Envisioning Alzheimer’s: Producing the Self in Personhood
As an increasingly prevalent disease without satisfactory treatment or cure, Alzheimer’s has become one of the most feared diseases in the U.S. Because of the way it affects one’s memories and interpersonal relationships, it is popularly understood to threaten a person’s true, inner self. This talk describes a series of mediatic encounters with Alzheimer’s that respond to that threat. For many, creative expression allows for the performance of the very selfhood that Alzheimer’s seems to threaten, and it does so in a progressive manner antithetical to the pathologies of memory and loss. From art therapy to digital brain media like Lumosity, the talk describes a range of social investments in the positive labor of the mediated self. It thus explores the biopolitics of time, creativity, and productivity in the visual culture of Alzheimer’s, arguing that cognition has become valued as a site of both pathological loss and optimistic productivity in the U.S. It shows how these cognitive values are woven into the very cultural practices and forms that treat or address Alzheimer’s. Pathologized as loss or instrumentalized via technologies of self, embattled models of Alzheimer’s personhood are caught up in modern investments in representational value.
About the Speaker:
Scott Selberg is a postdoctoral fellow in the Michigan Society of Fellows and an assistant professor in the Department of Communication Studies at the University of Michigan. He is also currently a research fellow at the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine in Boston. His research interests lie at the intersection of media, history, and bioethics, and he is currently finishing a book that explores the visual culture of Alzheimer’s disease in the United States. Selberg earned his Ph.D. with distinction in Media, Culture, and Communication from New York University. He also holds an MA in Communication Studies from UNC Chapel Hill and a BA in Art History from Williams College. At NYU he was a recipient of the Founders Fellowship for Doctoral Study and the Humanities Initiative Graduate Research Fellowship, and his dissertation was awarded the NYU Steinhardt Outstanding Dissertation Prize.