Doubles and Tom Voire

The Sociological Quarterly, Volume 43, Number 3, pages 453-459.                                                        


Peter Kirby Manning

Brooks Chair of Policing, Northeastern University


Go to Tom Voire essay  |  Go to main Gary Marx page  |  Bibliography  |  Notes


Other essays in this series: Willis & Silbey: Self, Vigilance and Society  |  Nippert-Eng: Out of Sight, Out of Mind  |  Staples & Nagel: Gary’s Gone…  |  Marx: Reflective Eyes and Moods Apart



Marx has confronted us first with the other, Tom, and then, quickly, the other’s other- the experts, the clinicians, the lawyers. We, the readers, are perhaps another other. What are we to make of this essay of fantasy, information, gender, technology and spying? The essay is cast, like a Lifetime [channel] film, as “being based on actual events” i.e., not wholly fabricated. It is labeled a "Clinical Report." Is it a fable, an allegory of technology, of gender malaise, of romance?  

I believe that Marx is suggesting that the relationship between copies and doubles parallels or is analogous to the relationship between self, the person, and other(s). I think he is suggesting further that in the same way that we have lost the thread that connects copies and originals, we have lost the thread that connects self to person and person to other and not-other.  It may be easy to know we are not not-other, but are we other? The boundaries of the self are blurred in an age of mediated communication and high tech-image based social control.  

Copies, Doubles and the Other

The latter part of the twentieth century, it might be said, was an era of doubles, copies and simulation.  The 19th century American pragmatist philosopher, Charles S. Peirce (1958:158) posited the idea of firstness, "…being or existing independent of anything else." Some feelings and objects have an essential feature that makes them that and nothing else- hardness, softness, warmth, coldness, wet, dry, and so on. This was his way around the ultimate solipsism of pragmatism. Firstness suggests the idea of an original. Yet it is relational, a matter of secondness as it is based on the difference between "original" and "copy." An original is that which cannot be fully and successfully replicated without incurring costs and penalties (Eco, 1983). It is now possible to copy virtually anything, not excluding a sheep, by artificial means, and make copies that are indistinguishable from the original. This concern flows from a long tradition of concern with the authentic and the true in the art world, and rests on conventions of "high" art. What is a copy? What is an original? With modern technology, image and object become separated and the notion of copies and simulacra, and consideration of the spinning away of the object from the referent and onto a slippery slope of notation, connotation, denotation and ideology, is now a part of social theory (Baudrillard, 1996). In this essay, we are constantly confronted with doubles, others that are and are not Tom and ourselves. The essay as a body, swims in a pool of others. Are these copies of ourselves, or others?




Tom at times seems confused about whether he is the person being seen by others. Several streams of thought converge in deciding something is other than the "original." The first is the long literary tradition of dopplegangers, or doubles (Miller, 1985).   Here, the reader sees that the figures in the story are in doubt about a true self. This, theme, found in classical literature, contrasts inner grace with outer status or claim. Heroes may be unaware that they are in the state of grace, and confused about their place in the secular world as well. Honor and integrity are found in the person with natural grace regardless of an apparent low status e.g., the hero Tom Jones in the novel Tom Jones. A double may mislead others to their own advantage  (as con-men, liars and sociopaths). The recent film, "The Amazing Mister Ripley," based on a Patricia Highsmith novel, is a low culture example of doubling. Even Mr. Ripley is unsure in the end who he is except when he kills someone. A double also appears in literature when a person is aware of the discrepancy and troubled by it. This is the classic Dr. Jeckell and Mr. Hyde story line. The hero or protagonist may think of him or herself as an other, a mysterious one (missing past, missing future), or as psychotic, with spilt or multiple personality (these are quite different diagnostic categories).  A fourth stream, a variation on this analogy, is the delusional state of romantic love.  The other, much loved, is a false other to whom one is connected by self-deception and lustful attachment. This state, a  fusion fantasy, is, of course, the essence of romance (de Botton, 1993). There is an unfinished or primordial aspect to such lusts and clinging. 1. A fifth stream is the classic concern of mystics and of mysticism- out of body experience. Where am I? An aspect of the dislocation of the self, associated with trauma and fear, this question is haunting. Am I the one out there? Am I in my own body?


These five streams, about the relationship between copies and doubles, are rooted in idea that body, self and person should be integral. Yet, all assume that surface and reality are different. Each overvalues the power and authority of external definitions on self. Each of these streams is a product of Platonic thinking- that behind the surface is a reality, the true, the person, the embodied person and in further an embodied present person, the comforting notion that a presence lies under or behind speech. The rich texture of modern life makes these distinctions less valuable than they once were.  In considering these streams and their connection to Marx's essay, we may overlook the crux of the matter of the relationship between self, other and others. A fundamental fact, perhaps based on our fear of death and related despair  is our inability to live alone. As Sartre argued, the tendency toward bad faith, the collapsing of self in the face of the other, the wish to please, not to offend, to fit in, is ferociously common. We are complicitous in our own collapse and submerged in protean selves, but dialogue is with the inner self, in the "seducer’s diary" as Kierkegaard once put it.   We lack the interpersonal feedback and validation that Mead viewed as central to the development of the other and the significant other and the therefore of the self. The essay also suggests that self-deception, in part due to the complexity of social relations, mediated communication, and situational ethics, something like a normal state in society so vulnerable to simulacra (Baudrillard, 1996). 

Genre Play and Visual Reality 

The essay draws on the problematic voice, genre-play and intertextuality. One text, a critical sociological allegory, is presented as a "clinical report." It is formatted as a case file, and includes a reference to an insurance company.  We read it in a sociological journal: the clinical report is framed within the text of the journal article. This is intertextuality, one text read off a another and vice versa. The mechanism of intertextuality distances author from both the subject and object of the discourse. The clinician who is the ostensive author of the report, perhaps a psychiatrist, is called “A.Funt,” a pun on the name of the originator of the television program, “Candid Camera” (and the holder of a master’s degree in social psychology). The patient is a pun-ish creation, a play on the French verb voire, to see. Marx’s words give us vision: we see Tom through Funt's eyes; Tom, as he is seen seeing. 


In using this literary mechanism, embedding one form in another, Marx follows the lead of many brilliant and sensitive writers. 2.  This mechanism, using a voice (emanating in fact from a writer) to discredit both the speaker and the subject while encouraging the reader to view the thoughts of the writer, speaker and his subject with doubt, creates a distance which simulates the sociological distance from society. We claim the professorial authority to sit back and point; the license to gesture; to suggest; over there, somewhere else, some other.  But such a mechanism creates a dilemma for the reader- who is judging whom here? Are we to think of this as a moral tale, in which, oddly, redemption is suggested by a happy ending (Tom finds a Goffman text, something like Joseph Smith found the Golden tablets in Upstate New York, in a laundromat. It could have, I suppose, a cleansing aspect).  Is the essay merely a convenient fiction? 3. Fiction can bear a strong clinging sense of reality, of verisimilitude. Perhaps this is a real story. 4. In any case, it must reflect on all of us in some way. Yes. It is certainly a reflection. Tom V. is something of a shadow, a reflection, our other. 


Filmmakers, like Tom V., are deeply into superficialities. They have even taken up the question- what is a film? Who is the audience ? Are we showing only ourselves? Several recent films parody films and film-making- the "Truman Story;" "Edtv," and “The Blair Witch Project." In the “Truman Story,” and "Edtv," the film viewer is meant to identify with Truman and Ed, the center of the action, yet each is seen through another’s eyes, the lens of the camera. We have as a lens Marx’s words. But in "Truman," for example, the audience sees, in the end, that Truman has been playing himself without awareness for years, watched by others and unable to recognize his exploitation. In a final, intertextual reversal, Truman (of course, a "True Man" played by Jim Carrey) rushes out of a boat in a cinematic storm and charges into the studio where the directors are filming him. We watch him confront his watchers who are still focused on the monitors showing the "set," the boat and the storm, from which Truman wet just rushed. We are meant to see, I believe, in this scene that the cinematic spectator world in which we live exploits us as Truman was exploited. We are affected, shaped, watched and we watch the media, (and perhaps the politicians as pseudo-media mavens) and we learn to consume, to buy, the “love” in the sense of false-consciousness. We do not see ourselves as we see Truman. He does not see himself until it is too late in the film. The film is a paean to another Marx, shown without the revolutionary capacity of the working class. Truman, alone, is angry and hurt. His life, like Ed's who falls in love with the girlfriend of his brother on film, is not his. Is Tom's life his own? For like the person who is only watched, a person who only watches is inhuman, and dehumanized.  The third person narrative mode is used by Marx-Funt. “Tom thought…." "Tom explained……” says he did this, he did that, supplying the reader with insights into Tom’s thoughts, feelings and emotion at the same time making them dubious. Did he (really) feel that? Can a person who is not in touch with himself be in touch with others? Is he so superficial? Aren't his reasons mere rationalizations, motives in another rhetorical form? But seeing Tom as a liar, even if at very least he lacks self-consciousness, seeing himself as others see him, 5. misses the fundamental point of Gary T. Marx’s essay.


Tom V. apparently does not know that he is a mere reflection, an object and creation of others, just as others are his unimaginative construction. The lop between himself and others appears to be absent feedback: it is a fully closed system of flatulent communication. He thinks that his views, thoughts and attitudes are his, deeply his, and the product of the American way. Perhaps he is correct. He complains of violations of his constitutional rights. He explains his behavior in an “honest” fashion i.e., consistent with his views of what he was doing. We are not privileged to Tom’s voice, only the clinician’s version of Tom’s story. The (clinician) audience does not believe his story, implicitly, and in effect it is seen as a long, self-serving lie. Does this mean that society is a lie? Of course it is; it is a real lie.


There are a number of ironies in this essay, one of the reasons it flashes complexity. They are depressing features of American life. The first is that Tom is the other of our perceptions, hopes and fantasies. He is not merely an individual, or himself, but a projection and project of American ideas about “privacy.” These are conflicted, emergent and tacit conventions about what is private, what is public, and what we expect of each other in each realm. The recent explosion of cell phones is an example of a technological screen on which we project our loneliness, our lack of clarity about what is public and what is private communication, and when and where each should be carried out. This matter of etiquette is a work in progress. Tom believes that he is true to himself. As Freud and R.D. Laing pointed out frequently, the others around a person can creates a false consciousness or delusional reality that is profoundly neurotic. The focal person, fighting for a life based on normal neurosis, may consider himself or herself crazy. Tom does not consider himself crazy; he sees himself as an honest person. He is hopeful that others will validate his honesty. The clinician tries to shape his report to make the reader (us) believe that Tom is a sociopath without feelings, but the report of course actually reveals that he verbalizes values and feelings consistent with middle class American values. We are meant to see through the clinician's report that the others are honest, while Tom, almost naively, feels, believes and acts on what he feels and gets in trouble. He acts out their ambivalence. Truth will not out. And it is not beauty, either. Be true to thy self is a sure route to trouble.


Ironically, the helping trades, clinicians, therapists, human relations facilitators, etc are mere foils of the economic system lying to themselves and others for profit (see the privacy note at the beginning of Tom’s file written in elaborate empty, double-speak). But theirs, the experts, is the power to decide Tom’s fate. The vignettes of Tom’s encounters with the "tinkering trades" (Goffman's term in Asylums [1960]) are a series of modern banalities- things we have all read, seen, talked about, and done. They are unexceptional, the stuff of the morning newspapers. The totally trivial character, even in their numbers, of his delicts, is indicative. They are indicative of the inconsistent standards that prevail, the situational nature of modern morality and the capacity of superficial, self-serving, profit driven sectors in the society to determine what is “healthy,” “true,” real,” and the like. In America, Marx suggests, we are required to be false to our selves to be part of the bigger picture; Tom is caught and perhaps hung by his dubious honesty.


Finally, we deny our rage, our emptiness at times, and try to fill it in empty- ways. The contradictions we learn to suppress, our wish to subject others to torture or pain, or to consume or incorporate them (the "orality" of consumption) is denied, too. Freud, in the Civilization and its  Discontents, sees this form of repression as the cause of eruptions in the form of war. In his recent novel, Atonement (2002), Ian McEwan, by juxtaposing the play of pre-war Britain and their denial of violence, the evil we all contain, reveals the inevitability of the scenes of Dunkirk. The denial of lusts, powerful malevolence, "American innocence," makes us even more vulnerable to unconscious forces and chauvinism.  


Marx's essay  suggests that the vast technological complexity of modern society, the information-based world we live in, the disembedded world of time and space, acontextual communications and foreshortened horizons, requires of us to see more quickly, readily and directly the contradictions in our collective life. If not, we are vibrating in angry resentment. We are saturated, as Gergen notes (1991), but it is not clear what this means for classical issues of privacy, civil liberties, freedom of expression, and the like. 6.


The fundamental aspects of doubles, of fantasy and self-deception, the issues of truth and falsehood in a complex signifying society, the rampant possibility of copies, have been with us for at least 100 years. Marx's concern is that behavior is now captured (filmed, recorded, archived, encoded); retrievable (in some way) by those in power in an organization, courts, the police; reproducible in a format that is convincing to others  –juries and judges-; and that the nature of the other in post-modern society is dubious and unclear. Who can be the other when we doubt ourselves daily?


We are rarely able to ground ourselves in history and biography. Interpersonal communication, face-to-face communication, establishes identity, location and an embodied rootedness. Mediated communication, as Tom so often discovered- the tapes of his pissing, the surveillance materials he gathered, and so on, is acontextual. Tom tries, without success, to place his actions in a context of his experience, beliefs, and values, but he fails, for these cannot be put in place when opposed by the powerful imagery of the present. Marx’s essay points us to ask: what do we see?  Sociologically, the self does not stand alone. The profound self-deception of total “honesty” can only lead to further self-deceptions and self-serving symbolic violence (Bourdieu, 1977), because it cannot be established firmly by individuals alone. As Kierkegaard wrote in Sickness Until Death (1941), the worst form of despair is feeling no despair at all. As well known since Durkheim, fulfilling collective obligations require a rootedness of the self in some sense beyond what any individual can anticipate, understand or cogitate. Oddly, it might be said that in industrial societies, property ownership grounded people in obligations, in kinship, in the past as well as the future. The notion of property, like the notion of self, is changing so quickly we have lost sight of it- even ideas are property, images are property, there is a market in virtual images traded on e-bay.  The Truman character played by Jim Carrey whose solution was to charge into the studio and confront the "directors" of his life is unavailable to us. We may be players, but we do not know our directors, do not have scripts, and are not in a play. Truman realized that he was living in a simulated constructed world. Increasingly, we are not sure what symbolic world we inhabit, and this puts us squarely in front of our problem: to create collectively the worlds in which we live, to affirm and have others validate them, even as we know of their fragility. 


Where does one learn about grounding? I am persuaded finally, that the bedrock of social life is the denial of death. The picture of voyeuristic life that is also spied upon described by Gary T. Marx suggests that modern life is a form of artifice, something archived, as seen, and reviewed, not as fully experienced. 7. As is often said, we understand life backwards, by reflection, but live it “forward.”  


Go to Tom Voire essay  |  Go to main Gary Marx page  |  Bibliography  |  Notes





1.       This obsessive, imaginative lust is captured with penetrating wit by Ian McEwan in two short stories in his collection, In Between the Sheets (1978). In "Reflections of a Kept Ape," an ape finds he is the subject of his lover's novel and judges himself inadequate until he discovers, "She needs me" (p. 48)-perhaps as an object for her novels?  In a second story,  with a punning title, "Dead as They Come," the author obsesses about a Department store mannequin, brings her home and lusts after and admires her until he becomes jealous and mistrusting. "They" have sex, but in a rage, he kills her at the point of climax. These stories are parodies of romance, but also capture the poignant reality of the romanticized other.


2.       I would include Vargas-Llhosa, in The Aunt Julia and the Screenwriter (1986), John Barth, in Giles Goat Boy  (19XX), Italo Calvino, in several of his novels, I. Svevo in The Confessions of Zeno (1973), Borges (always), and even Hemingway. Kierkekaard  wrote using assumed names while pouring out anguished despairing, brilliant texts.


3.       It is difficult to dismiss the cloying idea of personal privacy, the ability to control access to information, a space, or even our bodies. Marx seems to cling to it. I believe privacy in the nineteenth century sense, well and truly, with the 19th century (Rosen, 2001, Nock, 1993, Lessig, 1999, Schepple, 1983). We cannot control access to who and what we are. There is no  “backstage” in the nineteenth century conception – i.e., space that is somehow encircled and controlled. Goffman in the Presentation of Self (1959)  argued for the relativity of the front and back, the public and the private. 


4.       The Boston Globe (April 3, 2002) reported that some priests referred to treatment were tested using the plethysmography of the penis, to reveal and measure their arousal when shown pictures of young boys, girls, women men and other images. Some were treated using female sex hormones. 


5.       Marx, as the clinician, A Funt, corrects Tom's incorrect reference to the looking glass self with an incorrect clarification.  This is apparently a send up of academic pretense.


6.       Last week, for example, I opened my e-mail (or does it belong to the University?). I found: an invitation for intimacy; a Happy Easter (wished to me from the Bahamas); two student complaints about their grades, and in the course of the week, notes from a colleague in Jerusalem, a friend in the UK; several message buddy notes; a message from Canada, a invitation to listen to WGBH-FM; a business proposition; and invitations from Expedia, TM TM, TM and TM to buy something (anything) from them. In my "junk mail" I found an invitation to speak in Brazil, invitations for porno connections, a bigger body and or penis, low cost life insurance, etc. While these intimations spring electronically from afar, from strangers, in some kind of self-preservative pose we cannot assume that everyone always lies.


7.       I think of David Lodge's very witty and ironic book, Thinks (2001) in which the academic expert on the brain is unable to see his emotional attraction to a young academic writer, and she in turn cannot figure out why she cannot write about her emotions.


Go to Tom Voire essay  |  Go to main Gary Marx page  |  Bibliography  |  Notes





Barth, John  19XX  Giles Goat Boy. 



Baudrillard, Jean 1996. Collected Writings. Edited by Mark Poster. Stanford: Stanford University Press.


De Botton, A.. On Love. New York: Grove Press.


Bourdieu, Pierre 1977. Outline of a Theory of Practice. Cambridge: CUP


Eco, Umberto 1983. The Limits of Interpretation. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press.


Gergen, Kenneth 1991. The Saturated Self. New York: Basic Books


Goffman, E. 1959. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Garden City: Doubleday Anchor Books.

_______1960. Asylums. Chicago: Aldine.


Hemingway, Ernest 1932.  Death in the Afternoon. New York : Charles Scribner's


Kierkegaard, S. 1941. [17    ] Fear and Trembling and Sickness Unto Death. Princeton: Princeton University Press.  


Lessig, Lawrence. 1999. Codes and Other Laws of Cyberspace. New York: Basic Books.


Lodge, David. 2001. Thinks: A Novel. New York: Viking.


McEwan, Ian  1978. Between the Sheets and Other Stories. New York: King Penguin.


________. 2002. Atonement. New York: Viking.


Miller, Karl. 1985. Doubles. New York: OUP.


Nock, Steven. 1993. The Costs of Privacy: surveillance and reputation in America. Hawthorne, N.Y.: Aldine/deGruyter.


Peirce, Charles S. 1958. Values in a Universe of Chance. Edited by Phillip Wiener.  Boston: Dover.


Rosen, Jeffery. The Unwanted Gaze. New York: Vintage Books.


Schepple, Kim 1985. Legal Secrets. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


Svevo, I. 1973. The Confessions of Zeno. Westport: Greenwood Press.



Go to Tom Voire essay  |  Go to main Gary Marx page  |  Bibliography  |  Notes


Peter Kirby Manning holds the Elmer V.H. and Eileen M. Brooks Chair in Policing. He has taught at MIT, Oxford, and the University of Michigan, and others, and was a Fellow of the National Institute of Justice, Balliol and Wolfson Colleges, Oxford, the American Bar Foundation, the Rockefeller Villa (Bellagio), and the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, Wolfson College, Oxford. The author and editor of some 13 books, including Privatization of Policing: Two Views (with Brian Forst) (Georgetown University Press, 2000), his research interests include the rationalizing of policing, crime mapping and crime analysis, uses of information technology, and qualitative methods. The 2ed. Of Narcs Game (1979) will appear in 2002 (Waveland Press) and his monograph, Policing Contingencies, is forthcoming with the University of Chicago Press.

You are visitor number  to this page since January 20, 2003.
If you are having difficulty viewing or downloading any of the posted articles, report the problem here.