Society for Psychological Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
What is imagistic about a sound? A growl accompanied by a gesture, a cry by a touch. Single words shouted or whispered, sentences that stop in midair, intermittent word loops ad infinitum - or exchanges where questions and responses briefly touch, but rarely form coherent conversations. Cacophonies of sound and cascades of silence where responsive content gives way to responsive event (Waldenfels 2011). Taking up recent work on images in anthropology I explore the voices of demented residents at a Danish dementia ward as ‘expressing without formulating’ (Stevenson 2014) and as phantasmography, a ‘writing of phantasms, a graphic inscription of the flows and currents of fantasy and fabulation.’ (Desjarlais 2016)
Dementia is often perceived as the most demeaning and threatening feature of old age, and people with dementia as ‘not there anymore’, as ‘already dead’ by media and professional accounts and by their family and friends. Against this ‘no life after dementia’ researchers within the personhood turn have sought to find ways to convey the voices of those who are themselves living with dementia (Cohen 2006, Mc Lean 2006, Basting 2006, Kontos 2006). My presentation will place itself within this literature arguing that alterity is crucial to giving voice to the demented and that thinking in images can clear a path for recognizing alterity - in dementia and elsewhere. Placing alterity center stage, not only in the lived experience of dementia, but in the lived experience of humans more generally, I ask: What does dementia speak, if we face it?