two for one


We take it for granted, then, that Siamese twins would separate if they could choose, especially now that 21st-century medical advances make it possible. In a 2000 BBC documentary, South African surgeon Heinz Röde — a leading specialist in the division of conjoined twins — summed up their condition as such: “My own philosophy,” he said, “ is that twins are born to be separated.” Which is to say, he believes people are born to be separate. In separating conjoined twins, we feel that we are saying to them, “You have a right to be alone, to be individuals alone, in your own body alone, determining your own destiny, alone.” Isn’t this the very definition of a free self, the knowledge that you can always extract yourself from another? Yet, if you ask conjoined twins, most seem quite comfortable with their shared bond. “We’d never agree to an operation,” Dasha Krivoshlyapova told the BBC. “We just don’t need it.” “Even when we were little we didn’t want one,” said Masha Krivoshlyapova. “We are a little collective.” This last sentiment is simultaneously adorable and horrifying. For what would it mean to turn our lives into a “little collective,” to permanently, inextricably attach our fate to another’s and always experience our lives in terms of another? Would it not make us unsure where our own “self” began and ended, unsure that we were the tellers of our own jokes, the designers of our own hopes, the caretakers of our own needs? How could we accept thinking of “me” as “us,” accept being unfree? In other words, what we see, and fear, in Chang and Eng is love.

more from Stefany Anne Golberg at The Smart Set here.