The intensification of recent healthcare reform rhetoric suggests it is not only budgets that are in deficit. Michael Schillmeier’s new book contends that something else is in short supply; that is, an understanding of the events of illness. In other words, what is missing is a relational or cosmopolitics of illness. The extended opening chapter thus provides a piercing critique of David Cameron’s speech about the societal ‘epidemic’ of dementia. What is a progressively more ordinary problem of a prolonged old age becomes, in Cameron’s grandiloquence, a societal abnormality. In short, ‘forgetting bodies’ become ill bodies; deprived of normality (p3).
Schillmeier unpicks Cameron’s biopolitical positioning of dementia as a ‘quiet crisis’ that needs to be made louder; in effect, turning it into a ‘national crisis’ (p14). The cumulative statistical evidence situates an irrepressible epidemic for which ‘the nation is unprepared’ (p12). Dementia becomes a killer brain condition; one of the greatest enemies of humanity (and a costly burden), which, alongside cancer, needs to be cracked! Yet, as Schillmeier argues, although the events of illness may well ‘unbutton’ a world that is taken for normal (pp1, 161) - taking us all by surprise - they also draw attention to persistent social relations in a world in which illness is occurring every second of the day.
Schillmeier’s astute theoretical analysis does not simply stick with biopower, but articulates the cosmopolitics of illness, through e.g. Whitehead, leading to an intriguing concept of affective relations and assemblages of feelings (pp44-8); that is to say, no entity in the world can be separated from what is felt (p46). Care for dementia becomes, accordingly, sensitive to the troubled mind of the forgetting body that not only forgets, but continues to feel the objects and relations that persist in the world even after dementia takes hold. Schillmeier also provides ethnographic studies showing how caring for difference and uncertainty is indeed as much a taken for granted part of life as is the continuance and certainty of good health.
The appeal of Eventful Bodies will be wide-ranging. Its focus on care for dementia, strokes (becoming a half-sided body) and viral diseases (occurring in a human and nonhuman cosmos) will resonate beyond the sociology of health. Media reports on Cameron’s fight for a cure for dementia tend to focus on new investments leading to new drugs that could save the economy £billions. However, away from the distractions of austerity, what is being proposed is a system of care that continues to target illness as a deficit in the brain. To be sure, the locationist tendencies at work in neuropharmaceutical [End Page 265] interventions are brilliantly offset by Schillmeier’s cosmopolitics of illness. Moreover, Eventful Bodies echoes a widespread concern about care (e.g. Stiegler’s Taking Care of Youth) and should stimulate discussion on developing alternative care tools. Ultimately Eventful Bodies reminds us that beyond the deficit existence in the world is all about care. [End Page 266]