors, when loved ones could vanish at any moment? When they so often and so unrelentingly had?

    It’s the daughter’s pain I come back to—not the terror of failing to recognize the face before you, but the terror of failing to be recognized. Who are you? How could she be sure, faced every day with that question? How could she possibly know? Every day—twice a day or more, even, more than two thousand times—she was taken and replaced. She was multiplied, proliferated into so many specters, as if she might somehow fill the absences her siblings left behind. As if she might grow so innumerable as to seem infinite, and the happening that was her life would not someday have to end.


    M. & I” by Mairead Small Staid appears in the latest issue of New England Review.

    Mairead Small Staid
    Mairead Small Staid
    Mairead Small Staid is the author of The Traces: An Essay. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, The Believer, The Paris Review, The Sewanee Review, The Southern Review, The Yale Review, and elsewhere.

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