Academic journal article Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies

Texting Doppelgangers: Repetition, Signs, and Intentionalities in (Auto)biographical Alzheimer Writing

Academic journal article Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies

Texting Doppelgangers: Repetition, Signs, and Intentionalities in (Auto)biographical Alzheimer Writing

Article excerpt

The paper offers a critical discussion of notions of self as they emerge in texts written by Alzheimer patients and their caregivers. It explores how diary-writing becomes a means of agency by which some ontological sense of 'self' gets scripted in the process of memory's slipping away. Specifically, the paper explores how two themes-namely, sure signs and repetition, and intentionality and experience-can be seen to crucially inform the patients' need to text their fading hold on language and memories into place. This need to 'fix' selves and experiences contests particular strains of poststructuralist ideas that insist that bodies are performed, fluid and changeable. Although infusing ideas about dynamism into our discourses of bodies is crucial, being aware of contexts where such discourses may not be as feasible is important as well, if only to increase our awareness of the universalizing tendencies of particular discourses. The diaries of Alzheimer patients and those who care for them give us entry into contexts in which the stabilizing (through writing) of a sense of self may be a critical way of surviving and coping.

Estragon: All the dead voices

Vladimir: They all speak at once

Estragon: Each one to itself

Vladimir: What do they say?

Estragon: They talk about their lives

Vladimir: To have lived is not enough for them.

Estragon: They have to talk about it.

Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot

In adeeply moving piece on genres of imagery, W. J. T. Mitchell says of alandscape that it is agenre that "makes the constitutive blindness and invisibility of the visual process most evident" (587), apoint that Ithink can be made of (auto)biography as well, since the articulations of which this genre consists render us at once hopelessly blind and acutely alert to various shards of our existences. It is in narratives, in the telling and retelling of our life histories-as Estragon and Vladimir point out-that our deep-seated human need to share our life events, to seek engagement and connections with others through our experiences, to search for reassurance that what we have each lived through is not that unusual is made most apparent. As Estragon reminds us, the "talking about" of our lives is agathering up of the scattered details of alife into aunified récit, anarrative that at the moment of telling or of writing is aprovisional assemblage, atemporary putting together of auto (self), bio (life), and graphy (writing) (Smith 25).

What are the things in our existence and our texting of it to which we remain blind? While the writings of Augustine and Rousseau (the earliest of known autobiographical writers) have spawned philosophical debates about whether the 'I' of self-accounts is afictional one or one grounded in experience, and one that emerges in particular ways given current discourses of subjects at the time, the pronoun (as well as what it both reveals and hides) remains acontested term. The notion of the self as subject of one's own narratives and the (im)possibilities of its articulations undergird intense theoretical debates about identity constructions (Olney), the social and political conditions that allow them to emerge (Radhakrishnan; Butler) and their entrenchments in societal moorings (Benhabib).

Scholarship about identities in applied linguistics is not new, with researchers writing about how personal narratives inform notions of identity in avariety of domains, including narratives (Gee, Social Linguistics; Pavlenko, "Autobiographic Narratives"; Ramanathan, Alzheimer's Discourse, "Applied Linguistics Redux"), gender (Norton), sexuality (Moita-Lopes), and texting (Kramsch). Connections between narratives and 'self' in the realm of disabilities and bodies, however, are still relatively unexplored, and their articulations in the autobiographical writing of people with terminal or chronic ailments or disabilities and biographical accounts of such illnesses by caregivers are even more so. …

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