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Durham University

Department of English Studies

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This is an archive of past events within the Department of English Studies. Please see our current events for forthcoming activities.

Some of our public events are recorded and are available as podcasts via our Research English At Durham blog.

Life-writing at the limits: dementia in contemporary autobiographies and life-writing

13th February 2013, 17:30 to 19:00, Seminar Room, Hallgarth House, Rebecca Bitenc (Durham University)

An Inventions of the Text seminar.


Dementia, due to world-wide increasing incidence rates, has come to the fore of public awareness. Its alleged loss of self raises a number of ethical and thus social and political issues. Etymologically denoting a person who is “out of mind”, dementia today designates a specific syndrome and, together with other mental disorders, has undergone a process of medicalization, which influences the way we understand it. At the same time, a growing number of cultural representations have flooded the literary market – from novels, dramas and films to autobiographies by care-givers and people with dementia.
This paper will look at a number of autobiographies by people with early-onset Alzheimer’s as well as the published output of two arts projects by writers in residence in care homes, to analyse how these texts and their authors and co-authors negotiate and challenge the issue of selfhood and its loss in dementia.

About the speaker

Rebecca Bitenc is currently reading for a PhD in English Literature at Durham University. Her thesis on "Losing One's Self: Dementia in Autobiography, Biography and Fiction" (working title) explores how, in contemporary literature, the alleged loss of self in dementia is expressed across different genres - with particular focus on the ethics of literary form. Her PhD project is funded by the AHRC and supervised by Professor Patricia Waugh and Professor Corinne Saunders. She completed her M.A. at the Albert-Ludwigs-Universitat Freiburg, Germany in English, French and Psychology in January 2011.

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