Life-writing at the limits:
dementia in contemporary autobiographies and life-writing projects
An Inventions of the Text seminar
Wednesday, 13th February 2013
5:30 – 7:00 pm
Department of English Studies, Hallgarth House Seminar Room, Durham University
Dementia, due to world-wide increasing incidence rates, has come to the fore of public awareness. Its alleged loss of self raises a number of ethical and thus social and political issues. Etymologically denoting a person who is “out of mind”, dementia today designates a specific syndrome and, together with other mental disorders, has undergone a process of medicalization, which influences the way we understand it. At the same time, a growing number of cultural representations have flooded the literary market – from novels, dramas and films to autobiographies by care-givers and people with dementia.
This paper will look at a number of autobiographies by people with early-onset Alzheimer’s as well as the published output of two arts projects in care homes (Tell Mrs Mill her husband is still dead from the Trebus Project by David Clegg and John Killick’s and Carl Cordonnier’s Dementia Poems & Photographs), to analyse how these texts, their authors and co-authors negotiate and challenge the issue of selfhood and its loss in dementia.
Rebecca Bitenc is a PhD candidate in the Department of English and the Centre for Medical Humanities. She is co-convenor of the upcoming Understanding Human Flourishing: A Postgraduate Medical Humanities Conference.