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Abstract

This essay looks at the significance of the “semblable”, the figure of the double or likeness, which Brian Castro borrows, in this instance, from Baudelaire. The similarity of the semblable helps to draw out in Castro’s fiction not only what is familiar, but also, in an uncanny move, what is unfamiliar about the world around us, its essential foreignness. Castro’s fascination with the foreign springs from a double ethical impetus: first, as an outsider’s refusal of the racist prejudices of mainstream society, and second, as a recognition of the radical contingency that underpins all existence, making each of us a foreigner, as it were, in the world. The essay then considers the recurrent tendency in Castro’s novels to “overwrite” the stories of others in ways that similarly blur the line between self and Other: O’Young’s translation of Shan in Birds of Passage, for instance, or Artie Catacomb’s attempts to hijack the story of Sergei Wespe in Double-Wolf, with each antagonist becoming the double (or semblable) of his counterpart. Finally, the essay examines the normalizing function of the gaze, with Castro borrowing from Sartre and Lacan, such as his discussions of anamorphosis in Pomeroy. Castro demonstrates in his fiction how this gaze can be subverted and confused by the subject’s adoption of a second (or even multiple) identities, a deliberate cultivation of the semblable that helps to protect the vulnerable outsider from the normalizing power of the gaze.

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