Naming the Cause : A Cultural Critique of the Alzheimer’s State

Doctoral Dissertation for Columbia University’s Department of Anthropology

Some have noted that this dissertation on Alzheimer’s and the State by Drew Walker was a curiosity, to say the least. The whole thing sort of revolves around a central, science-fiction-like story of a man named Gabriel, or I.M. Gabriel (spelled various ways) to be precise. This figure Gabriel is an immigrant with medical training who is not having success getting his foreign credentials recognized. In an effort to work in the medical field and improve his efforts at integration, Gabriel takes a low-level job as part of a research team working to find genetic markers that indicate the likelihood of developing Alzheimer”s disease when one moves through old age. For one reason or another the announcement of very promising results in modification of genomic areas related to the development of Alzheimer’s leads Gabriel to suppose a cure is in the coming decades an inevitability. This leads him to work in a facility for those with Alzheimer’s, with the idea that he might be able to better understand this disease, become integrated into the proper professional groups, and one day be part of its cure. 

His depressive situation as an immigrant, along with his work with persons with Alzheimer’s in an ongoing one-to-one series of interactions begins to present problems with his dreams of being part of the genetic cure. Everything changes one day when a strange kind of interaction  between and himself and a man with the disease sets him off to thinking about how what he is involved in could be something destructive, even earth-shattering. Gabriel realizes that not only do those he is dealing with who have Alzheimer’s hold secret, disease-enabled revelations or truths about ‘the world itself.’ If and when in thirty, forty, or fifty years no one develops this disease anymore due to a cure that changes the genetic causes earlier in life, not only will all of its secret truths be no longer accessible, but the world will end.

In response, Gabriel sets about cleverly faking the results of many individuals he is testing who do in fact have a strong chance of developing Alzheimer’s in the future. One night, having not slept well for days, and finding the test subject not a home when he came to draw blood for the study, he takes a sample of his own blood instead and records it as the person who was not at home. The next day in the lab, Gabriel discovers through testing his own blood that he has no chance of ever developing Alzheimer’s. This sets him off on a mysterious quest to change his destiny to be one who can help save the world.