Like and Not Like

In the Autobiography of Red, Geryon travels with the boy who broke his heart, Herakles, and Ancash to take photographs. One of these photographs is titled: “Like and Not Like – It was a photograph just like the old days” (143). The on sentence description of the photograph directly following its title is noticeable because it only repeats half of the title itself. If the photograph is about being “like and not like” then why would the description only say that it was “just like the old days”? As the title offers both likeness and unlikeness there is an unspoken implication that continues the description. It was like the old days, and it was not. If one applies the title of the photograph as a lens to its description it is almost as if it adds the additional words “and not like”; becoming “the photograph was just like [and not like] the old days.”

What is both like and unlike the old days in this scene is Geryon himself, and his relationship to Herakles. “You love him? Geyron thought about that. In my dreams I do. Your dreams? Dreams of the old days…. When I- knew him”(144).  It is these last few words, in which Geryon uses the word “knew” and as such creates an explicit statement of the past tense. The dash between I and knew in Geryon’s speech is also noticeable, denoting either a moment of simple pause or emotion in which Geryon is being thoughtful, and therefore specific with his word usage. Geryon pauses while speaking to show the importance behind the word tense of “knew,” as he discusses his relationship with Herakles to Ancash. Geryon is pausing on the word because he is admitting that he no longer knows him; that the version Geryon misses and longs for is one that now only exists in his dreams. The Herakles in front of Geryon now is like the Herakles from the old days, as they are the same person, but also not like the Herakles Geryon knew and loved. 

It is an important distinction that Geryon draws for himself in this scene, for the first time, between his past relationship with Herakles and his present one. The heartbreak that ended his relationship with Herakles is still with Geryon, prominent in the ways that the two interact prior to this scene. When Geryon looks at Herakles it is him looking at the boy he used to know and love. However, in the above scene in the photograph Like and Not Like description Geryon admits to himself that the “old days” are gone even when the feelings of them linger. It is possible for this time to be both like and not like the old days, for Herakles to be like and not like the past version of himself, and for Geryon to be like and not like his younger self. This speaks to an overall narrative of growth, not only for Geryon and Herakles but in general. It is freeing to look at your past, carry it with you, but to not be defined by it. As an individual, we are each always like the former versions of ourselves, but we are also each always growing in both good and bad ways, and becoming “not like” our old selves. It is possible to be both “like and not like” at the same time; we are beings of “and” not “or.”

One thought on “Like and Not Like”

  1. This is such an interesting passage to look at as it also ties in with our class discussion about the rules put on Tyler in Cereus Blooms at Night. While that conversation was more focused on societal pressures and perceptions put on Tyler and his understanding of his own identity, we can use those ideas here as well. Geryon has an idea of Herakles, one that might not have even been accurate when they were together and is certainly not true now. That idea is really more of a fantasy, so it is disappointing and jarring to Geryon when Herakles is different. This leads to the emotional dissonance Geryon experiences and explains why he now finds relations with Herakles to be “degrading” (142) and why he feels like he doesn’t know Herakles (141). But Geryon must learn to let that ideal go. Geryon’s experience, as well as Tyler’s, can help us to reverse the logic of societal perceptions and allow us to analyze the perceptions and expectations we put on others, as well as the ideas that they put on us.

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