Heike Hartung, Rüdiger Kunow, and Matthew Sweney will co-edit Masculinities Living in the Words of Others: Alzheimer's and Dementia Narratives and Masculinities Aging Between Cultures
Masculinities Living in the Words of Others: Alzheimer's and Dementia Narratives
The illness defined by the American Psychiatric Association as "Senile Dementia of the Alzheimer's type" (DSM V; 2013) is more than a grim presence haunting senior residences and geriatric care wards. Without wishing to contribute to what has been termed 'alarmist demography,' it has to be acknowledged that in the cultural context of many western societies Alzheimer's disease has come to represent the 'dark side' of longevity in the twenty-first century. Whereas modern medicine has succeeded in prolonging life so that the age-old dream of a long life has become a real possibility for many people, this valuable outcome has shifted cultural fears of old age also to those of demented old age. In consequence, "AD," as it is popularly called, has become a cultural idiom for the later stages of the human life course.
Alzheimer's' high profile is due also to the fact that it is, like cancer or HIV, an eminently narratable disease associated with an agency that can overwhelm the individual: Alzheimer's 'sneaks up' on the 'unsuspecting' self and then 'takes over,' step-by-step, body and mind. It even turns the mind against the body and its functions. While this involves conflict, drama and suspense, progressive dementia makes the person at an advanced stage of the disease unable to speak for him- or herself. This aspect of 'living in the words of others' brings up questions concerning the ethics of narration, as illustrated by the public reception of the British critic John Bayley's memoirs on his wife, the writer and philosopher Iris Murdoch's illness, the German journalist Tilman Jens's books on his father, the public intellectual Walter Jens's dementia, or the American writer Jonathan Franzen's essay "My Father's Brain: What Alzheimer's takes away."
In addition to life-writing material, both from the person with AD and the relatives' perspective, fictional accounts of dementia in novels and films have appeared since the 1980s in many languages and cultures. In addition, there is a growing archive of grass-roots life writing in diaries, blogs and other forms, indicating that something like a cultural master narrative of AD is often at work here – a master narrative which describes and prescribes how the entry of Alzheimer's into a person's life is to be scripted. The core element of this master narrative might be called a Bildungsroman in reverse, the progressive disintegration of the mind, the unlearning of the most basic abilities. This process does not only present a major challenge to patients and caregivers, it also highlights how the illness approaches the limits of representation and narration, questioning at the same time traditional views on selfhood and human development.
The fear of Alzheimer's disease, then, permeates the cultural consciousness of many nations all over the world. It is associated with the specific fears of dependency, frailty, passivity, vulnerability, the loss of selfhood. While the view of the self as a rational, self-contained and autonomous entity prevails in many western societies, this emphasis is possibly even more important in masculine identity constructions. Furthermore, gender difference is an important factor in the medical and sociological research on Alzheimer's disease, in which the statistics which pronounce women as more at risk due to difference in longevity are set against the gender imbalance in care. This means that the less common male caregiving for spouses with AD still has to be explored in its various cultural repercussions. Focusing on the specifics of dementia as a disease of aging masculinity, this gender difference in care as well as specific aspects of masculine identity constructions in the context of debilitating mental illness need to be analysed from a cultural and literary gerontological perspective.
Therefore, the focus in this volume is on the gendered and relational perspectives in many Alzheimer's and dementia narratives in order to open up a new and more complex approach which looks at Alzheimer's as a disease affecting more than one person and invoking traditional as well as unconventional views of aging masculinity. Based on this framework we invite essays written in English that approach Alzheimer's as a disease of aging masculinities, drawing on narrative representations of the disease in many different languages and cultural contexts.
We suggest the following topics for consideration:
- Alzheimer's life writing: whose story is it and for how long?
- The ethics of narration
- Alzheimer's and the specifics of narrative form: novel, film, essay, memoir, blog, apps, etc.
- Memorializing or ventriloquism; spouses or other caregivers as trustees;
- Memory, history and (self-)identity
- Gender relations and care
- Conceptual issues of masculinities and Alzheimer's Disease
- Queer embodiment and Alzheimer’s Disease
- Masculinities and narrative form (perspective, (un-)reliability, emplotment, rhetoric)
- Masculinities and representation: aesthetics of self-representation
- Relational aspects of masculinities: othering and self-reflection
- Emotional histories of masculinities: pain, shame, strategies of concealment
Masculinities Aging Between Cultures
Mobility is one of the crucial, perhaps even the prototypical experience of our time. In the current context of an "economically fashioned global society" (Habermas), mobility has become an aggregate of individual and collective, real and imagined processes. Such processes involve the deregulated mobility of goods and capital (mobility "from above"), the regulated mobility of people (mobility "from below") as well as the simultaneously monitored and anarchic mobility of ideas, images, and information. These various forms of mobility impinge on the lives people live, the ways they conduct their business, and the cultural practices in which they engage. Millions of migrants, refugees, exiles, diasporans, are representative of this principally endless, global mobility, they even seem to embody it. "Embody" is a keyword here because it reminds us of the oftentimes overlooked fact that migrants bring with them not only their customs, traditions, values, in short their culture, but also bring with them their bodies. These bodies are impacted by the experiences of dislocation, especially as they are growing older.
Focusing on migration and aging masculinities in the context of the German-speaking countries of Europe, this project intends to investigate different generations of migrants and the ways in which they have shaped cultural and literary practices in these societies. Beginning in the postwar years with labor migrants mainly from Southern Europe and Turkey, the so-called "guest workers" were predominantly male. As they are now transitioning into old age or have already done so, their bodies are becoming the site on which competing political, social, and cultural scripts of masculinity are being played out. In the context of the shifts in Eastern and Western European countries, and Germany in particular, after 1989, a different kind of migration has taken place with its specific cultural and gender implications. The most recent movement of refugees from non-European countries all over the world has again introduced its specific kinds of cultural, political and social repercussions with a focus on young and educated male migrants. While taking a closer look at these different historical forms of mobility in their impact on German-speaking countries, there is also the cultural influence of first- and second-generation migrants, frequently writers and public intellectuals – Navid Kermani or Saša Stanišić in Germany, the Swiss writer Catalin Dorian Florescu and the Austrian dramatist Semir Plivac – who represent in their works composite forms of male identity and question concepts like "Heimat" (home land, native country) and "Herkunft" (origin, parentage).
In this project on masculinities aging between cultures, we focus specifically on the cultural and aesthetic dimension of the different forms of mobility and migration in the German-speaking countries of Europe. With reference to aging migrants and the younger and middle-aged male writers introducing cultural difference into their 'new' societies, we investigate spatial metaphors for the experience of migration. We examine how such aesthetic concepts as 'late style' can illuminate the experience of aging masculinities. Focusing on the relationship between age and migration, we will analyse how the different configurations of spatial movement – such as 'pilgrim', 'tourist', 'refugee', 'exile' – and the markers of such movement – such as 'departure' and 'arrival' – shape the experience of aging masculinities.
We invite contributions, written in English or German, on the following topics:
- The male 'myth of return' and questions of cultural capital among aging labor migrants
- Male migration, affect and trauma
- Male migration, life writing and autobiographical constructs
- Gender relations, caregiving and migration
- Intergenerational conflicts; masculinity and life in care institutions
- Cultural Capital and migration: male writers
- Cultural mourning and questions of origin
- Migration and masculine identity
- Colonising the life course: the impact of migration on the life course