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Review Article

The Power of Graphic Narrative for Dementia Stories: Trauma, Aesthetics and Resilience in Sarah Leavitt’s Tangles (2012) and Dana Walrath’s Aliceheimer’s (2013)

E. Ann Kaplanemail-imageE. Ann Kaplan

E. Ann Kaplan is Distinguished Professor Emerita of English and Women’s Gender, and Sexuality, Studies at Stony Brook University, where she also founded and directed The Humanities Institute from 1987 to 2015. She is Past President of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies. Kaplan has written many books and articles on topics in cultural studies, media and women’s studies, from diverse theoretical perspectives including psychoanalysis, feminism, postmodernism, post-colonialism and ecology. Her recent publications focus on trauma and include Climate Trauma: Foreseeing the Future in Dystopian Film and Literature (2015), ‘Is Climate-Related Pre-Traumatic Stress Syndrome a Real Condition?’ (American Imago, 2020), and ‘Trauma and Its Future’ (on Alison Bechdel’s Are You My Mother?, 2022). Kaplan’s current research project is a study, Pandemic Arts: How the Coronavirus Impacts Diverse Art Forms, along with continuing her Coronavirus Diary.

email-image e.ann.kaplan@stonybrook.edu

Abstract

This article has three aims: it first argues that the aesthetics of graphic novels, rarely considered in Humanities dementia research, are especially suited to narratives about traumatic dementia. Second, it argues that, within the graphic narrative genre, both indirection and realism can facilitate dementia representations. Third, it argues that the realism each author uses ‘corrects’ well-meaning, idealising, dementia images aimed at challenging negative stereotypes. In this study of Sarah Leavitt’s Tangles and Dana Walrath’s Aliceheimer’s, I show that each benefits from a particular style of realism that I call, for Tangles, ‘abstract realism’, and for Aliceheimer’s ‘adapted’ or ‘fantastic’ realism. Each graphic realism style opens up for viewers the trauma of dementia for both the dementia subject herself and for those caring for her. Images move beyond stereotypes (while not idealising), furthering, via compassion, empathy and resilience, our understanding of this challenging condition so much a part of life today.

Keywords

dementiatraumatrauma theorygraphic narrativeaestheticsrealismresilience
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Published on: 10 August 2023
Volume: 11
Issue: Supplementary issue 2
Article ID: 147
Pages:147 - 166
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Cite this article
Ann Kaplan (2023), ' The Power of Graphic Narrative for Dementia Stories: Trauma, Aesthetics and Resilience in Sarah Leavitt’s Tangles (2012) and Dana Walrath’s Aliceheimer’s (2013) ', Journal of the British Academy, 11(Supplementary issue 2): 147 https://doi.org/10.5871/jba/011s2.147

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The Power of Graphic Narrative for Dementia Stories: Trauma, Aesthetics and Resilience in Sarah Leavitt’s Tangles (2012) and Dana Walrath’s Aliceheimer’s (2013)

E. Ann Kaplanemail-imageE. Ann Kaplan

E. Ann Kaplan is Distinguished Professor Emerita of English and Women’s Gender, and Sexuality, Studies at Stony Brook University, where she also founded and directed The Humanities Institute from 1987 to 2015. She is Past President of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies. Kaplan has written many books and articles on topics in cultural studies, media and women’s studies, from diverse theoretical perspectives including psychoanalysis, feminism, postmodernism, post-colonialism and ecology. Her recent publications focus on trauma and include Climate Trauma: Foreseeing the Future in Dystopian Film and Literature (2015), ‘Is Climate-Related Pre-Traumatic Stress Syndrome a Real Condition?’ (American Imago, 2020), and ‘Trauma and Its Future’ (on Alison Bechdel’s Are You My Mother?, 2022). Kaplan’s current research project is a study, Pandemic Arts: How the Coronavirus Impacts Diverse Art Forms, along with continuing her Coronavirus Diary.

email-image e.ann.kaplan@stonybrook.edu