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‘Confabulation’ in late onset dementia: triangulating censored histories through first-person narrative and literary fiction Dr Andrea Capstick

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‘Confabulation’ in late onset dementia: triangulating censored histories through first-person narrative and literary fiction Dr Andrea Capstick Bradford Dementia Group. Selection criteria: emergent methodology.

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‘Confabulation’ in late onset dementia: triangulating censored histories through first-person narrative and literary fiction

Dr Andrea Capstick

Bradford Dementia Group

selection criteria emergent methodology
Selection criteria: emergent methodology
  • 1) Extracts from first-person narratives of people with dementia whose veracity is doubted on account of their diagnosis (‘confabulators’)
  • 2) Matched sections from ‘historically accurate literary fiction’ (reliable narrators)
  • 3) Events excluded from mainstream discourse/collective, conventionalised memory
alzheimer s first case auguste deter
Alzheimer’s first case: Auguste Deter
  • The mania for diagnosis
  • ‘Insane jealousy’
  • The madwoman in the attic (Gilbert and Gubar 2004)
confabulation and unreliable narration
Confabulation and unreliable narration
  • ‘a typical symptom of dementia, confabulations are usually defined as false narratives or statements about world and/or self due to some pathological mechanism’ (Orulv and Hyden, 2006)
  • A narrating character or storyteller in a literary or other artistic work who provides inaccurate, misleading, conflicting, or otherwise questionable information to the reader or audience (Booth 1961)
auguste s treatment regime
Auguste’s treatment regime
  • Isolation
  • Cold water baths
  • Died in 1906 aged 55 from septicaemia resulting from decubitus ulcers (“pressure sores”)
fingersmith sarah waters 2005 444
Fingersmith: Sarah Waters (2005: 444)
  • I remember...the closing of the icy water over my face, the rushing of it into my mouth and nose...I thought I had died. Then they winched me up and dropped me again.
  • Based on Hamilcar M (1910) Legally dead: experiences during seventeen weeks detention in a private asylum.
catherine reliable or unreliable narrator
Catherine – reliable or unreliable narrator?
  • It looked like a bath...a new pram with a wonderful big canopy...I was drowning three times an hour back then...they wanted to take the bath out of the cold water where they put me to rest...for no reason at all...they wanted me to lie in that bath until the end...until I die.

(from Brown and Clegg eds, 2007: 143-147)

the plague dogs richard adams 1977
The plague dogs: Richard Adams (1977)
  • Uses animal experimentation as an allegory for treatment of concentration camp victims

‘But you don’t want it to drown, do you?’ asked Mr Powell, a shade of anxiety creeping into his voice. ‘If it –’ ‘No’, interjected Dr Boycott quickly as though to check him before he could say more....’It’s not intended to drown – not this time anyway; and I think probably not next time either – depending on the results of course.

The large mongrel dog in the tank was continuing to struggle...but so feebly now that its body hung almost vertically in the water.’

(Adams, 1977: 2)

hypothermia experiment
Hypothermia experiment

The Germans put me in a what do you call it?...... (Catherine)

allied bomb dumping
Allied bomb dumping
  • ‘I was in Sofia in one of the bombardments in 1943... That night I was bombed... we went into the National Bank and I sheltered and that was all... it was the English bombing... they were bombing the petrol in Romania and when they returned they dropped the rest of the bombs on Sofia.’

(Dimiter: Clegg et al 2010)

‘Sometimes we just picked a big city and blasted the hell out of it...There was an unspoken rule never to bring the bombs back home. My last run we ended up dumping our full load on a big park full of refugees.’

(Jordan, 2008: Mudbound)

may s story
May’s story:
  • ‘My eldest brother didn’t come back. Took them all marching right through another part of the German area. All these fellas, they had no shoes on. When he fell they wouldn’t be bothered with them. They used to tear up the reports.’
  • On the march or in the sidings – it had happened there, he thought – being turned to a thing. You don’t last without water. They could have gone on without eating, but not without water.’

(Kennedy, 2007, Day 61-62)

striking analogies behind the wallpaper
Striking analogies: Behind the wallpaper.....................
  • Hilda: ‘It seems now that this room was part of my flat...maybe it still is under all the paintwork and so forth.’
  • Dunmore (1998 p 75) ‘The town was like a paper wrapper you could rip through any time, and you’d be back there.’

Cover image from Charlotte Perkins Gilman: The Yellow Wallpaper

social amnesia jacoby 1996
‘Social amnesia’ (Jacoby, 1996)
  • Long term memory often stays relatively intact in dementia
  • Cognitive control over emotionally charged memories and feeling diminishes
  • People with dementia remember things that society as a whole would prefer to forget
  • Adams R (1977) The plague dogs. Harmondsworth: Penguin
  • Booth W C (1961) The rhetoric of fiction. Chicago: University of Chicago Press
  • Brown M and Clegg D eds (2007) Ancient Mysteries. London: Trebus Projects
  • Clegg D et al, eds (2010) Tell Mrs Mill her husband is still dead. London: Trebus Projects.
  • Dunmore H (1998) Your blue-eyed boy. Harmondsworth: Penguin
  • Gilbert S M and Gubar S (1974) The madwoman in the attic: the woman writer and the nineteenth century literary imagination. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.
  • Jacoby R (1996) Social amnesia: a critique of contemporary psychology. London: Transaction
  • Jordan H (2008) Mudbound. London: Random House.
  • Kennedy A L (2007) Day. London: Jonathan Cape.
  • Orulv L and Hyden L-C (2006) Confabulation: sense-making, self-making and world-making in dementia. Discourse studies, 8 (5): 647-673.
  • Waters S (2005) Fingersmith. London: Virago