Dementia and the Paradigm of the Camp: Thinking Beyond Giorgio Agamben’s Concept of “Bare Life”

Symposium: Dementia

Open Access. Journal of Bioethical Inquiry volume 16, p195–205 (2019). Published: 27 May 2019

Lucy Burke

Abstract: This essay discusses the use of analogies drawn from the Holocaust in cultural representations and critical scholarship on dementia. The paper starts with a discussion of references to the death camp in cultural narratives about dementia, specifically Annie Ernaux’s account of her mother’s dementia in I Remain in Darkness. It goes on to develop a critique of Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben’s work on biopolitics and “bare life,” focusing specifically on the linguistic foundations of his thinking. This underpins a consideration of the limitations of his philosophy and ontologically derived notions of weakness and passivity in imagining life with dementia as a potential site of agency or as the locus for transformative ideas about care, community, and non-instrumentalist conceptions of human value.

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