This essay develops and performs a theory of intertextual memory; and uses this concept as a heuristic to re-conceptualize identity for people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. This work emerges from three key sites of personal and cultural inquiry. At the center is my engagement with my matrilineal ancestry; which is haunted by the specter of memory loss: my mother’s mother (my Nanny) was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) in 2002 when she was 73; and my mother was diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer’s in 2012 when she was 51. By telling stories about my mother and my Nanny which rely on intertextual memory; I hope to broaden the poetic space of remembering and to challenge the Western humanistic conception of identity as inherent; atomistic; and highly dependent on successful memory performance. Secondly; I examine the rhetorical discourse circulating Alzheimer’s disease in the popular cultural imaginary; where illness metaphors deleteriously situate the forgetting body within narratives of failure; fear; and loss of personhood. I argue that an intertextual approach to memory performance can help us reimagine Alzheimer’s patients outside the stigmatizing parameters of these broader cultural stories. Lastly; I draw on empirical research related to communication failure in AD in order to consider the ways caregivers might approach Alzheimer’s patients with the kind of linguistic and interactional flexibility subtended by an intertextual approach to identity; in order to forge improved relationships both with Alzheimer’s patients and with the disease itself.
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