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List of Abstracts and Speaker Biographies



Jan Baars: A good life in “old age”: a privilege for the rich

Abstract: In thinking about living a 'good life' in 'old age' we can hardly avoid one of the most solid findings in public health research: the social gradient in health. This implies that people with a relatively low level of education, occupational status or level of income tend to live shorter lives and have a higher prevalence of disease. These inequalities in health have been found in all European countries and usually amount to between 10 and 20 years’ difference in disability-free life expectancy: quite important for living a good life in 'old age'. From a perspective of social justice these findings should be alarming. However, in theories of social justice and ageing the older population is mostly seen as an undifferentiated older generation representing a financial burden. Moreover, ageing is seen in terms of individual agency, complemented by approaches to 'old age' in which socially produced problems of older people are naturalized and thus neutralized, instead of being articulated as problems of social justice.

Biography: Jan Baars studied social sciences and philosophy in Amsterdam, Bielefeld and Berkeley. In his academic work as Professor of Philosophy of the Social Sciences and the Humanities he has moved gradually to studies of ageing and has published extensively on many subjects. His academic background has been in continental philosophy, especially Critical Theory (Adorno, Habermas) and Hermeneutics (Heidegger, Ricoeur). He is especially interested in the connections between broad cultural and societal developments on the one hand and existential experiences on the other hand. With some colleagues he has developed the paradigm of Critical Gerontology (Baars et al. Aging, Globalization and Inequality, Baywood 2006). In 2012 he published Aging and the Art of Living at Johns Hopkins UP, focusing on more existential aspects of ageing as living in time. Presently he is working on a book about social inequality and social justice in ageing.

Elizabeth Barry: The Moment of Truth: Marcel Proust, Roland Barthes and the Contingency of Ageing

Abstract: Roland Barthes, writing a preface to Chateaubriand’s Life of Rancé, asked a series of questions about what it was to write about old age. Returning to these questions in midlife, he took Marcel Proust as his model, seeing in the writer's work a rehabilitation of the idea of pity in relation to ageing. This paper will use Barthes’s reflections on the stylistic and philosophical considerations of writing about age to reencounter Proust’s representations of older people and reconsider the place of old age in his aesthetic and intellectual scheme. It will also go on to interrogate the idea, found in Adam Phillips’s writing on contingency, that Proust, in opening himself to accidental encounters with the past, is also more comfortable than other writers with the contingency of the future, and in particular the experience of frailty in old age.

Biography: Dr Elizabeth Barry is Associate Professor (Reader) in English at the University of Warwick. She is the author of Beckett and Authority (Palgrave, 2006) and has edited issues of International Journal of Cultural Studies, Journal of Beckett Studies, and Journal of Medical Humanities. Her interests lie in modern European literature, literary modernism, literature, medicine and ageing. She has held two public grants to work with clinicians on using literature and performance to investigate medical conditions and treatment.

Kimberley Brownlee: Who Gets to be Needed?

Abstract: This talk defends three claims. First, throughout our lives, we have a fundamental need to contribute directly to specific other people’s survival or wellbeing. Second, we have a right to be protected in our efforts to contribute to others' survival or wellbeing. Third, when we are denied the means to try to contribute to others' survival or wellbeing, we are victims of an injustice, namely, social contribution injustice. Older people are one group that is particularly vulnerable to this injustice.

Biography: Kimberley Brownlee is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Warwick. Prior to this, she was a Senior Lecturer at the University of Manchester. She has held visiting positions at UCLA, Vanderbilt University, Oxford University, St Andrews University, and Duke University. Her current work focuses on social human rights, social virtue, loneliness, and freedom of association. Her recent work focused on conscience and disobedience. She is the author of Conscience and Conviction: The Case for Civil Disobedience (Oxford University Press 2012). Her current book project, Social Rights, is in preparation with Oxford University Press.

Lucy Burke: Spectres of Unproductive Life: Ageing, Dementia and Care in the Contemporary Dystopian Imaginary

Abstract: This paper discusses contemporary articulations of dementia, ageing and care with close reference to Lionel Shriver’s recent novel The Mandibles: A Family 2029-2047 (2016). It explores the significations of these terms across different domains and epistemological fields from the literary to the political, economic and theoretical and considers the ways in which dementia operates in the novel as an ethical and political category through which utilitarian and monetised conceptions of human value are expressed and ideologically refracted.

Biography: Dr Lucy Burke is Principal Lecturer in the Department of English at Manchester Metropolitan University and Co-Investigator on the AHRC connected communities project D4D on disability and community. She is a member of the Northern Network of Medical Humanities Research and has recently collaborated on a project with colleagues at the Morgan Centre at University of Manchester on dementia and everyday creativity. She is a named academic partner for the international arts festival, Sick!Festival and involved with the commissioning for Sick!Festival 2019. She has published widely on literary and cinematic representations of dementia.

Bernt A. Engelsen: Living a good life in older age: neurological insights related to the self

Abstract: Living a good life will for many of us mean that we are able to communicate well; receive and reciprocate expressions of love, convey emotions, thoughts and ideas, and lead a life of meaningfulness. Self-expression and actualization is central to any individual in any stage of life. Self consists of the physical body and its mental representation and implicates coherence of autobiographical memory, aims, values, meaning and ownership. It also includes the extended self and its social bonds and interpersonal space. Can knowledge about neurological disease and dysfunction give any contribution to the insights of a good life in older age? An epileptologist's reflections based on clinical experience will be presented, related to disease, dysfunction and important brain structures.

Biography: Bernt Engelsen is a Professor of Neurology with a clinical and research focus on epileptology. His work in this project refers to adult persons with epilepsy, including ageing patients, and concerns the clinical phenomenology of self and consciousness in relation to personal and cultural perspectives of life. His contributions are centered on the clinical expressions of and neurobiological basis for self-functions, consciousness and empathy with special reference to the frontal lobe and its connections. Professor Engelsen is a member of “The Norwegian neuroliterary club” which has published four volumes (the last appearing in June 2018) on art, literature and history in connection to neurology.

Sarah Falcus: Dementia, generation and gender in recent graphic memoirs

Abstract: Dementia poses a threat to the possibility of a good life in older age, not only for those with the condition, but also for those who love and care for them. For the authors of the many filial memoirs about dementia published in the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries, living into future good lives often means negotiating the changes wrought in parent-child relationships and, with this, the challenges dementia poses to their narratives of generational succession. Finding ways in which to reconstitute and reimagine generational narratives is central to the memoirs. At the same time, this desire for what we might call restitution draws attention to the ethics of the storytelling act itself, as children become the narrators of their parents’ lives. These narrative acts are further inflected by the gendered nature of intergenerational and care relationships. This paper considers the connections between dementia, generation and gender in recent graphic memoirs by daughters about mothers with the condition, in particular Sarah Leavitt’s Tangles: A Story About Alzheimer’s, My Mother and Me, Roz Chast’s Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? and Dana Walrath’s Aliceheimer’s: Alzheimer’s Through the Looking Glass. Many critics argue that the combination of image and narrative makes the comic a fitting vehicle for life writing about illness and disability. These comics exploit the possibilities of the medium in various ways; nevertheless, it is clear that they share with their written counterparts central concerns and characteristics.

Biography: Sarah Falcus is a Senior Lecturer in English Literature at the University of Huddersfield. Her research interests are primarily in contemporary writing and ageing. She is currently completing a co-authored book (with Katsura Sako) on contemporary narratives of dementia. She is also the co-director of the Dementia and Cultural Narrative Network.

Marlene Goldman: 'Forgotten: Narratives of Age-Related Dementia'

Abstract: Age studies theorists repeatedly suggest that the prevalence of decline narratives precludes an appreciation of the growth and enjoyment that potentially attend aging into old age. My contribution to discussions of the living the good life in older age entails exploring how literary forms shape the cultural imaginary concerning later life and, more specifically, living with age-related dementia. Drawing on historical evidence, I argue that the evolution of Alzheimer’s as a disease concept in the 1970s entailed a profound shift in genre that negatively impacted the meaning of cognitive decline in Europe and North America. In essence, the construction of Alzheimer’s disease as a “brain killer," entailed a shift from the elegy— a narrative structure that allows for grief, while also providing consolation in the face of a natural, albeit regrettable, facet of the life course—to the Gothic—a genre that arose after the elegy. As Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein illustrates, the Gothic approaches illness and death as crimes to be resolved. According to the Gothic, dementia and death are not natural facets of the life course to be mourned. Instead, they are framed as unnatural crimes perpetrated by a mysterious killer. The promise of the Gothic is as follows: given enough resources and time, the killer will ultimately be thwarted by the heroic efforts of the scientist/physician. Rather than argue that one genre's approach is better than the other, my goal lies in analyzing how each has shaped the meanings accorded to age-related dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Biography: Marlene Goldman is a Professor in the Department of English at the University of Toronto who specializes in Canadian literature, age studies, and medical humanities. She recently completed a book entitled Forgotten: Age-Related Dementia and Alzheimer’s in Canadian Literature on the intersection between narrative and pathological modes of forgetting associated with trauma, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease (McGill-Queen’s Press, 2017). She is currently writing a book entitled Performing Shame: Simulating Stigmatized Minds and Bodies. In addition to her scholarly works, she has also written, directed, and produced a short film about dementia entitled “Piano Lessons” based on Alice Munro’s short story “In Sight of the Lake” from her collection Dear Life (2004). At present, she is adapting the story “Torching the Dusties” about aging and intergenerational warfare from Margaret Atwood’s recent collection Stone Mattress (2014) into a short film. She is the author of Paths of Desire (University of Toronto Press, 1997), Rewriting Apocalypse (McGill-Queen’s Press, 2005), and (Dis)Possession (McGill-Queen’s Press 2011).

Margaret Morganroth Gullette: Senexa, Crone-Goddess of Age Studies: Getting Inside the Longevity Archive

Abstract: Is longevity a discovery of the late 20th century? After a dive into mid- and late 19th century discourses, Margaret Morganroth Gullette reveals the early history of life-expectancy data, and a gender twist that shocked contemporaries around 1900.

Biography: Dr Margaret Morganroth Gullette, an internationally known age critic, is the author most recently of Ending Ageism, or How Not to Shoot Old People (2017), which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction. Agewise won a 2012 Eric Hoffer Book Award. Aged by Culture (2004) was chosen a Noteworthy Book of the Year by the Christian Science Monitor. Declining to Decline (1997) received the Emily Toth Award as the best feminist book on American popular culture. Gullette also writes for mainstream media, feminist, literary, academic, and cultural studies journals. A recipient of NEH, ACLS, and Bunting Fellowships, Gullette is a Resident Scholar at the Women’s Studies Research Center, Brandeis University.

Erik R. Hauge: Sadness, depression and suicide in old age -- a clinical perspective

Abstract: Old age is a period of life where most individuals experience serious threats to their mental integrity. Amongst these are the losses of jobs, friends and general health. Although most older people cope with these challenges remarkably well, depression tends to be more frequent in advanced age. Depression is well known to be a major risk factor for suicide. The identification of a clinical depression, to distinguish it from normal sadness on one hand and from dementia on the other, thereby preventing unnecessary suffering and suicide, is an important undertaking for the old age psychiatrist.

Biography: Erik R. Hauge is a psychiatrist and neurologist. Current position: consultant/senior advisor, Haukeland University Hospital, Bergen. Main interests include psychiatry and the law, physical activity and mental health as well as evidence based mental health care. Also interested in mathematics and military history.

Lillian Jorunn Helle: Senescence at the Russian fin de siècle: the construction of the good old life in the late writings of Lev Tolstoy

Abstract: The intellectual climate in Russia at the turn of the 20th century was marked by a panegyrization of newness and youth, establishing a cultural setting that disregarded the past and the obsolete, including the country’s ageing populations. Against the epoch’s tendency to marginalize and stigmatize the elderly and old age, the author Lev Tolstoy presents a starkly opposite approach: To him, senescence was (morally) the most valuable phase in a human existence, leading him to produce a highly idealized version of the benefits of growing old. His celebratory construction of the good later life was based on archaizing hagiographic and stoic patterns, demanding withdrawal from (modern) society, solitude and an introspective mode. However, this sublime and reclusive model often collided with the realities of his own late life situation, which was full of conflicts and controversies. In my paper I will look at this tension that turned Tolstoy’s old age into a constant swerving between (attempts at) quietist disengagement from society and strongly committed, provocative reengagements with that very same society. Notwithstanding the ambiguities, inconsistencies and contradictions of the author’s late years, the legacy of the ageing Tolstoy, as I will argue, is an impressive one. In a period dominated by depressing images of the voiceless and disabled old man and woman, his personality forcefully stands out, cutting quite the contra-figure. In a cultural climate characterized by an increasing tabooing and invisibilization of the elderly he vigorously shatters influential and demeaning stereotypes, demonstrating - inter alia - that the prolongation of life can be a time of (inner) change, renewal and growth.

Biography: Lillian Jorunn Helle is Professor of Russian literature at the Department of Foreign Languages, Russian Studies, at the University of Bergen. She has published extensively on Russian 19th century literature and cultural history, Russian Symbolism and Modernism, Socialist Realism and literary theory. Her most recent publications are connected to postcolonial and interdisciplinary studies, and the research field of “Literature and science.” She is now working within the project “Ageing and literature” and is currently finishing a book on Lev Tolstoy’: The Long Life and Senescence at the (Russian) Fin de Siècle: The Ageing and the Ageless Self in the Writings of the Old Tolstoy.

Julian Hughes: The experience of living with cognitive impairment and dementia in a care home: reflections on authenticity and citizenship.

Abstract: I will describe the HELIX ArCH project, funded by the Wellcome Trust, which aimed to explore the notions of authenticity and citizenship by asking: (1) To what extent and how do people living with dementia in a care home express their authentic voice and demonstrate their citizenship? (2) What factors contribute to the realization of authenticity and citizenship? And 3) how does art contribute to enhancing or maintaining authenticity and citizenship for residents. We used ethnographic methods with observation and interviews of residents, families and staff in a care home. Various themes emerged from the research in connection with the notions we were considering. But I shall use the research to talk more broadly about the notions of authenticity and citizenship. In particular, I shall draw on the work of Alessandro Ferrara to consider authenticity in more detail and I shall suggest that the notion of authentic ageing might be a useful notion (and a better one than some of the alternatives, such as successful ageing) to use when we are thinking of ageing well. This is despite the problematic nature of the term.

Biography: Julian C. Hughes is the RICE Professor of Old Age Psychiatry at the University of Bristol, UK. He is based in RICE – The Research Institute for the Care of Older People in Bath and is an honorary consultant for the Royal United Hospitals Bath NHS Foundation Trust and for the Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust. He is currently a member and Deputy Chair of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics. His work centres on philosophy and ethics in connection with dementia and ageing.

Rina Kim: “Another heavenly day”: Evocative Objects and Embodied Self in Older Ages in Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days

Abstract: At the beginning of Beckett’s Happy Days (1961), the protagonist Winnie says “There is of course the bag”, “make use of it of course, let it help you ... along, when stuck, by all means, but cast your mind […] forward, to the time when words must fail.” Indeed, for “about fifty”-year-old Winnie, who solely relies on fading memories, the content in the bag becomes the fundamental building block of her narrative during the course of the play and, to the extent, of her self, helping her “through the day” and her harsh reality. Remarkably, here Winnie is preparing herself for immediate future to maintain her “look on the bright side” philosophy using the objects she has. According to Richard Heersmink, the advocate of extended mind theory, evocative objects that are connected to past personal experiences not only “trigger and constitute emotionally-laden autobiographical memories”, but also “the self is partly constituted by the web of evocative objects in our lifeworld.” For Stephan Millett, this kind of interaction with objects and the external world make people with dementia remain active subjects who create meaning for themselves. This paper, using the ideas that mind is embodied, extended and distributed, aims to explore the ways in which Beckett encourages us to rethink notions of personhood especially with those who are suffering from memory loss.

Biography: Rina Kim is a Senior Lecturer in Drama at the University of Auckland, where she teaches contemporary British and Irish drama. Her major publications include Women and Ireland as Beckett’s Lost Others: Beyond Mourning and Melancholia (Palgrave 2010) and an edited collection Cross-Gendered Literary Voices: Appropriating, Resisting, Embracing (Palgrave 2012). She has also published in a number of journals including SBT/A, JOBS and Journal of Medical Humanities. Currently she is working on her project provisionally entitled ‘Beckett in Practice: Embodied (Un)Consciousness and Emotions.’

Solveig Helene Lygren: The representation of ageing as a means of social criticism: Human decline as an image of cultural decline in Michel Houellebecq’s novels

Abstract: Michel Houellebecq pays a particular interest to the subjective experience of ageing, and the suffering this creates, in all of his novels, from Extension du domaine de la lutte (1994) to Soumission (2015). In the socio-cultural context of a sexualised, body-obsessed youth cult, every individual is fighting a constant—but hopeless—battle against ageing, which in the universe described in his novels, is synonymous with decline and loss of erotic capital. In Houellebecq’s writings, this human decline can be read as an image of a cultural decline, and the individual death or suicide as a symbol of the loss of values in the Western world. The study of Houellebecq’s representations of ageing thus allows us to better understand his literary project and cultural pessimism as a whole. The battle against old age, the idealization of youth and the dream of immortality constitute recurrent topics in all of Houellebecq’s novels. This paper will primarily focus on Les Particules élémentaires (1998), because it is in this novel Houellebecq most explicitly describes the cult of youth that denies hope for those who are not young, strong, fit, beautiful and virile.

Biography: Solveig Helene Lygren is a master student in French literature at the University of Bergen, where she also works as a research assistant on the project Historicizing the Ageing Self: Literature, Medicine, Psychology, Law. Her master thesis focuses on the representations of ageing in the novels of Michel Houellebecq.

Mireille Naturel: Proust’ s “Bal de têtes”: a festive representation of ageing

Abstract: “Le Bal de têtes” belongs to the last part of the last volume of À la recherche du temps perdu (variously translated as Remembrance of Things Past or In Search of Lost Time). The hero who wanted to become a writer has just found his vocation, through experiences of memories. Time is an essential subject of this work and it includes representation of ageing in the “Bal de têtes”. The hero, invited to Princess Guermantes’s private mansion, after having spent many years outside Paris, found the guests completely transformed as if they were characters at a fancy dress ball. We will adopt a genetic approach to follow the evolution of the representation of the subject. How is ageing described in Proust’s many versions of the drafts of the text? What is the relationship between male and female? Between mother and daughter, between ageing and death? What is the meaning of this episode for our understanding of Proust’s novel? We will try to give answers to these questions, through an exploration of Proust’s fascinating writing.

Biography: Mireille Naturel is a professor at the University of Sorbonne nouvelle-Paris3. She is Secretary-General of the “Société des Amis de Marcel Proust” and in charge of the Museum Marcel Proust-Maison de tante Léonie. She is the Director of Bulletin Marcel Proust and the author of several books about Proust, academic books and an album called Marcel Proust, The Ark and the Dove. She has also published collective works, the last one: Littérature et médecine: Le cas Proust, with a preface by Margery Vibe Skagen.

Inger Hilde Nordhus: Living a good life in older age – What´s Sleep Got To Do With It?

Abstract: As we grow old, our nights are frequently plagued by bouts of wakefulness, bathroom trips and other nuisances as we lose our ability to generate the deep, restorative slumber that we enjoyed in youth. But does that mean that older people just need less sleep? Unlike more cosmetic markers of ageing, such as wrinkles and grey hair, sleep deterioration has been linked to such conditions as Alzheimer´s disease, obesity, diabetes and stroke. It is also part of the story of sleep that not everyone is vulnerable to sleep changes in later life; some people may sleep better than others as they get older. Still a common health problem in old age, it is generally acknowledged that sleeping pills should not be the first-line response, however, it very often is, not least in older persons. Sleeping pills sedate the brain, rather than help it sleep naturally. How can knowledge about the sleep-wakefulness rhythm, often referred to as the circadian rhythm, contribute to the insights of a good life in older age? Although we are seldom aware of the circadian modulations of our functions and well-being, they are continuously present, and modulated all through our life.

Biography: Inger Hilde Nordhus is a Professor in Clinical Psychology and Behavioural Medicine at the University of Bergen, Norway and the University of Oslo, Norway, respectively. She is currently an Adjunct Honorary Professor at the University of Queensland, AU, and has until recently served as a research Dean at the Faculty of Psychology, University of Bergen. She is also a licenced Clinical and Community psychologist. Nordhus has her main research focus on late-life anxiety and insomnia in older adults.

George Rousseau: Reads selections from his forthcoming new memoir, LIGHT SLEEP

Abstract: In 1966 George Rousseau, then 25 and a first-year faculty member at Harvard University, walked into the Harvard Medical School sleep lab seeking help with his ‘sleep problem’. The attending sleep doctor was only a few years older than Rousseau and the two young men tried to figure out what was going on. Later, in middle age, Rousseau tried to reconstruct those first encounters at 25 to recapture what had been at stake in the ‘sleep problem’ and the dynamic of this powerful early interchange. Since those middle years Rousseau’s life has been punctuated by swathes of uninterrupted REM and NREM sleep versus long periods of disruptive insomnia. Now elderly and steeped in reflections about ageing and senescence, Rousseau finds himself baffled by the confidence with which contemporary sleep science pronounces about geriatric sleep – one glove fits all. LIGHT SLEEP, a personal memoir, vivifies Rousseau’s encounters with the theory and practice of sleep over five decades, and speculates that sleep may be captured more profitably when multidimensionally. This is an approach to sleep crafted from both the humanities and sciences, especially literature, philosophy and the arts. LIGHT SLEEP aims to deepen current understandings of geriatric sleep by expanding its too narrow contexts. To enlarge them from categories of circadian rhythms, amyloid plaques and tau triangles - which doubtlessly play important roles in the loss of memory and formation of geriatric sleep patterns - to subjective, biographical, cultural, and neurological components, complex and resistant to statistical measurement though these may be. LIGHT SLEEP pleads for the elderly subject’s unique imagination in this late stage of life and its states of reverie.

Biography: George Rousseau is a cultural historian who has taught at Harvard, UCLA, Aberdeen (Regius Professor) and Oxford, where he also was the Co-Director of the Center for the History of Childhood until his retirement in 2014 and named as one of the Oxford History Faculty’s most Notable Members (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faculty_of_History,_University_of_Oxford#Notable_membersweb). His last book, Rachmaninoff’s Cape: a nostalgia memoir (London, 2015) is being translated into Russian and German. LIGHT SLEEP, his new memoir about the sleep of the elderly, its anatomical and physiological profile among both the healthy and the demented, as well as senescence’s subjectivities, dream states, fantasies and reveries, is scheduled to be published early in 2019.

Margery Vibe Skagen: Historicizing the ageing self: the method of Annie Ernaux

Abstract: Annie Ernaux's Les Années (2008) mirrors more than 50 years of self-writing and the culmination of a new hybrid genre – "a kind of impersonal autobiography", intimately self-revealing and at the same time sociologically and historically illuminating. Working reflectively on memory fragments, old photos, snatches of songs, images and multifarious common references from the post war period to the present, she provokes instant recognition of forgotten daily life details as well as of historical events, and makes the reader feel the rush of lived time. She is representative of French feminism and the generation inspired by May 68's tradition-breaking, liberational move towards greater political awareness and possibilities of self-realization. Her late life perspectives on the cultural transformations that have taken place since her childhood, and especially the change of perspective caused by her mother's Alzheimer and death, produce a paradoxical blend of "beyond the tomb" distance and sensual closeness to our recent history. She demonstrates the contingency of things, practices, discourses, values and everyday gestures, reminding us of a past which is constantly obliterated by the quest for everything new. The premiss of this paper is that Les Années (2008) represents a model of a reflected life. I aim to explore how autonomy can be strengthened not only by authoring one's own life story, but also by objectivizing the self within the larger cultural historical context of generations and social classes. But Ernaux's way of historicizing the ageing self is also a means of transcending the self and the emancipated individualism the younger woman took for granted. I ask further to which degree the intense identification with the mother's final life stage implies a revision of the ageing daughter's understanding of the cultural changes she is part of.

Biography: Margery Vibe Skagen is a specialist of French literature and has worked especially on Baudelaire and the relationship between literature and psychiatry in the 19th century. She leads the Literature and Science group at the University of Bergen as well as the interdisciplinary research project Historicizing the Ageing Self: Literature, Medicine, Psychology, Law which is funded by the Norwegian Research Council's SAMKUL programme from Oct. 2016 to Sept. 2021.

Gunn Inger Sture: Metaphors of ageing in Proust, “Le Bal de têtes”

Abstract: “Le Bal de têtes” or “The Masked Ball” refers to the last part of the last volume of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. It contains numerous descriptions of a large number of characters as they are seen by the narrator who is meeting them again for the first time after a long absence. These descriptions of people who have aged are not always flattering, and sometimes they border on the grotesque. There are, however, aspects of the descriptions that are more ambiguous and even positive. The aim of this paper is to examine the interplay of metaphors that convey different or opposing views on ageing in parts of “Le Bal de têtes”, drawing upon both cognitive metaphor theory as well as Paul Ricœur’s tensional metaphor theory.

Biography: Gunn Inger Sture is a Ph.D. student at the University of Bergen. Her Ph.D. project is associated with the research project Historicizing the Ageing Self: Literature, Medicine, Psychology, Law, and she is working on a dissertation on metaphors of ageing, time and memory in Marcel Proust’s work.

Peter Svare Valeur: The ageing diarist. Maine de Biran and the quest for a “third life”

Abstract: Happiness is a prominent topic in the diary – Journal intime – which the French philosopher Maine de Biran (1766-1824) wrote almost all his life. Here de Biran raises a question which had already been adumbrated in Rousseau’s Rêveries du promeneur solitaire, but which became even more central during the European Restoration when disillusion with politics led many to pursue an extreme individualism: Is happiness reconcilable with living a life (and one’s old age) in radical individual privacy? In his diary de Biran constantly ponders whether happiness is at all attainable to someone like himself, who not only by his increasing reclusiveness choses to renunciate all the little vanities which come from living a social life, but who also each and every day, and more mercilessly the older he gets, analyses his own mental and bodily state. In his old age de Biran becomes moreover increasingly fascinated by the religious idea of a “third life” which means that he must sacrifice his own thinking self. In his reflections one concept stands out: cenesthesia, or the internal perception of our own bodies. How did de Biran see cenesthesia in relation to old age? What is the distinction between “good” and “bad” cenesthesia?

Biography: Peter Svare Valeur is a university lecturer in Comparative literature, University in Bergen, and researcher in the interdisciplinary project "Historicizing the Aging Self", Bergen. Particular interests are: German, French and British Romanticism; 18th century theory and fiction; romantic and modernist poetry; ageing and old age in fiction. Member of the research network "Christianity and Modernity", and "Theories of compilation in the 18th century", both University in Bergen.

Rasmus Dyring and Lone Grøn: ”The little one” – relationality, responsivity and the good old life in dementia

Abstract: Who is the intimate other in dementia? How does relationality emerge as an integral part of the good old life? Drawing on a case from an ongoing and shared ethnographic fieldwork at a dementia ward in Denmark, we present Erna and ‘the little one.’ ‘The little one’ is a toy animal, seen by Erna sometimes as an abandoned baby, sometimes as an - also abandoned - small kitten. It was found, rescued and cared for by Erna, when left behind by a deceased resident at the ward. This example of care for the intimate other raises deep questions about who is the object and subject of care, about human versus other objects of care, and about relationality and ethics. We offer reflections on this case accompanied by drawings by Maria Speyer as an example of the collaboration between philosophers, anthropologists and artists, which lies at the heart of our larger project: Aging as a Human Condition. Radical Uncertainty and the Search for the Good Old life, which seeks to move beyond, on the one hand, very persistent dichotomies in the field of aging studies, between healthy, active and successful aging and its opposites, and, on the other hand, the classical doctrines of moral philosophy with their highly individualist and rationalistic propensities. Rather, we wish to explore what the good old life might look like when people age in situations of radical uncertainty. In such settings, the most salient experiences and concerns are not adequately captured by notions of “successful aging” or the principles of utility, justice or autonomy, but seem to arise from certain existential features inherent in the web of human relationships. We hence refer the phenomenological exploration of ethical demands - and the ethical meaningfulness that arises in experiences and practices responding to such demands - to the facts of relationality, rather than to individual beings thus related.

Biographies: Rasmus Dyring is assistant professor of philosophy at Aarhus University. Among his works, located at the intersection between anthropology and philosophy, are “A Spectacle of Disappearance: On the Aesthetics and Anthropology of Emancipation” (Tropos 2015), ”From Moral Facts to Human finitude: On the Problem of freedom in the Anthropology of Ethics” (Forthcoming in HAU 2018), and he is coeditor of Moral Engines: Exploring the Ethical Drives in Human Life (Berghahn 2018). Lone Grøn is Senior Researcher and anthropologist at VIVE, The Danish Centre for Social Science Research and PI of the interdisciplinary research project: Aging as a Human Condition Radical Uncertainty and the Search for the Good Old life. Recent publications on the phenomenology of old age are Grøn and Mattingly (2018): In Search of the Good Old Life. Ontological Breakdown and Hope at Life’s End for Death Studies; Grøn and Olesen (2017): The Institutional Aging Process. Ethnographic Explorations of Aging Processes and Dimensions in Danish Schools and Eldercare Institutions for Anthropology and Aging, and Grøn (2016): Vulnerability and Agency in Aging for Journal of Aging Studies.


Emily Kate Timms: ‘We Wouldn’t be a People’: Postcolonial Representations of Elders and Intergenerational Wellbeing in Māori Fiction and Television

Abstract: When the renowned Māori activist Eva Rickard declared ‘we wouldn’t be a people without our old kuias (female elders)’ in 1974, New Zealand was experiencing a period of heightened indigenous political and creative activism retrospectively called the ‘Māori Renaissance’. My paper uses situated ontologies of indigenous age and ageing to explore representations of elders during this significant historical moment in Māori director Barry Barclay’s ground-breaking Tangata Whenua (1974) television documentary series and prominent Māori author Patricia Grace’s novel Chappy (2015). I draw on indigenous health research to demonstrate that elders are implicated in models of Māori wellbeing. More specifically, elders have responsibilities such as passing on cultural practices and histories which are deemed essential for intergenerational wellbeing. Consequently living a ‘good life’ in older age is framed as ensuring collective indigenous survival and development. This premise, I argue, underpins ongoing debates regarding the significance of elders and the future of Māori intergenerational wellbeing. These discussions frequently refer to the Renaissance as elders were important contributors to efforts to resist assimilationist government policies and popular perceptions that ‘traditional’ Māori culture had vanished. I nuance these perspectives by analysing the aesthetics and formal qualities of Tangata Whenua and Chappy to explore how elders create and transfer new knowledges to younger generations. At the same time, I contend that Barclay’s series and Grace’s novel foreground the ethics of intergenerational learning and storytelling to protect elders’ wellbeing. Ultimately, my analysis calls for new interdisciplinary methodologies whereby postcolonial thought contributes to ageing studies scholarship on the ethical representation of age and wellbeing.

Biography: Emily Kate Timms is a PhD student in the School of English at the University of Leeds, UK. She is supervised by Dr Clare Barker and Prof John McLeod and her work is sponsored by the White Rose College of the Arts and Humanities (http://wrocah.ac.uk). Her thesis examines postcolonial representations of age and ageing in Aotearoa New Zealand and Caribbean fiction and film, and investigates how such representations can intervene in the discipline of gerontology and the burgeoning field of ageing studies. She the current editorial assistant for Moving Worlds: A Journal of Transcultural Writings (http://www.movingworlds.net) and Stand Magazine (http://www.standmagazine.org).