11 June 2012

A New Blog About Dementia: An Historian's Perspective.

I've long admired Jesse F. Ballenger's work. Self, Senility, and Alzheimer's Disease in Modern America: A History is the best history of dementia among many worthy competitors.

I'm thus delighted to discover that Ballenger has started a blog: To Conquer Confusion: A Historian's Perspective on the Science and Experience of Alzheimer's Disease and Dementia. Ballenger's historical writing combines detailed sophistication and finesse with a wider perspective and generality. I've used chapters from his book in my classes, and I was spellbound when I first read his chapter which later appeared in The Neurological Patient in History.

In his first blog post, Ballenger ponders whether he has become one more of us "monkeys" typing away at our keyboards for non-existent audiences. He writes in a partial answer to himself:

And here is where blogging connects to dementia. As I argued in my book, it is no accident that these sorts of social critiques became commonplace at roughly the same historical moment that Alzheimer’s disease was emerging as a major public issue. A disease whose most prominent feature is the destruction of memory, and most dreaded moment is when victims no longer recognize friends and family members they have known for a lifetime, seems to perfectly embody these concern about the erosion of self. Alzheimer’s disease, it seems, is one of the emblematic disorders of a post-modern culture. And conversely, blogging and social media seemsto embody the fragility and fragmentation of postmodern selfhood that has come to make Alzheimer’s so frightening.

Having said all that, I immediately feel the need to issue caveats (which is perhaps symptomatic of the very problems I am describing.) Though the overproduction of information certainly undermines the ideal of writing to create meaning, it does not make meaning impossible. Moreover, though I think the connection I point to between the symptoms of dementia and the way that hyper-mediation of the social world challenges our ideas of selfhood is real and significant, to assert that they are the same would be absurd and dismissive of the real challenges faced by people with dementia. I make a distinction between the dementia produced by the hypocognitive situation of the person with Alzheimer’s, and the confusion produced by a hypercognitive society. Both are profoundly, perhaps at times even equally, disorienting and disruptive of a coherent sense of self. But there is a difference between having one’s cognitive abilities impaired to the degree that one cannot successfully perform expected social roles, and experiencing confusion – even extreme confusion – because social roles that one successfully performs are contradictory and incoherent.
And as the above demonstrates so aptly: because he always has such a clear and provocative message, the content of Ballenger's blog is bound to amaze and perplex us and will thus create permanent audience for his ideas. To Conquer Confusion is no monkey cage. It joins the ranks of Political DescentA Dose of History, and Ether Wave Propaganda  

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