How to Be Multiple: The Philosophy of Twins (Hardcover)
Philosopher Helena de Bres uses the curious experience of being a twin as a lens for reconsidering our place in the world, with illustrations by her identical twin Julia.
Wait, are you you or the other one? Which is the evil twin? Have you ever switched partners? Can you read each other's mind? Twins get asked the weirdest questions by strangers, loved ones, even themselves. For Helena de Bres, a twin and philosophy professor, these questions are closely tied to some of philosophy's most unnerving unknowns. What makes someone themself rather than someone else? Can one person be housed in two bodies? What does perfect love look like? Can we really act freely? At what point does wonder morph into objectification?
Accompanied by her twin Julia's drawings, Helena uses twinhood to rethink the limits of personhood, consciousness, love, freedom, and justice. With her inimitably candid, wry voice, she explores the long tradition of twin representations in art, myth, and popular culture; twins' peculiar social standing; and what it's really like to be one of two. With insight, hope, and humor, she argues that our reactions to twins reveal our broader desires and fears about selfhood, fate, and human connection, and that reflecting on twinhood can help each of us-twins and singletons alike-recognize our own multiplicity, and approach life with greater curiosity, imagination, and courage.
Helena de Bres is a professor of philosophy at Wellesley College, where she researches and teaches ethics, philosophy of literature, and political theory. Her essays and humor writing have appeared in The Point, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Review of Books, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, and elsewhere. Her book Artful Truths: The Philosophy of Memoir was published by the University of Chicago Press in 2021. She lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.
Julia de Bres is a freelance illustrator and a senior lecturer in linguistics at Massey University. She analyzes how minority groups use language to resist social inequalities and illustrates the results of her research. She lives in Wellington, New Zealand.
"Helena de Bres aims to rescue twins from the gothic, from horror movies, and from singleton scrutiny . . . she stitches the project together with brio, a sense of stupefied luck at having a twin, and an insistence that anyone can reap similar benefits by acknowledging our interdependence, relaxing the need to believe in our singularity." - The New Yorker
"[de Bres] draws on her own experience as a way to explore mind-body boundaries and the nature of individualism and autonomy . . . As an identical twin, Ms. de Bres describes in fascinating detail the ways in which her twin’s thoughts and her own—and their physical experiences—seem to merge." - Wall Street Journal
"[de Bres] presents a philosophical inquiry into what twinship is to both the people who are twins and those of us looking in from the outside . . . [she] shows how recognizing the unique connections twins have to one another can help us to restructure and refocus our thoughts on the importance of individuality and our collective responsibilities to one another." — Autostraddle
“Stunning . . . In fluid prose, de Bres gracefully clarifies philosophical notions for the lay reader, and her own observations as an identical twin invigorate the book's emotional center while leaving room for the many unsolved mysteries of identity, kinship, and closeness. This will challenge the way readers see the world.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review
“A collection of engaging essays about binarization, identity, love, free will, objectification, and the depiction and understanding of twins in literature, art, philosophy, psychology, and popular culture . . . A thoughtful, well-rendered collection of musings on identity.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Lucid, curious, and deeply felt, How to Be Multiple is a work of philosophy, an autobiography of twindom, and a captivating exploration of selfhood. Most of us are not twins, but we all know duality, and de Bres uses her exceptional condition as a lens to examine what makes us distinct and what we all share. What a fun, gorgeous book.” —Melissa Febos, National Book Critics Circle Award-winning author of GIRLHOOD
“Helena de Bres has written a brilliant, surprising, and philosophically complex exploration of what it means to be a twin, but more than that-she's written a book that has transformed my understanding of what it means to be both one-of-a-kind and intimately connected to another human being. Profoundly illuminating, insightful, funny, and moving-How to Be Multiple is a must-read.” —Chloé Cooper Jones, author of EASY BEAUTY
“What is it like to be an identical twin? To know someone with such uncanny intimacy? To see another possible life with your genes played out? De Bres raises so many thrillingly mind-bending existential questions that she convinces you that twinship is a crucial key to understanding how we love and who we are.” —Larissa MacFarquhar, author of STRANGERS DROWNING: IMPOSSIBLE IDEALISM, DRASTIC CHOICES, AND THE URGE TO HELP
“This study of twinhood sits at the intersection of the intellectual and the personal-philosopher Helena de Bres is a twin herself, attuned to the uncanniness of being a twin as both a scholar and a sister.” —The Millions, Most Anticipated
"For the person who loves learning about human biology, there’s How to Be Multiple, a book about being a twin, the joys, the mythology, and the philosophy of it all. De Bres is a twin, and she explains that it’s not a matter of double the fun; instead, it’s about history, art, medicine, and yes, being one of a pair." - The Goshen News, “The Bookworm Sez”