On the Nursing home: Google spell-check corrects ‘Korsakoff’s’ as ‘God-forsaken’

by Arran James

Korsakoff’s syndrome (also called Korsakoff’s dementia, Korsakov’s syndrome, Korsakoff’s psychosis, or amnesic-confabulatory syndrome) is a neurological disorder caused by the lack of thiamine (vitamin B1) in the brain. Its onset is linked to chronic alcohol abuse and/or severe malnutrition. The syndrome is named after Sergei Korsakoff, the neuropsychiatrist who popularized the theory.

humanity cannot be exacerbated, but only aborted
Nick Land, The thirst for annihilation

Maybe it would be better if we abandoned even the word ‘life’ and spoke only of existence.

What function the nursing home? Obviously, it is a place for the elderly- nay, ‘older adult’- to be cared for when bathtubs might as well be Alpine expeditions and the mind is a kind of soggy porridge on an eternal cold morning in which coins have no names and the front door is a barricade against senseless things. Except everyone who isn’t terminally thick knows that that is bullshit. The ideal expression of a nursing home is the image of asylum, it’s last operating domain, where granddad can have the dignity of having his shit cleaned off him by saintly men and women who pay no attention to his sad, wilted cock.

We all know the truth about it. None of us wants to end up ‘in one of those places’. The underpaid and surly staff hate their jobs and turn up hungover, still pissed or coming down off the weekend before. Your body or your brain has given up. Your an image of the horror of mortality, far more terrifying than a corpse (which at least has a certain abject glamour). You eat by a schedule, looking forward to meals you’d never prepare yourself, wake and sleep by a schedule, often being dressed at 5am before being told to go back to sleep, and appear as the tragic star of news headlines or TV shows that streak sensations of neglect. You haven’t a name any more, at least not one even muttered in public. Forget about desire and probably even your memories of your best fucks have gone. It isn’t right but it’s the state of things, and when was that ever right?

No. The nursing home serves a more obvious function. The frail elderly, the ‘elderly mentally infirm’- a term still widely in operation- are sequestered away from a youthful gaze and left to rot. Therapies exist, and recreation, but with this number of staff off sick and the holidays a few weeks away? Out of sight we let our old people die by silent, unobserved degrees; catheterised for crucifixion. Like Foucault’s prison the nursing home is a panopticon in which the old will be old, hence why so many go in relatively able, suffer decline and then suddenly die. A man who is healthy might drown in accumulated fluid. A woman might be so impacted with shit that she can’t bear the strain. Walk around an elderly medical ward, witness the psychometric testing designed to index deficits exclusively, the Addenbrook’s allowing the professional to chart your landing trajectory while you absent mindedly pilot yourself toward the grave.

The obsession with youth breeds this kind of thing. The body as key representation, resource, mode of exchange; the principle of Life our last remaining perversion of virtue. Life is the name of an excess to life that the living can only name without ever knowing. We might experience living but there are no lives, only attempts at living. Exhaustion implies not so much a chiasmic phenomenology but a visceral vitalism. Is it coincidence that the last term is seeing a resurgence at a time when life as such is in question? But not simply an obsession with youth, an obsession that goes deeper than advertising and cosmetics (although held aloft by these), deeper than a prosthetic industry (isn’t all industry aiming at and itself prosthesis?), deeper than the charting and re-charting of the genetic cartographies heralded by the genome project, stem-cell research, cloning, all the biotechnologies. Life is what escapes us or what we hope escapes. Bodies become ever more malleable as they become more understood. More receptive to fundamental alterations far beyond sun tans and psychotropics. But we still don’t know what it is to be a live, to be a life.

But don’t get upset about it. It’s not all doom and gloom. We’re young yet. And look how the old mount up. We have to put them somewhere out the way where their bodies can be successfully managed until death finally frees us from them. Such a burden! And let’s not visit to often because they always stink of piss and we’d only have to face up to our own destiny. Know one fears death only the failure of the body and the strange familiarity on those erased faces. Occasionally one will lash out, a Korsakoff’s patient, displaying a flash of life we can only begrudgingly admire or shake our head over muttering how its such a shame, she used to be such and such…the implication being these are those who are not alive, not a life. They do not count in the scheme of things, as if things could or would scheme in some certain way.

So we can go on swimming and laughing and running and smoking and drinking and filling ourselves up with all those delicious chemicals. We can day-dream endlessly about that one day or about a retirement spent in the countryside or on the coast. We dream up children and grandchildren imagining they will recognise us as like them. As always, we’re engaged in a great labour of delusion- man’s original prosthesis.

The nursing home is our promise to ourselves that we are not those old people and never will be. What dignity in starving slowly to death? In batteries of futile chemo-and-radiotherapies? The nursing home is a place we might visit or that we might work in and so we might domesticate old age and the failed body, we might hide the facts from our brave representations. It is a cage for our anxieties to come to life in, populated by euphemistically called ‘residents’. The elderly in their stagnant homes reassure us that life is knowable, manageable, open for domestication, that we possess it or relate to it in any significant way. That it is ours.

I’m struck by the word ‘resident”s dual meaning: On the one hand a patient in a long stay facility and on the other a medic in their postgrad training. I propose a new way of looking away from the elderly, being every bit as prone to the protective arrogance of my species as it finds itself in this society and at this time. The elderly in the ‘Home’ are really at home. They are in training. They have graduated from struggling to live a life, to be a life, to know of what life consists. They are readying and being readied to abandon ‘Life’ itself and to enact an absolute negation, however involuntarily. Passing from the domain of Life into in-existence, dispersing their material components to be reintegrated, cannibalised, by other parts of the existent. To return to…(it doesn’t) matter.

But that is all too romantic, buying into the same bullshit nostalgia for youth that the we assemble from the disavowal of our old age and, what’s more, from the old age of the universe itself; further back than that, from its ancestrality, it’s completely impersonal brute existence that has nothing whatsoever with our desire to narrate ourselves to the centre of every fucking thing. Returning to Foucault’s prison, the nursing home might be the truest representation of our relationships, our philosophies, our politics. We exist in the disavowed knowledge of our Exhaustion. We are, each one of us, dissolution. Our love is vanishing. Our hope, such as it is, is premised on the certainty of our total disappearance. We are delirious when we talk about Life; eventually everything decays, everything erodes, everything collapses and is swept away, imploding inward on itself. Totally God-forsaken, we remain enthralled to our biotic presence, unable to remove ourselves from the scene.