Not/Knot Father: Alzheimer’s, Nonfiction and Writing the Father

ABSTRACT of this work is as follows:

Alzheimer’s disease or AD is characterised by neurofibrillary knots, or tangles, and beta-amyloid plaques in the brain. Nerve cells waste away and wither and eventually decay and die. AD is a state of atrophy, degeneration, and negation. It is about not thinking right, about not being able to think straight, and not being able to remember. In Heidegger’s terms we could think of this as unthinking—or unthought: nots as well as knots. As a site of resistance this essay is highly speculative, an exploration of nonfiction as an experiment with experience, in particular an experiment in writing the father, my father: ‘Visiting Not Dad’. What I am presenting here is a trying out (or essaying) of something … something indistinct, something belonging more to shadows, half-light, the in-betweens, which takes us away from the deductive logic and dogmatism of my father’s creationist beliefs opting instead to celebrate empathy and pathos, with a willingness to explore human fallibility, and unsettledness. Through a close-up experience of Alzheimer’s disease, and the poetics of jottings and annotations, I ask: is there a possible link between what we know and observe about AD and the necrotising and knotting of the brain, and the search for something indeterminate, poetic, unthought?

And quotes:

“He was fast becoming a sort of ‘nonfather’ or definitely ‘not my father’ (at least not of the sort that I recognised) while at the same time he was trying to tie knots together, worrying about it all, striving to make connections for himself, find accuracy, locate facts.

“As if with AD my father is speaking himself directly as narrator—intimate, unconcealed, frank, transparent: a speaking-directly that brings us closer. As if with AD my father is nonfiction even as he leans towards the fictional and imagined. As if with AD my father is the unthought of the thinking nonfiction self. A sort of undressed version that is closer to any sense of self—the doubtful, the uncertain, the irritant; and the worry.

“Alzheimer’s disease: a story of an unravelling third-person self, if you like, where the meaning to be ravelled is linked to being tangled, confused or knotted.”