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Reciprocal realities: Dana Walrath’s Aliceheimer’s and the Wonderland approach to dementia

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This article looks at Dana Walrath’s Aliceheimer’s: Alzheimer’s through the Looking Glass, a recent instalment of the Graphic Medicine book series. The significance of Walrath’s work for questions regarding dementia and sociality is assessed. Walrath’s attitude towards her mother Alice’s dementia is read against Arthur Frank’s theory of illness narratives. In the second edition of his text The Wounded Storyteller ([1995] 2013), Frank introduces the category of ‘broken narratives’ into his analytical taxonomy. Frank understands a broken narrative perspective to be a subject position characterized by a condition that inhibits the subject’s ability to narrate their illness experience. The ability of Frank’s framework to engage with the dementia subject’s broken narrative position in a remedial capacity is criticized, and Walrath’s narrative theory (termed ‘the Wonderland approach’) is championed as an alternative, superior approach to the broken narrative situation of dementia. The article goes on to engage critically with Walrath’s previously un-theorized artwork. The formal composition of Walrath’s graphic vignettes is shown to be emblematic of the theory undergirding her book. Walrath’s art accommodates readings by ill people and well people alike, at once illustrating and demonstrating the patient/carer relationship she champions. This analysis supports the core claims of the Graphic Medicine movement and suggests that comics can be effectively deployed in the effort to tackle the problematic of dementia and sociality.
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Keywords: Aliceheimer’s; Arthur Frank; Dana Walrath; broken narratives; comics; dementia; graphic medicine; temporality

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Independent Scholar

Publication date: June 1, 2018

More about this publication?
  • Studies in Comics aims to describe the nature of comics, to identify the medium as a distinct art form, and to address the medium's formal properties. The emerging field of comics studies is a model for interdisciplinary research and in this spirit this journal welcomes all approaches. This journal is international in scope and provides an inclusive space in which researchers from all backgrounds can present new thinking on comics to a global audience. The journal will promote the close analysis of the comics page/text using a variety of methodologies. Its specific goal, however, is to expand the relationship between comics and theory and to articulate a "theory of comics". The journal also includes reviews of new comics, criticism, and exhibitions, and a dedicated online space for cutting-edge and emergent creative work.

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