Historicizing the ageing self: Literature, medicine, psychology, law
George Rousseau Annual Seminar 2019


Professor George Rousseau's Annual Seminar Series 2019 engage the past as well as present and aim to historicize representations of masculine and feminine ageing.

An Old Woman ('The Ugly Duchess')
An Old Woman ('The Ugly Duchess'), Quinten Massys
The National Gallery, London

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George Rousseau Annual Seminar 2019

Despite the recent growth of critical gerontology and demography oflongevity, current understanding of the narratives of old age in thelight of gender remains understudied. Everyone agrees the topic ispressing, even urgent, as a result of the growth in the elderlypopulation, yet few have adopted a sufficiently broad historicalperspective capable of assessing the dominant narratives in theirlocal cultural contexts in order to expand knowledge of the field.These seminars engage the past as well as present and aim tohistoricize representations of masculine and feminine ageing. Buildingon the already well-developed interdisciplinary field of genderstudies, the seminars probe how our understanding of both ageing andgender can be further developed by attending to old age. Of specialinterest are alternative narratives that have escaped criticalattention so far or been altogether neglected. 

George Rousseau (Oxford University)is a cultural historian who works in the interface of literature and medicine, and emphasizes the relevance of imaginative materials - literature, especially diaries and biography, art and architecture, music - for the public understanding of medicine, past and present. He is known as one of the founders of the internationally established field of Literature and Science, and of Literature and Medicine, academic attainments that feed into the seminars he offers as a visiting professor in Bergen from 2017-2020. Professor Rousseau is an ongoing member of the research project Historicizing the ageing self, funded by a SAMKUL award at the Norwegian Research Councilfor the period 2016-2021. 

Professor Rousseau’s guests for this year’s seminar include writer and Professor of literature and gender studies, Sylvia Molloy, writer and Professor of gender studies, Wencke Mühleisen, and composer and Professor of music, Jill Halstead Hjørnevik.

Sylvia Molloy (Buenos Aires, 1938) is currently one of the most important and influential Latin American intellectuals and writers. As an academic she was a professor at Yale, Princeton and NYU she is well known for her contributions in gender and queer studies, and for her work on Latin American autobiography. Also a novelist and an essayist, she has been, for many years, a writer's writer but her last books have reached a wider public. These last works (DesarticulacionesVivir entre lenguasand Citas de lecturas) are explorations on memory and identity prompted and challenged by ageing. In these books, Molloy registers the deterioration of a dear friend suffering from Alzheimer, investigates the relation between language and identity, and looks back into her own life throughout the books and authors that left a mark on her intellectual project.

Wencke Mühleisen was professor of gender studies at the University of Stavanger from 2008 to 2014. She is currently working as a freelance scholar and author. Mühleisen has published several academic books in which she explores questions related to gender, sexuality, feminism and politics. The novel, Kanskje det ennå finnes en åpen plass i verden (2015), is based on the story of her past as a performance artist and her life in a radical artists’ collective in Austria. The epistolary novel, All gjeldende fornuft (2017), is a reflection on female ageing, resonating with her most recent essay Hetetokt: Rabalder med overgangsalder!(2018) on conceptions of menopause in science and cultural history. Mühleisen has also written poignantly about her parents, especially about her mother's death in a mixed genre which recalls Annie Ernaux and Simone de Beauvoir's disturbing accounts of their aged and ailing mothers' last months and days.

Jill Halstead is a professor at the Grieg Academy – Department of Music, University of Bergen.  Jill´s work explores the gendered politics of participation in a range of musical and social settings. She combines scholarly research and creative practice and has published on issues of music, identity and body politics in popular and classical music genres, and more recently in the contexts of health in music therapy.  Since the late 1990s she has worked creatively in the field of socially engaged arts practice, devising performances on location with groups who are marginalized or vulnerable.  Recent work includes composing music for a series of screendance works, participatory dances and live dance theatre performances tackling the social stigmatization of aging and loss.  Current funded projects include "Social Acoustics: Sound, Embodiment, Community" (2018-2021) with Prof. Brandon LaBelle, an interdisciplinary project which combines artistic and scholarly research across the faculties of Fine Art, Music and Design, Psychology and the Humanities at the University of Bergen.


September 10

14:15–15:15George Rousseau, Female ageing in millennial American literature
15:45–16:15Wencke Mühleisen, Cultural menopause: Love and sex in the time of infertility
16:45–17:15Jill Halstead, "I didn´t think little old ladies wrote music like that": Gender and aging against the machine

September 11

14:15–15:00George Rousseau, Male ageing in millennial American literature
15:00–15:15    questions

Literature panel on ageing and gender before 1900

  • George Rousseau (Cultural History, Oxford), British Literature and ageing in the long 18th century
  • Peter Svare Valeur, (Comparative Literature, UiB), Romanticism as an Ageing Woman (in Heinrich Heine and others)
  • Margery Vibe Skagen (French Literature, UiB), Ageing women in Baudelaire’s poetry

Literature panel on ageing and gender in 20th and 21st century fiction

  • Gunn Inger Sture, (French Literature, UiB), The sterilised rose and the tempest-beaten rock: A portrait of an ageing couple in Proust’s In Search of Lost Time
  • Vanessa Etondi (Francophone African Literature, UiB), What about the old Africana woman in Léonora Miano’s “Shadow and Light” cycle?
  • Matthew Landers (Comparative Literature, Western Norway University of Applied Science), Infernal Wisdom Born from Age and Experience in Olga Tokarczuk’s novel Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead

      September 12

      14:15–14:30Soledad Marambio (Latin-American Literature, UiB), Introduction to Sylvia Molloy
      14:30–15:00Launch of Soledad Marambio’s documentaryPieces of memory: conversations with Sylvia Molloy
      15:15–15:45Sylvia Molloy (will be present by SKYPE) answering questions from Jon Askeland (Latin-American Culture, UiB) about literature, gender and ageing
      16:00–17:00Summing-up with professor George Rousseau

      Each participant is invited to offer comments on the most important points they have derived from the discussions

      Venue: Centre for Women’s and Gender Studies

      University of Bergen https://www.uib.no/en/skok/105914/about-skok

      The seminars are organized by the research project Historicizing the Ageing Self: Literature, Medicine, Psychology, Law funded by the Norwegian Research Council’s SAMKUL programme.