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The Seventh Age of Man: Constructs, Challenges and Catch-22s

La vieillesse dans tous ses états : enjeux, paradoxes et perspectives

From a Humanities Perspective

Regards croisés en civilisation et littérature

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Published on Monday, June 10, 2013 by Elsa Zotian

Summary

The Institute for Transcultural and Transtextual Studies (IETT) is organising a multi-disciplinary conference on old age, interpreted as a transitional period during which individuals have to face specific issues. The conference aims to explore three major themes. The first one will lead us to address a series of questions related to aesthetic norms and social models. The second theme will focus on forms of mental and physical degeneration and will encourage us to examine the consequences of age-related disability, segregation, and exclusion. The third issue is based on the related questions of memory and transmission. It will allow us to reflect upon the transmission of traditions and on relationships within the family, partly based on authority, and/or on inherited collective values.

Announcement

Argument

As part of a recent initiative undertaken by Jean Moulin University (Lyon III) to identify five areas of research deserving priority treatment, the Institute for Transcultural and Transtextual Studies (IETT) is organising a multi-disciplinary conference on old age, interpreted as a transitional period during which individuals have to face specific issues, challenges and paradoxes that may vary from one culture to another. In one of Shakespeare’s most famous speeches, the character of Jaques elaborates on the Elizabethan theory of the Seven Ages of Man, whose “last scene of all” is described as a hopeless physical and mental decline: 

[… ] Last scene of all, 
That ends this strange eventful history, 
Is second childishness and mere oblivion
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
As You Like It. II. vii. 163-166 

The lines of «the melancholy Jaques» are based on a commonly held vision of old age in the Western world (P. Thane, The Long History of Old Age), as evidenced by the Encyclopédie Universalis definition: “final stage in the human life, characterised by the slowing down of all activities”. The French dictionary Le Grand Robert is more specific: “last stage in the human life, following midlife, characterised by a general weakening of bodily functions and mental faculties as well as a gradual atrophy of tissues and organs”. 

Both preliminary definitions suggest that life is a linear, continuous process which leads to an unavoidable fall and precludes any hope of ever reaching self-fulfilment. Nevertheless this portrayal ofelderliness oversimplifies a more complex evolution. If it is commonly agreed that old age is the ultimate phase in one’s life (providing the subject dies at an age that corresponds to the average life expectancy in his or her society) and marks its termination, it proves, however, much more difficult to establish its beginning, and describe its unfolding. Indeed, distinguishing between maturity – a period of life when the passing of time is highly valued since it allows one’s intellectual capacities to reach their peak and one’s life to benefit from accumulated experience (N. Delbanco, Lastingness, The Art of Ageing) – and oldness results from a constantly changing social construct (H. Hazan, Old Age: Constructions and Deconstructions). 

Might old age simply be seen as the ultimate phase in a succession of chapters, during which individuals, benefitting from past experience, are free to pass judgement and express criticism, sometimes to the point of derision (L. Carrington, The Ear-Trumpet)? Or might the concept of maturity disappear altogether and be replaced by the myth of eternal youth (O.Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Grey)? To what extent might the constant increase in life expectancy influence society as most people, who now live well into their eighties or nineties, must face health problems which in turn need to be addressed. 

If employees aged fifty and over are automatically considered as old, the notion of seniority clearly depends on ideological, scientific and socio-political representations, and implies making choices, which often result in paradoxical situations (J.A. Vincent, Politics, Power and Old Age). For example, an unemployed man or woman past a certain age will be deemed unfit for work in industrialised societies, whilein the meantime people are expected to work longer before they can retire with a full pension. Besides the over sixty-five are part of a complex web of intergenerational relationships, which keep changing as social structures and family ties evolve. Since the 1960s , the nuclear family, which excludes the older generation, has been the norm. However, pensioners are now increasingly required to fulfil new roles and adapt to new demographic transitions, economic developments and social patterns. Faced with an ever-increasing ageing population and in order to handle this unprecedented situation, societies are bound to find solutions, imagine innovative policies and respond to new ways of life.

This conference aims to analyse these evolutions in confronting different humanities approaches and it explores three major themes. The first one deals with the seventh age of man seen through its particularly contrasted representations. At one end of the spectrum, old age is a condition not to be endured - a vision which has contributed to generating the myth of eternal life -  and at the other, it is perceived as a form of everlasting midlife. This first topic will lead us to address a series of questions related to aesthetic norms and social models, and to concentrate more specifically on gender, ageism, and the role of the media (D. Looser, Women Writers and Old Age in Britain 1750-1850;  A. Blaikie, Ageing and Popular Culture). The second theme will focus on the mental and physical degeneration that is characteristic of the winter of life, and will encourage us to examine the consequences of age-related disability, segregation, and exclusion (with euthanasia as the ultimate form of rejection) in various domains (I. Murdoch, Bruno’s Dream; T. Scharf & N.C. Keating, From Exclusion to Inclusion in Old Age: A global Challenge). The third and final issue is based on the related questions of memory and transmission. More specifically it will allow us to reflect upon the transmission of memory and traditions and on relationships within the family, partly based on authority, and/or on inherited collective values. Is not the staging of intergenerational tensions one of the mainsprings of comedy as well as one of the key indicators of social interactions and ties?

Submission guidelines

Proposals (2500 signs max.) have to be sent to :

deadline : 15th Juily 2013

Acceptance : 31th Juily 2013.

Conference's venue : Lyon 3 University organised by the Institute for Transcultural and Transtextual Studies (EA4186), 

Conference's date : 16-17 January 2014

Scientific committee

  • Claire Dodane, Professeur de langue et littérature japonaise
  • Geneviève Lheureux, MCF  en  littérature britannique
  • Robert Sherratt, MCF en civilisation britannique
  • Muriel Cassel-Piccot, MCF en civilisation britannique

Places

  • Université Lyon 3 Jean Moulin - 6 cours Albert Thomas
    Lyon, France (69008)

Date(s)

  • Monday, July 15, 2013

Keywords

  • old age, society, sociology, literature, politics, media, art

Contact(s)

  • Muriel Cassel-Piccot
    courriel : casselmuriel [at] gmail [dot] com
  • Geneviève Lheureux
    courriel : gm [dot] lheureux [at] wanadoo [dot] fr

Information source

  • Muriel Cassel-Piccot
    courriel : casselmuriel [at] gmail [dot] com

To cite this announcement

« The Seventh Age of Man: Constructs, Challenges and Catch-22s », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Monday, June 10, 2013, https://calenda.org/252676

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