Thursday, June 10, 2010

Alzheimer, Albrecht: Losing Is/Is Not Art


alt = old
als = as
al = all
heim = home
er = he

The google book about Alzheimer has random gaps, as if omission or forgetting were a sales pitch. I buy the book, Alzheimer: The Life of a Physician and the Career of a Disease, by Konrad & Ulrike Maurer, published in Germany in 1998 and by Columbia University Press in 2003. It is worth having, if for Figure 5.6 alone: "Alzheimer jumping rope." He is seen from the back. His jacket has caught the air like a petticoat; his arms are extended like wings; one leg is missing, the one he has just guided over the rope extended by two women and a girl in long dresses.

His voice comes to us mostly in questions. He asks them of his patients. What is your name? What is your husband's name? What year is it? 5 x 7 is what? What am I holding in my hand? Where are you? Sometimes the answers work, often they do not, like bad keys. Sometimes the answer is that I was born this year. Sometimes the answer is I don't know. Sometimes the answer is I'm going to die. When did you get married? To which: "indeed, the woman lives on the same corridor."

Alzheimer's: to discover is to own. The Amerigo Vespuci of forgetting. His exquisitely drawn maps of neurofibrils and brain plaque. An exactitude that meets its unraveling in "softness of the brain."

Auguste D. was his dinghy, his craft, his vessel, the Matson container ship to his idea. Auguste D. was jealous of her husband, a railroad clerk, forgot how to cook, screamed constantly, soiled herself, lost weight. When she died, he received her brain; he drew its tendrils, its blockages, its shrinkage. On her last day she "was very loud," was "very dazed," had ulcerated skin, pneumonia in both lobes. She died at quarter to 6. She had been ill for four and a half years. Her husband could not make his payments at the end. Dr. Alois Alzheimer paid.

With her free hand,
she swats at me, screams,
Stop it. Leave me here to die.

That was the day Malaika King Albrecht's mother forgot how to get out of the car. Al = all. Brecht = alienation of the audience, Bertolt. Durer: endure, duration.

Then she cusses, such a string of words.
For a moment I'm almost glad
she remembers them. (17)

There is little art to this losing. Losing objects, losing loved ones, these are artful. Losing your bedroom, losing the name for puppy, losing control of the car: these are not. What once was there is gone. What once was there reappears: "Learn to see dead family members / in the dark. Over / and over, call to them." (25)

While those of us who cannot see the dead must learn to forget, too. "Sometimes I / start to dial your number / before I remember." (35)

The final section of King Albrecht's small book is "Erasure," which re-presents some of the poems already printed in the text. The words are lighter, they are disappearing, save for a few bold ones, like "my mother" and "can't get back" and "Remember?" The poet cannot completely let her language go. There are still words where erasure is being enacted. Let them go. Erase them. They are gone. And yet their interference assures us there is no new poem, no Rad I Os to Paradise Lost, just occasional blurts of sense gathered from out of the white noise. Forgetting is not clean, or quiet.

Other absences, elisions: Alzheimer's colleague, Dr. Rudin (umlaut over the u). First mention on page 109: "The second scientific assistant, Swiss-born Ernst Rudin, because full professor of psychiatry in Munich in 1933 and a member of the specialist advisory council for population and racial policy in the Third Reich's Interior Ministry; he can be considered a pioneer of German 'Hereditary and Racial Care.'" (109)

Second mention: "As a scientist he distinguished himself primarily with works on the genealogy of schizophrenia. However, he continues to be remembered for writing the medical commentary on the Nazi law on the prevention of congenitally ill offspring, a law he also helped to implement."


The ethics--the lack thereof--in these terms astonishes.

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