Joseph Moreno: Double Vision: Moreno and Dostoevsky
Joseph Moreno MT-BC, is presently director of the Moreno Institute for the Creative Arts Therapies and Professor Emeritus of music therapy at Maryville University-St. Louis. He can be reached at email@example.com.
The role of the double in psychodrama was certainly one of Moreno’s most valuable contributions within the psychodramatic process. Becoming an extension of the protagonist, the double provides a more spontaneous self to compensate for the protagonist’s deficits of the moment. An effective double can intuit what it is that the protagonist may need to express when they seem to be blocked in the needed action or verbalization. The double should provide the protagonist with a positive role model, by acting out or verbalizing what the protagonist might wish to, but is presently unable to carry out. In this way, protagonists can use the role modeling as a stimulus that can then liberate their actional behavior.
Of course, the psychodramatic double properly functions only to serve the needs of the protagonist. In assuming this role, the double must subsume his or her personal agenda, and become fully psychologically entrained with the inner world of the protagonist. Conversely, a misguided double, for example a person who is playing the role to try to direct the protagonist towards what they think the protagonist ought to do, or is trying to impress the group in some way, can be potentially harmful by leaving the protagonist with feelings of inadequacy. Even though most protagonists are able to reject a double that does not accurately reflect their needs and feelings, a protagonist without a strong sense of self may become too compliant and, in effect, allow themselves to be directed, rather than assisted by their double. The psychodramatic double is only as effective as their own level of sensitivity and therapeutic and personal maturity.
All of this, regarding the positive versus the negative potential of the double came to mind when recently reading The Double, a short novel of Dostoevsky written in 1846, his second published work. In stark contrast with Moreno’s therapeutic focus, Dostoevsky’s idea of a double is a character who directly competes with the protagonist, a comparison that is both interesting and instructive.
The protagonist in the novel is Golyadkin, a civil servant in an office in St. Petersburg. It is obvious from the start that he is a man with great insecurities, and has significant difficulties in successfully playing the expected roles in his personal and professional lives. However, rather than trying to address his problems, Golyadkin rationalizes his behavior. He avoids confronting his own role-rigidity and lack of spontaneity by taking an exaggerated pride in what he sees as his personal sincerity and refusal to wear social masks. However, as the story unfolds, we see that his limited spontaneity and inability to work on it sows the seeds of his own self-destruction. He does consult a medical doctor, aware of his anxieties, but although the physician provides him with a placebo drug, his primary message to Golyadkin is to enjoy life, i.e., to become more spontaneous.
One evening, following a particularly difficult and humiliating social rebuff, to his great shock and dismay, Golyadkin suddenly finds himself face-to-face with a man who is his exact physical double in every detail. This new Golyadkin even has the same name and does the same line of work, although they are not related. Golyadkin, a man plagued with social and professional fears, is immediately terrified of all the potential embarrassments and confusion that this new interloper could present in his life. At first, the junior Golyadkin presents himself sympathetically, and the protagonist has a momentary sense of relief and hope that the situation might yet resolve itself in a positive way. However, things quickly begin to go very wrong. For example, the protagonist’s long-time servant doesn’t seem to recognize the difference between the “real” Golyadkin and his double! The role confusion he had intuitively feared is coming to pass, as his own role identity is being threatened. Things go from bad to worse when the next day the double shows up as a fellow employee in Golyadkin’s office, even working in the same department. This new Golyadkin excels in all the skills that the protagonist lacks. This charming and self-centered double soon insinuates himself into the favor of the true Golyadkin’s colleagues and superiors, threatening his professional survival. In line with Moreno’s idea, this double has all the needed spontaneity that the protagonist lacks. But, instead of supporting the protagonist, this double is strictly out for himself, and even seems to take a sadistic satisfaction in outplaying his other in every role situation.
This encounter crystallizes the dual potential of the psychodramatic double. Will the double, with all of his gifts of spontaneity of which the protagonist may be lacking, use these gifts to serve the protagonist? Or, will the double be so self-oriented that, consciously or unconsciously, he may misuse the role to meet his own needs?
Dostoevsky’s character can be seen in different ways. Does he represent Golyadkin’s divided-self brought into a separate role through his imagination? Is Golyadkin mad and the double only a hallucinatory vision? This the reader must decide.
Doestoevsky’s realistic style of writing in this work is also reminiscent of Gogol. In Gogol’s story “The Nose,” the main character awakes one day to find his nose missing and learns that his nose is going about town disguised as a civil servant. This nose is also a kind of double. Further, this idea of giving an active role to a body part or inanimate object is also very psychodramatic.
Poor Golyadkin desperately needed a double with just the positive qualities that the new Golyadkin possessed, but one that would have helped him to grow. We each have our own internal “doubles,” the parts of ourselves that are in contrast to our normal persona. These parts of the self may be called upon in challenging life situations that demand for us to rise above our usual norms and draw from our reserves of spontaneity. If these parts of ourselves are too neglected, they can become atrophied, and this is precisely when a psychodramatic double is needed to bring them to life. This is the beauty of Moreno’s double who is committed to helping the protagonist to realize his best potentials.
In the end, Golyadkin endures an increasing reversal of fortune, losing all of his professional and social status to his greedy double. For the denouemont Golyadkin undergoes a final humiliating role-reversal, for having ultimately been driven to madness, he finds himself being taken to an asylum by the very doctor he first consulted for support.
Double trouble? Psychodrama directors, take note.