Sunday, November 17, 2013

The dream course I neglected to send: Literature of Alzheimer's

Curious that I hadn't heard a verdict on the graduate course proposal I thought I'd put in several months ago, I was told that I'd not sent it in.  Found it in my "drafts" folder, unsent.  The course is on Alzheimer's and literature. Might re-tool it for an honors course next year, or simply frame it. Posting it here, in case anyone might want to cannibalize it for their own purposes. Courses like this one are needed, at every level and in many departments.

Graduate Course Proposal
Prof. Susan M. Schultz
October, 2013
Literature of Alzheimer's

According to the Alzheimer's Association, five million Americans are living with Alzheimer's disease or other dementia. One in three seniors dies with the disease. By 2050, the disease will cost the USA (alone) over one trillion dollars a year. Recognition of Alzheimer's as a disease has inspired a literature of and about it, including novels, poetry, and memoirs. But it also provokes the reader of Modernist and Postmodernist literature to reconsider works of literature by Gertrude Stein, Samuel Beckett and other writers whose use of language often resembles that of someone suffering early to mid-Alzheimer's. It asks readers to consider how different cultures approach the disease. It provokes the consumer of popular culture to take a close look at television shows, movies, and advertising that engages with Alzheimer's. It demands that the citizen look at parallels between the ways in which Alzheimer's sufferers and “illegal aliens” are described in similar terms, and similarly (in some ways, if not others) are put in “homes” for their and society's “safety,” and to prevent them from “wandering” across “borders.” It asks questions of the scholar of life writing about how best to write about the illness. And it asks questions of all of us about identity issues: what makes us human? Is there a point beyond which we are no longer ourselves? Why are most of us so afraid of acquiring Alzheimer's? Are we the sum total of our memories, or are there another bases to our being human?

This course will address these issues by engaging with literature (and film) of and about Alzheimer's. Students of literary history and creative writing will be invited either to work toward a final critical project on literary works, or toward a creative project (poetry, fiction, memoir) that uses Alzheimer's either as content, as theme, or as manifested in language use. We will have visitors from Gerontology and Disability Studies, as well as a field trip to an Alzheimer's home. There will be a final project of 20 pages of writing, as well as blog posts every week, and a significant amount of reading. Students will be asked to lead discussions and to report on Alzheimer's related writing they find in the mainstream media and on-line.

Readings will include books (or selections) by Daniel Schacter on how memory works and files; Jesse Ballenger on the history of Alzheimer's in the United States; Gertrude Stein (and an essay on her work by Michael D. Snediker); Samuel Beckett's Rockaby; Don DeLillo's Falling Man; Thomas DeBaggio's Losing My Mind (a rare memoir by a journalist who had Alzheimer's); David Chariandy's Soucouyant; Lawrence Cohen's No Aging in India: Alzheimer's, the Bad Family, and Other Modern Things; Poetry/Shi (Korean film with Alzheimer's theme) and other video projects; B. S. Johnson's experimental novel, House Mother Normal; Catherine Malabou's philosophical projects, The New Wounded: From Neurosis to Brain Damage and What Should We Do With Our Brain? While, as a rule I do not teach my own work, I would consider asking students to read one of the volumes of my two volume mixed genre series, Dementia Blog.

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