Bless Me Father, for I have Sinned. It has been Six Months since My Last Blog Post….

If it’s self-indulgent to write a blog (and it certainly is), it’s doubly self-indulgent to apologize for failing to keep up with it. But to the extent that returning to the task of regular blogging is going to be worth anything to me or my imagined readers, I feel that I need to begin by explaining the long absence – especially since the point of this blog was to chronicle and thus focus my thoughts on the development of my second scholarly book project on the history of Alzheimer’s disease. Letting the blog drop seems like a bad sign regarding the prospects for that book. And, to be triply self-indulgent, dammit, I intend to write that book and more!

confusion-cr

So, the obvious and unfortunate thing to say is that the blog has not gone dormant because I’ve been all on fire with research and writing. Rather, my time and energy has been absorbed with the usual sorts of things that keep mid-career academics from research and writing – teaching and administrative demands and obligations to family, friends and the wider world. Plus, for me, there has been the additional challenge and anxiety of trying to figure out my job situation in the wake of Penn State’s elimination of the Science, Technology and Society Program in the face of state budget cuts. At this point, my future at Penn State remains unclear, and the academic job market is tough even (or perhaps especially) for a mid-career academic, even one who has published a well-regarded book.

But I am starting to question whether it is helpful to characterize all these things as mere distractions that take me away from my work. At this point, I think the only way I will be able to move forward with this project, my career and my life is to think about how  all these seemingly disparate demands and desires are connected. That’s perhaps obvious. Tracing the connections between individual experience and larger structures and meanings in society unfolding in time has always been the attraction for me of historical inquiry. My first book argued that the experience of dementia and the diagnostic category of Alzheimer’s are not only a personal tragedy and a medical concept, but are connected to a profound historical transformation in the meaning of selfhood and the politics and policy of disease in an aging society. More broadly, understanding the way that my individual struggles and occasional triumphs are connected to the wider world is essential to living a conscious, good life. But it’s no less challenging for being obvious. The tendency to ignore or obscure such connections has become perhaps the defining feature of late capitalist society.

All of which is to say that as I turn my attention back to this blog, I will be moving away from my original intention of keeping it focused strictly on my work on the recent history of dementia and Alzheimer’s. I’ll continue to write plenty about that as I continue to follow the field and hopefully do begin to make some progress in framing and research the book. But I’ll also be blogging about concerns ostensibly far afield from dementia that draw or demand my attention – like climate change, or global poverty, or the political economy of the modern research university, or biking or music – and about how they all might somehow link up on the faith that wherever my work and my life take me from here, it will be the richer for the inquiry.

As the working title of my book, To Conquer Confusion describes both the ostensible goal of finding an effective treatment or prevention for Alzheimer’s and other dementias, and the challenge of creating and maintaining coherent intellectual and institutional frameworks that could connect and coordinate the diverse experiences, interests and efforts of the many different kind of people connected to each other in the dementia field. As the title of my blog, To Conquer Confusion will also describe my own struggles to develop this work while answering the conflicting demands of life.

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About Jess

Jesse F. Ballenger is author of Self, Senility and Alzheimer's Disease in Modern America: A History" (Johns Hopkins Press, 2006), and co-editor of two interdisciplinary volumes on Alzheimer’s disease: Concepts of Alzheimer Disease: Biological, Clinical and Cultural Perspectives (Johns Hopkins, 2000), and Treating Dementia: Do We Have a Pill for It? (Johns Hopkins, 2000). He teaches in the Bioethics program at Penn State University.

Posted on April 2, 2013, in About this blog. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Hello Jesse! I’ve only just started reading your blog, but apparently we are somewhat similarly “homed” here at PSU, although I am at Altoona, mainly, teaching our engineering students about STS, disasters, and ethics. Recently, I was writing about the shutdown of the STS program … maybe you’d be interested, maybe not. Here is a link: http://installingorder.org/2013/03/27/sts-program-at-penn-state/

    • Thanks Nicholas – I appreciate your thoughts about the closure of the STS program at Penn State. I am not sure that I have anything to add to the exchange between you and Erich about the high church/low church distinction in STS – though I think it gets at the crucial problem of social relevance that has bedeviled intellectuals in the academy since the 60s. But here let me just say that I completely agree with Erich that at its closure, the Penn State STS program had thoroughly remade itself into a program focused on teaching and research in line with the main currents of STS as an interdisciplinary academic field, and the closure wiped out years of hard work by several of us laying foundation for an expanded program. Anyway, I was really glad to see your post. I hate to see all this vanish down the memory hole because I think there are important things to be learned from it. I may have some more to say about it at some point soon.

  2. Looking forward to reading your posts, whether on your academic work or other topics.

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