The Tao Te Ching speaks of the duality of Nature. Every gain is coupled with a corresponding loss, as every loss is met with its own corresponding gain. It is with this concept in mind I began to explore the possibilities for a mixed-use housing facility for early onset Alzheimer’s patients on Coney Island, New York. The goal is not to discover the gain that might couple a Loss of Memory, as this would be an individual, singular experience. Instead, it is my purpose to create a means for an individual to find that gain.
The Indefinite Present: the user, the residents suffering the beginnings of Alzheimers, are guided into the Moment, into a state of mind that has no past – which they are slowly losing, and no future – which for them is certain and bleak. Through a series of happenings, presented in no chronological or periodic order, the residents – and the public- are confronted both subtly and overtly with situations that cause them to question their surroundings. Imagine a place where a structure has fallen on its side, but instead of setting it aright, the people inside simply walk on the walls. Imagine a place, as physical and solid as the one you are in now reading this, but floating, tethered down so as not to float away! Occurrences that are real, and yet impossible. These singularities will, over time, create and increased awareness within the residents, an acute focus on their surroundings and the world outside of their own experience. It is my belief that this heightened sense of awareness, and mental activity, will not only provide the residents with a richness of experience, both on and off site, but could very well prolong their period of independence and delay mental decline. If this approach could provide an Alheimer’s patient with even a single extra day of independence, then it will have succeeded.
It is through the use of Magical Realism, known most famously through the literature of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Jorge Luis Borges (and I’m sure many other authors with three names), that this environment is to be realised. “Magical realism is, more than anything else, an attitude toward reality that can be expressed in popular or cultured forms, in elaborate or rustic styles in closed or open structures. In magical realism the writer confronts reality and tries to untangle it, to discover what is mysterious in things, in life, in human acts. The principle thing is not the creation of imaginary beings or worlds but the discovery of the mysterious relationship between man and his circumstances. In magical realism key events have no logical or psychological explanation. The magical realist does not try to copy the surrounding reality or to wound it but to seize the mystery that breathes behind things.” (Luis Leal, Magical Realism in Spanish American Literature. Magical Realism. Ed. Zamora and Faris, p. 119-123).
The relationship between Magical Realism and reality is completely different than say that of High Fantasy to reality. It is important not to get carried away by the idea of magic – there are no spells, no witches, no demons. Instead the occurrences that make these worlds magical are the subtle -though sometimes not so subtle – deviations from what we would describe as our present reality. ‘In his [Borges] fiction, as in trompe l’oeil paintings, realistic referentiality is deployed and then disrupted; mimetic devices are engaged in their own undoing.’ (http://www.class.uh.edu/classes/zamora/BorgesBaroqueIllusionism/index.html) It is through their direct relationship to reality and realistic possibilities that the impossible is presented as the real, and therefore accepted as possible.
Magical Realist text expresses a sense of time that is aperiodic, concurrent, and anachronistic, often all at the same time. In Tlon,Uqbar, Orbis Tertius, Borges writes of a present that is indefinite, in which ‘the past has no reality except for a present memory,’ and ‘the future has no reality except for a present hope.’ The Indefinite Present therefore strikes me as an ideal reality for a sufferer of Alzheimer’s disease, and is the Moment that I wish to create for the residents of this proposed facility.