We’re all familiar with the literary conundrums of racial identity politics, having read countless personal essays in which members of nonwhite groups assert solidarity while almost simultaneously denouncing white people for assuming that members of their groups tend to have things in common.
But the glass of similarity really is both part full and part empty at the same time.
It’s not always easy to deal with the fact that none of us are wholly unique individuals, nor are we wholly the same as anybody else. It’s hardly surprising that individuals tends to lash out at other races in order to have somebody to blame for their problems.
Because race and family are both manifestations of genetic relatedness, the most striking examples of this paradox of identity are identical twins, some of whom deny that they are identical twins. For example, yesterday’s obituary in the New York Times for Sir Peter Shaffer (playwright of “Amadeus”) claims that he and Anthony Shaffer (playwright of “Sleuth”) were fraternal twins.
It’s not uncommon for twins to insist that various small differences prove they are fraternal rather than identical. For example, at the 2004 Olympics, the men’s all around gold in gymnastics was won by Paul Hamm, while his brother Morgan finished fifth. They had been told by their parents that they were fraternal rather than identical because their hair whorled in opposite directions.
Interestingly, there are no successful identity politics movements for twins. Nobody else feels Singleton Guilt for their Nontwin Privilege. Twins must deal with these paradoxes of relatedness and difference themselves and with their twins. The rest of the world doesn’t feel guilty about it.
Hyper-articulate twins like the Shaffer brothers can be pretty interesting in how they wrestle with these issues and each other. From The Guardian in 2007:
As the writers of such masterpieces as Amadeus and Sleuth, Peter and Anthony Shaffer became synonymous with the best of British drama. But it has emerged that the family name was once subject to the intense rivalry often seen in the brothers’ plays.
Unpublished letters written by Sir Peter in the 1960s reveal an obsessive jealousy over “the name thing”, with him repeatedly begging his twin to publish his plays under a pseudonym.
Sir Peter — having got a headstart as a playwright — feared that Anthony, who had worked as a barrister and in film advertising, was trampling on his territory.“I realise that all my life, until I was 32, I felt anonymous: feeble: unemployable: never an individual… I suppose a lot of it had to do with being a twin. One of ‘the boys’. Never quite unique,” he writes. “Now, in some hateful way… I do feel threatened. As if my little Kingdom has been invaded, and I am no longer to be The Playwright, but again part of that faintly cute and annihilating ‘Which one of them did it?’ ” In another passage, he implored: “Before it’s too late… I beg you to take another name for writing — make a Self which everyone will know as you — a glittering persona you can develop throughout the years. I will be Me; you will be You.”
Anthony, who died in 2001, continued to use the family name and went on to revolutionise the British stage thriller with Sleuth. He was nominated for an Oscar for the film version and wrote screenplays for the Alfred Hitchcock film Frenzy and The Wicker Man. Sir Peter, 80, is best known for Amadeus and Equus. Both were adapted for the cinema, with Amadeuswinning eight Oscars. A new production of Equus, about a boy who blinds horses, will open in the West End next month, with Daniel Radcliffe as the teenager.
Sir Peter was 32 before his first important play, Five Finger Exercise, was staged, while Anthony was in his forties when Sleuth became a hit.
The brothers wrote detective stories under the pen name of Peter Antony, and the letters discovered at Anthony’s London home suggest that they also collaborated on the farce Black Comedy, with Sir Peter referring to how his brother had “at least been paid something for all your good work on BC”.
But still he remained obsessed about their name. Irritated that the New York Post had wrongly credited him with Anyone for Murder, Sir Peter wrote: “It threw me into a sort of tizz … Let me spit it out, since it is … eating me … I feel in some horrid way threatened. I’m vain, I know. I quite like having my first name dropped in references to me, and am distressed if, to distinguish us, it has to be put back again.”
The twins spoke most days by phone, but since Anthony’s death, the family has been feuding over his literary estate.