Research Group Literature and Science
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JAN BAARS, Professor of Interpretative Gerontology (University of Humanistic Studies, Utrecht)


Human Aging as Living (in) Time.


The aging populations of contemporary Western societies are subjected to intensive measurements that are meant to give a solid foundation for practical approaches. A basic concept in these approaches is age – usually defined as time since birth. In the first part of this lecture I will analyze some basic problems connected to the application of chronometric time (which is based on regular motions of dead material) to human aging. These problems undermine the supposed clarity of the dominant age-based approaches to aging: far from providing a secure foundation for policies, they are destined to present mere legitimations. They feed on the authority of exact measurements but fail to explain aging processes.


The second part of this lecture will discuss other forms of time that are more meaningful in order to interpret human aging as living (in) time. Here the interrelated perspectives of the past, the present and the future will play an important role. Finally I will explore (1) how mythological representations can help to identify some important problems resulting from the dominance of chronometric time in the organization and interpretation of everyday aging processes; and (2) how the Aristotelian concept of mythos can help to overcome the apparent dichotomy between chronometric time and experienced time.



GEORGE ROUSSEAU, Professor of Cultural History (University of Oxford)


“Wo(Man) Woe”:

Writers Writing themselves in and out of Old Age since the Enlightenment


What results when ageing writers, both great and minor, literary and from other disciplines, write themselves in or out of old age? That is, when these ageing writers turn to their well-practiced craft, by now an extension of themselves, to produce narratives about ageing, becoming old, or avoiding growing old? The results are unpredictable in a number of conflicting directions. First, many more writers – past and present, Montaigne to Proust, Balzac to Simenon, Simone de Beauvoir to May Sarton, Oscar Wilde to Saul Bellow, Samuel Beckett to James Coetzee, Diana Athill to Lynne Segal - have aimed to write themselves in or out of old age than one imagines. Second, the act of writers writing themselves in or out of old age often camouflages something other than ageing in this late phase of life, even among philosophers and didactic writers pronouncing on the mysteries of ageing and ravishes of time. Third, writers typically write themselves in or out of old age as a confessional and clarificatory act for the greater illumination of the ageing process among themselves and their readers, yet they produce less-than-hoped-for clarification and certainly little happiness – the prospect of ageing leading to death cannot be expected to endow pleasure. This talk evaluates writers who have written themselves in or out of old age over the last century and a half, and enlists some of the similarities and differences. For context it extends back to the Enlightenment and Romantic eras, when earlier writers also did so, and glances at the contemporary landscape in 2014 for similar gestures. The goal is to understand better why so many writers since the Enlightenment have considered writing themselves in and out a valuable pursuit.



MARTINE BOYER-WEINMANN, Professor of Modern and Classical Literature (Université Lumière-Lyon 2)


Beyond Sunset Boulevard:

Reconsidering Female Ageing through Literature and Film since the 2000s


Time has passed since the French writer Simone de Beauvoir in her pamphlet The Coming of Age (1970) awakened guilty consciousness about old people's ethical, social and political invisibility and silence in Western public medias and discourses. In that increasingly wealthy after-war period, she raised taboo questions such as: when and by whom am I (and as a female self even more strongly) regarded as an ageing or old human being –as a senior worker, as a senior lover, as an obsolete beloved, as a former artist or scientist? Why do I feel old several times in a lifetime in a discontinuous process... and sometimes comebacks of youthful sensation? How is it that self-perceptions of ageing don't necessarily fit with biological or economical criteria? In so doing, Beauvoir opened the way to a broad artistic, literary and philosophical field of reflection for the next generations. For Beauvoir's granddaughters (and sons hopefully), female ageing is no longer synonym of disgrace but rather a second chance for vitality, (re)cognition and a renewed acute experience of life and creativity.


In my presentation, I will focus on the contemporary period seen through the eyes of two French female writers (Hélène Cixous and Annie Ernaux) whose widely translated diaries or essays are quite involved with the inventiveness of female ageing in a mother-daughter or family relationship. In Eve escapes: Ruins and Life (2009), Cixous draws a fascinating portrait of her 97 year old mother re-thinking her whole life through Myth (of intergenerational solidarity and rejuvenation: Cimon and Pero), Painting (Max von Schwind's Prisoner's Dream), and Reading (which last book before dying, Balzac or Freud?). Annie Ernaux's humour sounds more bitter in The Years (2008): this self portrait from the perspective of a baby-boomer, is also a generational novel and an tragicomic issue of  Impossible Ageing.


During the 2000s, international movie-makers challenged Literature and other arts to enhance unexpected aspects of female ageing or break other taboos (sex life in old days, empathy with modernity, affective  and intellectual  plasticity, independence of seniors in everyday life) even in confrontation with mourning, pathology and death. Agnès Varda's  films Les Glaneurs et la Glaneuses  (2000) or Les Plages d'Agnès (2009), Poetry from the Corean director Lee Chang Dong (2010),  Vadim Jendreyko's Swiss documentary film La femme aux 5 éléphants (2009), Gloria (2013),  from the Chile director Sebastian Lelio can be seen as interesting  sociological milestones of a worldwide revolution in the representations of female Ageing today.



MICHAEL MACK, Reader in English Studies (University of Durham)


Contaminating Ageing with Birth: Hannah Arendt, Walter Benjamin and Baruch Spinoza


This lecture discusses how the symbolic presentation of age plays a crucial but often unacknowledged role in debates about humanism and post-humanism. Ageing has traditionally been marginalized in philosophical discussions. Instead, philosophy has emphasized the significance of death. The Western tradition (from Aristotle via Augustine to Heidegger) has opposed the human with the animal arguing in various ways that animals lack a distinct, singular consciousness of death. According to this argument, self-consciousness endows humanity with autonomous control over “mere life”. The lecture will discuss how in his critique of this Western tradition Benjamin coined the expression “mere life” (blosses Leben) which G. Agamben has renamed as “bare life” in his post-humanist critique of bio-political exertions of power over life.


Following Benjamin and Arendt, Agamben, amongst other contemporary post-humanists analyses a predominantly humanist Western tradition which represents mere life in terms of vulnerability and lack of rationalist control, as epitomized by the exposure of animals to the contingencies of their environment.


The lecture explores how the close connection between ageing and vulnerability has become foundational for symbolic representations of old age, marginalizing this topic if not posing a taboo on its inclusion within discussions of human temporality. Against this background the lecture discusses three approaches which call into question  traditional humanist oppositions between vulnerability and autonomy, between the ‘pathologies’ of old age and normative conceptions of humanity, between the ‘human proper’ and the supposed deficiencies of the animal. Spinoza first undermined these dichotomies when he established a parallelism between mind and body, between ageing and self-preservation. By contaminating mere life’s vulnerability (subject to ageing) with the persistence of self-preservation that perpetually informs natural and human history, Spinoza counteracts traditional prioritizations of control over vulnerability, adult normality over old age’s exposure to what remains beyond human control. The lecture will show how Arendt’s notion of natality counteracts a Western philosophical tradition which represents humanity in terms of homogenous, necessarian control over the diversity, vulnerability and contingency of mere life which encompasses the traditional marginalization of ageing.






Bodil Hansen Blix

Associate Professor of Health and care sciences

The arctic university of Norway


The Roads Not Taken: Hindsight and Narrative Imagination in Elderly’s Identity Construction. A Narrative Positioning Analysis.


Narrative gerontology conceptualizes life as storied (cf. Kenyon & Randall, 1999). Human beings are perceived not only to have stories, but also to be stories. Life stories are “made up of both facticity and possibility” (Kenyon & Randall, 1999: 2). The facticity refers to the story we are or live at any point in time, whereas possibility refers to the elements of a life story that are subject to change or restorying. Randall has noted, that through narrative reflection “we become more aware of the lives we haven’t lived: our ‘unlived life’ [...] We become more curious about those sides of our selves we haven’t yet explored, about our possible selves of ‘possible lives’ [...] the possibilities for being us” (Randall, 2013: 13). Randall has noted elsewhere that “we are what we remember ourselves to be” (Randall, 2010: 151). I would like to add, we are also our memories of who we could have become.

In this paper, I discuss how telling stories about who one could have become is pivotal in identity construction.


The paper is based on a narrative study of the life stories of elderly Sami in Norway. The overall research question for the study was “How are elderly Sami’s experiences of identity and health in old age worked and expressed in the stories they tell about their lives?” During the course of the study, I became aware that several of the elderly’s stories were about things that did not happen, missed opportunities, or roads not taken. In this paper, I discuss two such stories from the interview material, and I draw on the concepts of hindsight (Freeman, 2010) and narrative imagination (Andrews, 2014).


Key words: Identity construction, hindsight, narrative imagination



Andrews, M. (2014). Narrative imagination and everyday life. New York: Oxford University Press.

Freeman, M. (2010). Hindsight. The Promise and Peril of Looking Backward. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kenyon, G. M., & Randall, W. L. (1999). Introduction: Narrative gerontology. Journal of Aging Studies, 13(1), 1-5.

Randall, W. L. (2010). The Narrative Complexity of Our Past: In Praise of Memory’s Sins. Theory & Psychology, 20(2), 147-169.

Randall, W. L. (2013). The Importance of Being Ironic: Narrative Openness and Personal Resilience in Later Life. The Gerontologist, 53(1), 9-16.




Brita Lotsberg Bryn

Associate Professor of Russian Literature

University of Bergen


Perspectives on Ageing in Aitmatov’s Novel «The Day Lasts More than a Hundred Years»



The present examination of the Kyrgyz writer Chinghiz Aitmatov’s novel I dolshe veka dlitsia den, originally published in Russian in 1980, forms part of a project I am currently working on concerning the changing perception of the train in Russian, Soviet and post-Soviet literature. Starting out on a remote railway junction on the barren steppes of Soviet Kazakhstan on the evening the protagonist Yedigei finds that his oldest friend and colleague Kazangap has died, the main plot unfolds the following long day when the leading character, accompanied by a small group of younger, inexperienced mourners, endeavours to bring his late friend to rest in a distant cemetery, in accordance with traditional Muslim burial rites. Intermingling the main plot with several sub-plots, including myths, Soviet history and science fiction, Aitmatov has created a narrative of intriguing temporal and spatial shifts and fusions. This is not least due to the fact that the novel is set in an isolated, backward outpost, situated, however, only forty kilometres away from a hypermodern space centre. Clinging to the cyclic, regenerating temporality of nature and their forefathers’ legends and religious beliefs, as opposed to the linear, deterministic view of time, history and technological progress held by younger Soviet generations, the elderly steppe dwellers might well have been portrayed as outmoded and ignorant. But, quite on the contrary, they emerge not only as wiser, but also stronger, more active and determined than their descendants. And, most importantly, by gradually revealing the story of Yedigei’s life, the novel discloses unexpected and thought-provoking perspectives on ageing, memory loss and death, as well as on the fear of being sidelined in every sense of the word.


Key words: Ageing, Aitmatov’s fiction



Katelynn E. Carver

Postgraduate researcher

Interdisciplinary Metaphysics, Theology, Literature, and Neuropsychology

University of St Andrews


Meghan Guidry

Bioethics in End of Life Care

Harvard Divinity School


Authoring an End: Bioethical and Meaning-Making Perspectives regarding the Supersession of Autonomy in Self-Narrative at the End of Life


In analyzing valuation systems for human life across the lifespan, cross-disciplinary research indicates a philosophical, psychological, and neurobiological predisposition for the utilization of narrative to evoke meaning from disparate experiences. In the United States specifically, there exists an overwhelming cultural emphasis on self-determination/individuation as the driving philosophical ethos of such meaning-making narratives. However, this prioritization of the individual is challenged as a person nears the end his/her lifespan. Within the U.S. health care system, two schools of thought collide regarding whose estimation of the worth/"fullness" of a life stake precedence when determining medical procedures: where an individual, so long as s/he is competent, can dictate almost everything about his/her care (suggesting the prioritization of the individual's valuation of his/her life), we see a reversal of this regarding physician aid-in-dying for terminally ill patients, where this practice largely criminalized even if the individual is competent (suggesting a more institutionalized valuation of life in general). This shift, even when the patient may genuinely want aid-in-dying to avoid a protracted and painful illness, suggests that for certain issues, an individual's estimation is subordinated to a moralized social estimation in the interest of preserving life; regarding the driving narrative of the individual life, the patient’s personal story is here superseded by a larger cultural mythos. This phenomenon raises two significant questions. First: within a society rooted in individual liberties, what cultural values are being realized in practice via the negation of these liberties at the end of life? Second: what are the implications for meaning making when the individual is robbed from authoring his/her own ending? Using interdisciplinary insights, we will analyze the impact of narrativity and self-determination on meaning making and cultural understandings of the self as they affect the individual, as well as society at large.


Key words: narrative psychology, bioethics, secular moral philosophy



Dena S. Davis

J.D., Ph.D.

Religion Studies

Presidential Chair in Health -- Humanities/Social Sciences

Lehigh University


Feminism and Suicide in the Face of Dementia


Support for suicide in the face of impending dementia presents a paradox. Society includes people who are marginalized and vulnerable.  Does supporting “death with dignity” celebrate these people’s autonomous decisions, or does it express an underlying disrespect for the value of their lives? Several recent cases, including Terri Schiavo, an American in a persistent vegetative state, Sue Rodriquez, a Canadian with motor neuron disease who went to court for the right to assistance in ending her life, and the suicide of psychologist Sandra Bem, present the dilemma: do we need to protect people’s right to end their lives when and how they choose, or do we need to protect their right to continue to live when they are old, ill, disabled, and demented? 


Feminists have expressed concern that marginalized people may absorb the message that their devalued status is a reflection of their lack of worth; that because women have so often been caregivers, they may be especially reluctant to burden others; that societal acceptance of assisted suicide might engender a “duty to die” that would have a special impact on women, who on average live longer than men and are more likely to be impoverished. As so often in bioethics, having more options can result in making some options harder to defend.  Having the socially sanctioned option of ending one’s life could make it difficult to defend one’s decision to hang on to the bitter end, using up financial and human resources. 


I choose autonomy over protection.   And I choose that as a feminist.  To end my life when dementia threatens is to say that biology is not destiny, that I am not defined by my biological functions, not the passive recipient of whatever life hands out, but an active and dominant person who can seize control of her destiny. 


Keywords: suicide, dementia, feminism



Folkert Degenring

Doctor of English Literature

Independent scholar


Age, Intersectionality, and Literature: Sketching a Framework for the Analysis of Age in Contemporary Fiction


Age is indubitably a factor that plays an important role on an individual as well as a collective level: it has a major impact on the shaping of personal identity as well as the shape of society. Given this impact, it is hardly surprising that literature has always engaged with age and ageing. What is more surprising, perhaps, is that only relatively recently literary studies have begun to pay increased attention to the conceptualization and representation of age and ageing, and recently calls for a ‘literary gerontology’ have been voiced. It seems clear that such a project must by necessity be an interdisciplinary one, and indeed major recent studies like Tew and Hubble’s Ageing, Narrative and Identity: New Qualitative Social Research (2013) are situated at the intersection of literary studies and sociology.


It also seems clear that trying to understand the literary representation and cultural mediation of age cannot be limited to examining age alone. Age is a key factor but not the only dimension involved in shaping identities and social structures: factors like race/ethnicity, class, gender, and sexuality play key roles as well. The notion that all of these factors are interconnected and shape each other in complex and unpredictable ways, known by the label intersectionality, has informed the social sciences for some time now and is currently gaining increased recognition in the humanities.

In my paper I will argue that an intersectional analytical perspective allows for new insights into the conceptualization and representation of age in literature. Using Linda Grant’s 2011 novel We Had It So Good as an example, I will sketch a framework for an systematic analysis of literary texts that considers age and ageing not in isolation but in a dynamic relationship with other factors of social stratification and individual identity formation.


Key words: representation of age, literature, intersectionality



Emanuela Ettorre

Associate Professor of English Literature

University G. d’Annunzio (Pescara Chieti) – Italy


“A strange prolongation of life by misfortune”: Thomas Hardy and the Philosophy of Senescence (Part 1 before Tait)


The aim of this paper is to discuss the way in which senescence constitutes one of the main paradigms in Thomas Hardy’s narrative. Most of his writing exemplifies the impossible attempt to come to terms with old age, which is often and grotesquely represented not as a condition of maturity, balance and wisdom, but as man’s ultimate recognition of loss and desperation. In Hardy’s novels man’s life is a continuous struggle with the idea of ageing, not to postpone it, but to forget or even annihilate it.  In The Well Beloved, for example, the protagonist tries to annul time through the desperate pursuit of an ideal woman, thus hopelessly falling in love with three women, each the descendant of the other. But what is striking in Hardy is that the germ of senescence is often so deeply inscribed in the human soul that even youth becomes an anticipation of old age, as in Jude the Obscure, where Jude’s son – nicknamed ‘Little Father Time’ – “was Age masquerading as Juvenility, a boy with an octogenarian face”. The disturbing body of the young boy brings the signs of a premature biological ageing, but what appears even more disquieting is the effect of his actions (the murder of his half-brothers and his suicide) that mark an end to the dreams we generally associate with youth. From this perspective, Little Father Time also reflects Hardy’s vision of our origins, which Foucault aptly defines as an “abandonment of the ‘adolescent’ quests”, as something “derisive and ironic, capable of undoing every infatuation”.


In one of his notebook entries Hardy observes that there is a “strange prolongation of life by misfortune – There are certain flies which have been known to live in captivity a year, when, in their natural state they would have died in 6 weeks”. Considering Hardy’s recognition of an affinity between animals and the humans, throughout the fly he envisions the trajectory of man’s life, the horror of old age with its mortifying effects, together with the concern for the possibility of extending life thanks to medical science. Thus, through the fear of getting old, the representation of a decaying body in which we are forcibly confined, Hardy expresses his disenchantment towards man’s passions or projects and the anxiety for a life that may only inflict the irretrievable degeneration of the body and the failure of desires. 


Keywords: senescence, grotesque, degeneration.



Marco Gargiulo

Associate Professor of Italian Studies

University of Bergen


Ageing in the Renaissance: The Discorsi della Vita Sobria (1558-65)



In this paper I am presenting an analysis of Cornaro's treatises Discorsi della Vita Sobria (1558-65) on the concept of sobriety in eating and drinking for health and longevity. These treatises are important because they offer a contribution to the reconsideration of the negative aspects of ageing in the late Renaissance. In the 16th century, in fact, ageing was considered only a useless and negative aspect of life. The Renaissance generic idea of beauty and youth, and the desire of resist the old age with human sensuality and passion, is clearly represented in visual art and it still works as an aesthetic model in our culture. The idealized figures of Italian art, inspired by classical Greek and Roman beauty and humanist philosophy, constrain the human being to an aesthetic vision that aspires to physical and moral perfection, coinciding with juvenile grace, allure and vitality.


Cornaro's La vita sobria consists of four discourses written between the age of eighty-three and ninety-five.Luigi Cornaro devoted his existence to a dietetic reform to strengthen his idea of simple and abstemious life far from culinary pleasures. In his essay he reverses the common concept of ageing  - well expressed, i.e., in the famous Lorenzo de' Medici's Trionfo «The time of youth indeed is sweet / But all too soon it slips away. / If you'd be happy, don't delay! / Tomorrow's ills we've yet to meet» - into something symbolically different. A long life is a good and blessed one, even if some sensual and unthinking persons - as Cornaro writes in his treatise - affirm that the age of a man, who has passed his sixty-fifth year, cannot really be called a living life but a dead life.


Keywords: Renaissance, longevity, diet




Hemlata Giri

PhD scholar in French Literature

University of Sorbonne Nouvelle - Paris III


The War against Ageing & the Dream of Immortality:

The Theme of Ageing in The possibility of an Island by Michel Houellebecq


Never in any other time, or any other civilization, have people thought so much or so constantly about aging.

~ Michel Houellebecq


With the rise of the capitalism and the impassiveness of modern society, the theme of ageing has never been been more dominant in the modern French literature than in present times. Michel Houellebecq, despite his indefatigably provocative literary success, is perhaps the most controversial author of modern French literature. Houellebecq is known to dichotomize any theme (be it religion, sex or alcohol) related to postmodern society without any reticence. Interestingly, the theme of ageing transpires continuously in almost all his writings. Houellebecq’s characters are haunted by the ageing and desire an eternal youth For his characters, ageing has nothing to do with the wisdom acquired through experience. Instead, they consider it as an illness or a disability. They abhor it like any other serious ailment. Houellebecquien characters consider themselves old at the age of forty or even earlier. In his earlier works, the feeling of getting old leads to frustration, anxiety and even suicidal tendencies in his characters. But in his novel, The possibility of an Island, the fear of growing old gives way to neohuman civilization which remains eternally youthful and immortal thanks to the scientific advancement. But the question remains whether this immortality and eternal youth is the consummate solution to the impassiveness endured by houellebecquien characters? Do they really enjoy their never fading youth, the immortality and synchronized pleasures in virtual world? What does the ageing denote in postmodern literature? The objective of this proposition is not only to analyze the theme of ageing in Houellebecq’s novel but also to question why such a subject is dominant concern in his literary writings.


Key words: Ageing society; immortality; post-human ageing.



Anje Müller Gjesdal

Associate Professor of French Studies

Department of Professional and Intercultural Communication

Norwegian School of Economics


Ages of Life in Savannah Bay by Marguerite Duras


Ageing is a process that imposes its own structuring of time, experienced by and through the body. How can this phenomenon, which is related to both objective and physically structured time frames, as well as subjective experience, be put into words and be represented linguistically?


The writings of Marguerite Duras provide an interesting case in this respect, as they are characterised by a diverse representation of the ages of life. More specifically, in this presentation, I will examine the representation of the ages in life in the play Savannah Bay, where youth, adult age, and old age in particular, are represented.


The analysis is inspired by the semiotics of the ages of life proposed by Fontanille (2008), where he analyses the interaction of temporal regimes and the human body. Fontanille argues that the ages of life are experienced through the inscription and the marks of time on the body, and that this makes it possible to integrate the objective time imposed by the external world as well as the subjective experience of time into a single bodily semiotic figure. The interaction of temporal regimes and the figures of the body produce different models of lived time, that refers to memory, anticipation of time to come, or immediate experience. To what extent can such a model fruitfully contribute to a reading of the representation of old age in Savannah Bay?


In this presentation, I will examine the representation of old age in Savannah Bay and the associated temporal regimes of the body, with particular reference to the linguistic markers that represent them. More specifically, I will look at linguistic markers of temporality and the use of verb tenses that are characteristic of Duras’ work. (cf. Coquet 1993). Finally, I will argue that the analysis questions the adequacy of Fontanille’s model for understanding representations of old age, at least to the extent that it poses the body as the fundamental measure of time and temporality.


References :

Coquet, J.-C. (1993). « Temporalité et phénoménologie du langage. Sur quelques

problèmes posés par la phénoménologie à la linguistique et la sémiotique ». In. Sémiotiques, 5, pp. 9-29.

Duras, M. (1983). Savannah Bay. Paris : Minuit.

Fontanille, J. (2008). « Âges de la vie : les régimes temporels du corps » in. Darrault-

Harris, I. & J. Fontanille, éds. Les âges de la vie. Sémiotique de la culture et du temps. Paris : P.U.F.



Eugenia Grammatikopoulou

Assistant Professor of French Literature

Aristotle University of Thessaloniki


“Old age isn’t a battle: old age is a massacre”:

Romain Gary’s and Philip Roth’s Crossing Narratives about Male Characters’ Struggle against Ageing and Impotence


Despite the apparent divergences that separate them – different generations and roots (although they are both of Jewish origin), unalike cultural backgrounds and language –, the late French writer Romain Gary (1914-1980) and the contemporary American author Philip Roth (b. 1933) share astonishingly prolific literary careers that rapidly gained widespread recognition, a propensity for inventing astute fictional alter egos, ingenious styles and a series of thematic obsessions, usually treated with a good deal of bitter humour, irony and even (self) sarcasm.


One of the issues that seems to haunt their (mainly) male middle-age characters is the harsh and sudden confrontation with ageing and imminent sexual impotence. Both novelists deal with the progressive yet inevitable, deeply frustrating virile decrepitude with singular straightforwardness, juggling artfully with desire and jealousy, paralysing fears and medical symptoms, lustful fantasies and low cunning; in sum, with the maze of the still “willing spirit” asphyxiating into a “weak(ening) flesh”.


Philip Roth’s notorious axiom about senescent “old age [being not] a battle: [but] a massacre” will serve as a starting point in order to approach both authors’ challenging attitudes towards ageing. Their stories converge surprisingly if examined from the perspective of their polemic, almost furious rebellion against the “ready-made way to be old”, that is, resignation, contemplation, withdrawal from corporality and frantic passion [our parallel close reading will focus especially on Romain Gary’s Your Ticket is no Longer Valid (1975) & King Solomon (1979 – published under Gary’s pen name Emile Ajar) and Philip Roth’s The Dying Animal (2001) & Everyman (2006)]. Yet, this somewhat retrospective literary coalition against mannish decadence articulated in quasi-military terms embraces a large scale of nuances, while putting into relief considerable mental fluctuations arising in the two sides of the Atlantic within the last quarter of 20th century. 


Keywords: Gary, Romain / (sexual) impotence / Roth, Philip




Christine Hamm

Associate Professor of Scandinavian Literature

University of Bergen


The Aging Kristin Lavransdatter: Focusing on The Cross (1922)


Students, scholars or others who have read or heard about Sigrid Undset's trilogy about Kristin Lavransdatter, usually remember scenes from the first volume; The Wreath (1920). This book describes a young woman in love with a man of whom her father strongly disapproves. In addition, the first volume is the one usually taught in undergraduate classes on Scandinavian literature. Can this choice of text be interpreted as a lack of interest in the later volumes of the trilogy, and can this lack of interest be explained by the fact that, for instance, the third volume, The Cross, focuses on an older woman? I will show that the last volume of the trilogy discusses issues of becoming old by rendering Kristin’s point of view, using narrated monologue as a technique to enhance the understanding of human temporality. Kristin reflects on her aged body when she finds out that she still longs after her husband, and she compares her worries about her grown up sons with the worries she had while they were small. Furthermore, The Cross is strongly nostalgic in tone, something that is certainly due to the fact of Kristin’s age.  My hypothesis is that reading a long epic text such as Kristin Lavransdatter, can let readers understand in what way a human being’s interpretation of her life can change – and even has to change due to the flow of time. 



Valerie Heffernan

Doctor of German Literature and Culture

National University of Ireland Maynooth


Dementia Narratives in Contemporary German-language Literature:

Memory, Legacy, Identity


It has been well-established in scientific literature that the risk of developing Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia increases significantly with age, and as the population in most Western societies now lives longer, it is a logical consequence that more and more people are being diagnosed with dementia. This in turn means that there are more and more people who are dependent on the support and care of healthcare professionals and policy makers, who must find new ways of approaching and understanding Alzheimer’s.


Literature has a particular part to play in such endeavours. Although pamphlets and public information campaigns can inform the general populace about the disease, its symptoms and its treatment, they cannot help people to understand the experience of caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or perhaps more importantly, to identify with somebody who has the disease, to the same extent that a literary text can. Dementia narratives - those written from the viewpoint of the family members and friends of Alzheimer’s sufferers as well as those written from the point of view of the sufferer – demand a personal and emotional investment of the reader that goes beyond the remit of the objective, non-fiction text.


This paper considers the representation of Alzheimer’s disease in two recent novels by contemporary German women writers, Katharina Hagena’s The Taste of Apple Seeds (2008) and Kathrin Gerlof’s Alle Zeit [All the Time] (2009). Both novels explore questions of a specifically female lineage, of traits passed from one generation to the next, of stories told from mother to daughter – and of some hidden by mothers and daughters – and of the influence of the past on the following generations. Importantly, both novels feature characters who are suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. As well as exploring effects of this disease on the individual sufferer and her loved ones, these novels also use the prism of Alzheimer’s to offer more general insights into issues of ageing, memory, legacy, and identity in the contemporary era.


Keywords: Ageing and memory, Ageing and gender, Ageing body and mind



Lillian Helle

Professor of Russian Literature

University of Bergen


The Long Life and Senescence at the (Russian) Fin de Siècle:  

On Endings and Ageing in the old Tolstoy



Typical for the intellectual atmosphere of Russian fin de siècle were death-denying tendencies and youth-promoting aspirations. In their endeavour to construct a new world utopists and avantgardists  (from the most divergent ideological and aesthetical camps) worked out strategies to transcend death, in the hope of creating the perfect immortal (and for ever young) human being.


In contrast to the epoch’s speculative strivings two thinkers, preeminent in their different fields, developed quite another understanding of death and also of the significance of old age: the biologist Ilya Mechnikov (who in 1904 coined the term gerontology) and the writer Lev Tolstoy, who in his later years became a cultural icon for his contemporaries as “the great elder”.


For these thinkers old age, not youth, held a privileged position, as an essential part of a whole human existence. Their approach to senescence was however different: Mechnikov saw modern medicine as the solution to a good ageing while for Tolstoy, good ageing was identical to self-discovery and spiritual investigations. As such Tolstoy attached enormous importance to old age, as possibility for (inner) freedom, reflection and insight, and as a unique arena for his ongoing quest for the meaning of life.


In my paper I will have a closer look at this quest as it is rendered in the works of Tolstoy’s “late style”. This quest to some extent takes the form of a traditional narrative, with continuity and coherence. But more often than not, it turns into digressing and ambivalent anti-narratives, disrupting and ridiculing the notion of a forward striding course of events. Tolstoy’s manner of writing therefore implies a constant oscillation between attempts at closure and moments of openness.  This is an oscillation that amongst other things undermines the author’s seeking for an essential selfhood and a transhistorical truth making his old life script, in all its anachronistic strangeness, both relevant and challenging for readers to-day.


Øyunn Hestetun

Associate Professor of American Literature and Culture

University of Bergen


Narrative Endings: Writers of Fiction Turning to Memoir


Based on the premise that narrative “operates as an instrument of mind in the construction of reality,” Jerome Bruner in explores ways in which cognitive psychology opens up for a consideration of “narrative as a form not only of representing but of constituting reality” (“The Narrative Construction of Reality” 6; 5). This paper proposes to examine memoirs written by writers of fiction who, at a late stage in life, have turned to life writing. While Maxine Hong Kingston’s I Love a Broad Margin to My Life (2011) and Penelope Lively’s Ammonites and Leaping Fish: A Life in Time (2013) will represent key texts, reference may also be made to life writing by other writers of fiction. Both memoirs offer evidence of a need for retrospective reflection on past lives, as well as an effort to contemplate on and prepare for a new stage in life. In addition, albeit in very different ways, the two texts also offer evidence of an interest in history, politics, and the world situation, which precludes inward-looking self-absorption. The paper aims to explore how the two memoirs both draw on and subvert tropes that seem to be characteristic of life writing focused on the transition to old age. Among distinctive features one may also find a focus on memorabilia, objects that evoke memories of scenes, experiences, and emotions from the past, which serve to establish a sense of personal continuity and self-awareness, in line with Paul Ricœur’s observation that, “We equate life with the story or stories that we can tell about it. The act of telling would seem to be the key to the sort of connection to which we allure when we speak … of the ‘coherence of life’” (“Narrative Identity” 194–95). While these writers of memoirs seek “coherence of life” through retrospection, they also present the forward-looking effort of “constituting reality” of a new life situation, and a commitment to the world in which they live.


Keywords: personal memoir, memorabilia, tropes



Sara Mosberg Iversen

Assistant Professor of Media Studies

University of Southern Denmark


“You want granny? You can’t handle the granny!”


Super Granny is an extraordinarily agile old woman, who good humouredly rescues her kittens from peril while taking out “baddies” with her garden shovel and weed burner. The title above is one of her catch-phrases. Like Gangster Granny, Turbo Granny and Grannie-Fu, she is the main character of a particular kind of popular text; so-called “casual” digital games. When Duke Nukem, Snake, and even Lara Croft are being displaced by grannies what does that mean? Here I want to suggest that it may be fruitful to peruse digital games featuring old women as the main player-character as parodic texts. That is, as playful imitations and comments on earlier digital games as well as on ageing. Interlinked with this perspective another vital question emerges, namely that of the role of parody in reinforcing or negotiating dominant constitutions of ageing women (Ginn & Arber, 1993; Lemish & Muhlbauer, 2012; Whelehan, 2013; Woodward, 1999). Aiming to cast light over these issues, I analyse four digital games Super Granny (Sandlot Games, 2011), Granny Smith (Mediocre, 2012), Angry Gran (Ace Viral, 2011) and Granny vs. Zombies (Jalapeno Games, 2011), all IOS games played on a tablet.


In order to forego the question of intention, I here base my analysis on a foundation of post-structuralist discourse theory. Thus, parody is seen as a particular form of discourse that references existing discourses, changing these in more or less subtle ways in order to examine and make laughable its offset. Robert Hariman describes this as a “doubling”, an operation that draws attention to form and thereby potentially serves to expose the very discursiveness of the referenced text (2008, pp. 253-254). Parody, as pointed out by Linda Hutcheon may, of course, equally well be used to preserve the status quo as to reinvent and challenge (1986, p. 28).


Keywords: ageing, digital games, parody



Ace Viral (2011). Angry gran. Ace Viral.

Ginn, J. & Arber, S. (1993). Ageing and cultural stereotypes of older women. In J. Johnson and R. Slater (Eds.) Ageing and later life,(pp. 60-67). London: Sage Publications.

Hariman, R. (2008). Political parody and public culture. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 94(3), 247-272.

Hutcheon, L. (1986/1985). A theory of parody: The teaching of twentieth-century art forms. New York: Routledge.

Jalapeno Games (2011). Granny vs. zombies. Jalapeno Games.

Lemish, D. & Muhlbauer, V. (2012). “Can’t have it all”: Representations of older women in popular culture. Women and Therapy, 35:165–180.

Mediocre (2013). Granny Smith. Mediocre.

Sandlot Games (2011). Super Granny. Sandlot Games.

Whelehan, I. (2013). Ageing appropirately: Postfeminist discourses of ageing in contemporary Hollywood. In J. Gwynne & N: Muller (Eds.) Postfeminism and contemporary Hollywood cinema (pp. 127-152). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillian.

Woodward, K. (Ed.) (1999). Figuring age: Women, bodies, generations. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.



Catherine Jenkins

PhD researcher

Communication and Culture

Ryerson-York Universities


Satisfying the Second Coming of the Sexual Revolution


What will happen when baby boomers, proponents of the sexual revolution, enter retirement homes and other seniors’ residences? Such establishments are often conservative, considering sexual activity taboo; however, mature residents have a lifetime of sexual experience and the right to sexual expression (Barrett 2004 p.985). Although frequency of sexual activity tends to decrease with age, Health Canada reports that the majority of Canadians aged sixty-five to seventy-four are sexually active, with only one quarter reporting no sexual activity the previous year (Health Canada 2012). The 2010 American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) survey indicates that 28% of older adults report having sexual intercourse at least weekly in the last six months, with 40% having intercourse at least monthly (Fisher 2010 p.2). Sex may be beneficial for improving cardiovascular health, while releasing brain chemicals that contribute to pain relief and depression reduction—all beneficial to seniors (Davey-Smith et al. 1997 p.1641; Komisaruk et al. 2008 p.49-50; Gallup et al. 2002 p.289). Unfortunately, this demographic also shows the highest increase in sexually transmitted infections; in 2012, the Public Health Agency of Canada reported that 18% of Canadians with AIDS are over age fifty. Additionally, dementia can cause increased or aggressive sexual behaviour (Hayward et al. 2012 p.464). Exercising one’s libido in an environment where people are ill and dying might relieve some end-of-life stress, but the notion of sexually active seniors challenges assumptions of both retirement residences and society.


Keywords: seniors, sexuality, risk-benefit



Kirsti Kuosa                                                                         

PhD-researcher and University Lecturer in Nursing                             

Centre for Care Research                                                  

Health and Care Sciences

The Arctic University of Norway


Narratives, Identity, and Care of Old Kven People



This presentation is concerned with narratives of identity, also bodily identity, of old Kven people with health problems living in a nursing home or using home care services. Kven people are a minority living in Northern Norway. The study is based on data from the project “Life-stories, engagement and health problems of elderly persons in northern areas, with consequences for care services”. Nine stories told by patients themselves or their close relatives are analysed and a couple of them is presented here. The data is analysed by using a dialogical narrative method.


The study explored how the identity as Kven was expressed in stories about daily activities and engagement in life. The aftermath of the 2nd World War and the experiences of Norwegianization were more or less explicit in the narratives. They seemed to have a big impact on the patient’s wellbeing and experience of coherence in later life. Kven people are often called “The Silent People”. There existed a kind of silence concerning Kven cultural or linguistic background also in nursing care. Kven background was not always seen as significant even if it was highly important for the patient and his/her wellbeing. Especially when the patient was suffering from cognitive impairment due to dementia, the consequences of ignoring the knowledge of cultural habits could cause conflicts in daily life.


Getting to know the different ways the person in care lives out his/her identity is essential in order to be able to give nursing care which is in accordance with the patient’s own habits, beliefs and values. In dementia care, it is especially important to support the patient’s identity work because the experience of coherence in life is often threatened. The concept of narrative identity, confabulation and vicarious story telling as well as the meaning of embodied identity are discussed.



Helen F. Leslie

Postdoctoral Fellow in Old Norse Philology

University of Bergen


The Medieval Germanic Hero and Old Age


This paper addresses old age in the realm of the legendary medieval Germanic hero as a representative of the prototypical ideal figure. It seeks to understand the symbolic aspect of old age in relation to the discourse of the legendary hero and to investigate the uses to which the rhetoric of age and aging is put in legendary discourse. It analyses how resistance to old age is a characteristic of the hero and connects this to the heroic desire for immortality through memory of their deeds. The legends in question will be drawn from those preserved in medieval Icelandic texts as a starting point. .  (Preliminary abstract, will be adapted to avoid overlap with Schnall’s paper)



Dr Welleda Muller

Post-doc fellow MaxNetAging, Rostock

Kunsthistoriches Institut, Florence

Max Planck Institute


The Representation of Old Age at the Early Modern Period in Tuscan Paintings:

A Good Example for the Pious?


The census registers of the city of Florence from the Quattrocento are an extraordinary material to understand the ages at this time, especially if we study the writings of the scholars from this period too (as Dante Alighieri, Marsilio Ficino, Leon Battista Alberti, etc.). Nonetheless some questions remain: how are these elderly people represented in the Tuscan paintings at the hinge between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance? What the painters (and the sponsors) wanted to express? Through an iconographical method, I would like to examine the representations of elderly people in a very specific type of scenes: the scenes of Jesus’ childhood. For two reasons: the comparison between old and young characters is obviously interesting, and because the relationship with the death should be inherent in these scenes showing the Savior of the Humanity before the sacrifice of his body.


We will see that the elderly people are depicted with respect by the Tuscan painters, as a symbol of wisdom or of humility for example. However, a lot of texts and images of this time give a very bad impression of old age. Elderly people are described as miserly and ridiculous (even Joseph, the adoptive father of Jesus, especially in Flanders paintings). This dichotomy is interesting to explore, in order to reveal the real view of old age by the artists and the scholars from the Early Modern period and the purpose of these images. In a Franciscan context the examples given by the paintings were fundamental, with a goal of model for the pious. A good model is probably offered by the elderly people in these sacred scenes.


Keywords: Renaissance, Tuscan Painting, Wisdom




Inger Hilde Nordhus

Professor of Psychology

University of Bergen


Hege Høivik Bye

Associate Professor of Social Psychology

University of Bergen.


A Psychosocial Understanding of Old Age – Current Models and Empirical Underpinning


The division of a population into broad age groupings is often referred to as age grading. The level of agreement about the exact boundaries of age grading may vary.  In current official policy documents and in some gerontological research literature, analysts traditionally refer to the young-old (age 65 to 74), the middle-old (age 75 to 84), and the old-old (age 85 and over) as having different needs in terms welfare and health care services.  Psychological theories of ageism, however, have tended to ignore the diversity within the older population and have predominately addressed ageism against the old-old. 


As part of a society´s culture, age grading are arbitrary conventions serving various needs of the society, and therefore, it should be conceived of as a temporal construction. Age-related characteristics are changing all the time and constructions like age grading may become outdated labels in dissonance with age populations as well as individuals. Consequently, age grading may represent a significant risk for or underpinning of ageism. On the other hand, researchers should not ignore diversity within the older population and potential variations in the forms of ageism against different groups of older individuals.   


Drawing on current psychological theories and empirical approaches to the understanding of ageism, we will elaborate on how age categorizations can contribute to ageism as well as provide valuable nuances in our perception of old age.


Keywords: ageism age grading; discrimination



Ingrid Nymoen

Droctor of Nordic Literature

University of Bergen


Reading Age and Ageing in Literature. A Theoretical Perspective


How to read age in literature? And how to read ageing? These questions can’t be answered without a clear notion of ’age’ and ’ageing’. The ordinary parameter of age is the calendar year. Ageing then refers to the process of living or existing for an increasing number of calendar years. This may sound self-evident. Applied in connection with a discussion of the ageing wave in today’s society, I am afraid it may imply attitudes to age offending social standards of respect and inclusion.


Help to face the mentioned ethical standards in my reflections on age and ageing I seek in Paul Ricoeur’s Time and Narrative (Transl. 1985-90; Temps et Récit, 1983-85), especially his threefold notion of mimesis, the result of an amalgamation of mimesis in Aristotle: Ars poetica and Augustine’s notion of time in Confessiones. By adding the notions of age and ageing I think I have found a set of concepts by which it will be possible to satisfy the mentioned ethical standards.


According to Ricoeur, in his reading of Augustine, time is a mental phenomenon. It is an inherent quality of the present ”now”. Both past and future are included in the time being. The only time where every human being, young or old can live, I then conclude, must be the triple present time. That is the only place where communication and social life exist.


As a rule, age and ageing are measured by the cosmic time, telling how long a person has lived. In Ricoeur, however, the cosmic time is included in the mental time. The ’moment’ then does not refer to a special point at a linear space of time, but to a dynamic process of memory, attention and expectation.


Applying Ricoeur’s conception of time, I will discuss a couple of biographical narratives in contemporary Scandinavian literature.


Keywords: Age/ageing, discource, Ricoeur: Time and narrative



Pia Pandelakis

Independent Researcher in Film Studies

(2013 > PhD at the Sorbonne Nouvelle, Paris)


Faces of Leather, Faces of Wax :

The Contradictory Destinies of the Face in Hollywood Cinema


In The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976), Clint Eastwood discusses the effect aging has on him, to finally conclude: "It's more habits than old age". With this statement, Eastwood prompts the question of what old age does to us humans - routines being in this case more lethal than the wrinkling of the face. Surfacing in the context of cinema, the matter of old age is necessarily multi-faceted, between the body of the actor and the body of the character. Actors might use age as an asset, comment on it (Clint Eastwood being emblematic in these two instances), erase it (Sandra Bullock in Gravity) or even exaggerate it (Bette Davis in Mr. Skeffington).

Faces in movies are generally thought to be the prime medium to convey emotions, and therefore call for close-ups. According to Deleuze, a face is also a critical site, caught between its obvious physicality and its evocative power. When characters age in the context of film, actors are confronted with the necessity to endure long and sometimes straining make-up processes to be defaced. Paradoxically, this process goes against the series of efforts produced by actors to prolong the appearance of youth.


My goal in this presentation is to analyze a body of films where make-up ages as well as rejuvenates the actor. In The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), the make-up process produces wrinkles (a leather face) but also smoothes Brad Pitt's face to an impossible extent (a wax face). A similar process is at work in Tron: Legacy (2010), where Jeff Bridges appears literally and figuratively two-faced, one face offering the spectacle of wrinkles, the other incredibly shiny and preserved. I shall analyze the meaning of these two bodily incarnations of the masculine face, and will try to comprehend why the face of leather and the face of wax are so often brought together in recent movies, and what this negotiation between extreme age and impossible youth entails.


Key words: body, face, wrinkle, CGI, erasure


Reference :

Deleuze, Gilles. Cinéma : I. L'image mouvement. Paris: Éditions de Minuit, 1983.


Giovanna Pinna

Associate Professor of German studies

Università del Molise (Italy)


Person, time, body: modeling old age in twentieth century philosophy


In the present paper, I shall consider the emergence of the old age as a problematic nexus in the continental philosophy of the twentieth century, and sketch a map of the philosophical discourse on old age, by illustrating who deals with this subject and why.

The philosophical reflection on old age revolves around three main points: the definition of ‘person’ with its social and ethical implications; the conception of time, both from the vantage point of the perception of the ageing individual, and as a psycho-social elaboration of the different stages of a life-span; the reflection on the body. Most approaches to the subject are related, in a one way or another, with phenomenological thought. My recognition starts with Max Scheler’s anthropological writings (whose relevance in this debate has not been fully appreciated so far), where he first addresses the issue of the final stage of human existence and one’s relation with death in a modern philosophical context. I shall then move on to considering the Catholic philosopher and theologian Romano Guardini, whose theory of the life stages had a significant influence on recent German gerontology (U. Lehr). The consideration on old age and aging, also cast in a phenomenological framework, takes on pessimistic overtones in the writings of the existentialists André Gorz and Jean Améry. (The latter’s famous On aging arose from discussion with the physician Herbert Plügge.) On the other hand, Simone de Beauvoir frames her discussion of old age in a gender-sensitive critique of society, which incorporates Marxist elements. The latter, twisted in a utopian sense, are also a premise of Ernst Bloch’s influential book Das Prinzip Hoffnung.

I will also give an account of more recent positions, such as the considerations on time by the philosopher of science Jürgen Mittelstrass, or Thomas Rentsch’s basic tenet that old age represents a radicalization of the fundamental situation (Grundsituation) of the human being.


Key words: Phenomenology of existence, contemporary philosophy, philosophical roots of gerontology.



Zeena Price, M.Sc

Radboud University, The Netherlands


Bodies as Social Capital in Contemporary Speculative Fiction:

Rejuvenation and the Ageing Body in Hanif Kureishi’s The Body


The themes of ageing and mortality have long been predominant in the genres of speculative and science fiction, but have gained a newfound impetus with contemporary innovations in rejuvenation and life extension techniques. In these genres, the scientific quest for eternal youth is equated with the perception of ageing as a ‘disease’ from which we can be ‘cured’ by technological solutions. In Hanif Kureishi’s novella The Body, the self is validated externally; the physical and mental changes which accompany ageing are seen as a form of betrayal. Rejuvenation is embraced in the knowledge that a youthful appearance carries with it a social capital withheld from the ageing body: the relevance, desire, and acceptance required to actively participate in society. These attributes are seen as necessary for the fulfillment of potential. Without them, Kureishi implies, there is only decline, defeat and disappointment. Yet in pursuing the ideal of immutability, the novel questions the true potential of a self trapped in a body which is isolated from its former life, with all its attendant memories and attachments. In doing so, it brings to light the precious nature of what was deemed mundane and distasteful; the ageing body is looked on eventually with nostalgia and affection. By the end of the novel, the shallow vacuousness of youth holds no promise and the techno-culturally entrenched image of the ageing body as an object of revulsion has been reversed.


Keywords: Ageing, rejuvenation, decline



Florian Schreck

PhD fellow

Old Norse

University of Bergen


A Glimpse of Greatness. Old Age in the Medieval Icelandic Mágus saga jarls


How did people in the past perceive old age? By which concepts of ageing were they influenced? How did they express their reflections on old age?

When considering these questions it is especially interesting to look at the medieval period, as beliefs from antiquity met Christian interpretations and societal structures differed from our own. Medieval Iceland, for example, lacked an executive branch of government, leading to extraordinary social developments, heavily affecting the attitude towards aged people.

My paper will use a medieval Icelandic saga as a case study to explore and interpret an exceptionally vivid representation of the theme ‘old age as both the past and the future’ and its associated questions, thereby analysing an omnipresent symbolic dimension of old age against the background of a specific historic concept of ageing.


Because they are more advanced in years, aged people appear to the younger as living witnesses to the past. At the same time, because ageing is inevitable, old age is also the future of the young. Old people can therefore be seen as a preview of what this development might look like. While this future may include factors of ageing such as changing physical and mental capabilities, or social status, it represents also the conclusion of a lifetime and the end of one’s life work. In literature the presence of older people thus often invites the comparison of what they did achieve in their life and what the younger achieved so far or could still achieve in the future. This in turn is tied to the question of self-worth and the meaning of one’s life.


Keywords: Medieval/Old Norse-Icelandic Literature, historic concepts of Ageing, symbolic dimensions of Ageing


Jens Eike Schnall

Associate Professor of Nordic literature

University of Bergen


The Ageing Hero in Old Germanic Tradition


Heroes of old are often portrayed as young and vital, almost invincible warriors, that rely

rather on their strength than on their cunning. Quite often, they also die at a rather young age,

as in the case of Siegfried. Yet, when a hero gets older one would normally expect him

incapable of upholding the strength that so far constituted his self-understanding – old age

comes as a challenge both to the hero and to the societies that use heroic models as orientation.


I am going to have a closer look at the narratives connected to the figure of the ageing hero in Old Germanic – mainly the Scandinavian – tradition. It will be shown that the idea of the ageing hero, far from being just a conceptual problem, opens for narratives that address and make use of the dichotomy young vs. old in various ways, already present in the first examples of heroic poetry within the Germanic literatures. In the Old High German Hildebrandlied for example, old age provides a climax as the elderly hero Hildebrand has to fight his own son Hadubrand. Ahead of the fight they engage in a verbal duel in which aspects of youth and old age play a central role. Especially the Old Norse-Icelandic literary tradition contains a multitude of ageing heroes such as Egill and Njáll. They allow a discussion about different types of heroes, about concepts of heroic behavior, and about different ways self-perception and imagination as hero. As a literary characters of their respective medieval societies, they provide a narrative for the transition from a heroic to a post-heroic society as well.  (Preliminary abstract, will be adapted to avoid overlap with Leslie’s paper)


Keywords: heroism – narrative – conflicting concepts



Curie Scott

3rd year PhD researcher/ part-time Senior Lecturer

Health/ Post-compulsory Education/ Drawing
University of Brighton/ Canterbury Christ Church University

The use of drawing to explore perceptions of ageing in an intergenerational project


The topic of ageing (the process of growing old and becoming elderly or aged) is pervasive. However, it is possible that the lack of discussion about our own ageing; the fact that it is taboo and oft avoided facilitates the permeating reported negativity towards ageing, old age and the elderly.


For a PhD research study, participants drew to explore their private perceptions of ageing and the aged self. Drawing, as an elicitation tool, is used to discern participants’ perceptions in Education, Health and Professional Development. In this study, the drawing process is foregrounded as a methodology for exploring the hard-to-articulate topic of ageing. This non-linguistic form may assist access to deeper ‘knowings’ about ageing.

The research is built on several disciplines: Contemporary drawing practice, Health, and Education. Drawing is defined as ‘mark-making for meaning-making’ and is deliberated as both noun and verb (drawing-as-product and drawing-as-process). Highly rendered or representational drawing was avoided and participants created ‘metaphoric drawings’ which encompassed symbolic references. Drawings were discussed and reflected upon, both as a group and individually.


A participant-generated drawing methodology underpinned by a phenomenographic approach informs the research. The ‘phenomenon’ is the use of drawing to explore perceptions of ageing and participants comprised of a group of health professional students and people over 60 years old. The research questions consider how drawing can be used to explore perceptions; these participants’ perceptions of ageing; how the process of drawing is experienced; how reflective thinking is influenced and the after-effects of involvement in the project. Data collection has finished and the process of analysis has commenced.

For reflexive practice, an autobiographical accounting of the researcher’s own relationship of ageing was necessary. The process of drawing offered a stark and startling insight that went beyond what was able to be articulated in speech alone.


Keywords: Drawing, Ageing, Ways of Knowing



Hanna Serkowska

Professor of Comparative Literature

University of Warsaw


Poland - no country for old people?


“As if in old age the human being becomes inevitably a lesser breed”


In most West-European cultures old age and its embodiment have long become a theme in popular culture. Margareth Atwood, in her dystopian novel, Oryx and Crake, e.g. offers dystopic (hardly acceptable) solutions to ageing (which for Orwell was once a nasty ailment), cured by a new race programmed to live only for 30 years. Others have introduced “age-laughter” to the discourse on ageing, and attempted to familiarize with the old by introducing ludic motifs, comic elements into their plots. In Poland it seems that old taboos concerning body and old age, illness and death still prevail. In my contribution I will first discuss whether the newer commonplaces (medicalization of old age, old body as a scandal, etc.) indeed are absent in Poland, and then raise the question: “How can texts of culture help to change social perception and awareness in that respect?” I will examine a number of recent literary texts, among which: Anna Świrszczyńska Odwiedziny; Łzy; Siwowłosa Ofelia; R.Przybylski, Baśń zimowa; M. Sieniewicz, Rebelia, J.Dehnel, Lala, I.Iwasiów, Umarł mi, Cz. Miłosz, O starych kobietach, Na moje 88 urodziny; M.Hillar, Dziękuję Ci Panie, A. Świrsczyńska, Jestem baba; W.Kuczok, Fetor; K. Kofta, Wizjer, Fausta, Chwała czarownicom; K.Lupa, Labirynt; L. Marjańska, Żywica, Córka bednarza .



Rooke, Old Age in Contemporary Fiction, 1992, p. 254.



Nora Simonhjell

Associate professor in Scandinavian Literature

University of Stavanger


Aging and Dementia in Contemporary Scandinavian Literature


I the last five years several contemporary Scandinavian novels have addressed aging and dementia as theme (Merethe Lindstrøm, Anne B. Ragde, Stig Sæterbakken, Sunniva Lye Axelsen). Dementia is an illness that has consequences for a person's ability to remember, communicate and general orientation in life. How is the demented person descripted in the narrative text? What kinds of narrative techniques are used to explore and express the demented life experience? What can a literary portrait of an illness add to the medical understanding of that same condition?


Drawing upon affective theory, memory theory and narrative theory, I am going to discuss how dementia and demented life are put to play in some contemporary novels. The literary examples are from contemporary Scandinavian literature.


Keywords: Aging, dementia, fiction



Camilla Erichsen Skalle

Associate Professor of Italian Literature

University of Bergen


Ageing in Italo Svevo’s Later Writing


The notions of ageing and senility as states of mind have a central place in the Triestine author Italo Svevo’s literary works, ranging from his best known novels Senilità (1898) and La coscienza di Zeno (1923) to his short-story writing. From the thematizing of these notions as states of mind in his earlier literary works, Svevo, in his later production, tends to focus on old age in societies characterized by the cult of youth. The protagonists in these texts are often old men who rebel against mortality and ageing, and the rebellion manifests itself in an, apparently, invigorated sexual desire, or at least the need to show that they still are capable of having a sexual relationship with a (younger) woman.


In my paper I will examine the figure of the old man in Svevo’s later literary texts, and my analysis will be based, more specifically, on the representation of old age in the comedy La rigenerazione (The Regeneration) and the short story Il buon vecchio e la bella fanciulla (The Nice Old Man and the Pretty Girl). In the play from 1927, the 74 year old Giovanni goes through a rejuvenating operation whereas the old man in the unpublished short story from 1929, while recuperating from an angina incident, sets himself out to write a thesis entitled “On the Relations between Old Age and Youth”. How is the old man depicted in these texts, and how does the old woman fit into these representations of old age? In what way are the differences between youth and old age understood in the later writing of Italo Svevo?


Keywords: Italo Svevo, old age, cult of youth


Svein Atle Skålevåg

Associate professor of History

University of Bergen


The Ageing Soul and its Capacity for Agency


The criminal law is one social context where it on occasions becomes imperative to assess the meaning of age: Are people of all ages capable of committing crime? Most attention has been directed towards the young transgressors, and the problem of minimal age. But lawbreakers of old age also pose a challenge to criminal law: Does an act stop being a crime at a certain age? Historically, this question has been addressed by lawyers and psychiatrists in collaboration. In Norwegian criminal law, the problem has been dealt with under the peculiar medico-legal label “varig svekkede sjelsevner” (diminished mental capacity). My paper explores how the problem of age has been addressed in the context of criminal law and psychiatry, paying special attention to the problem of criminal responsibility. A concrete starting point will be the case of Knut Hamsun, the ageing novelist who in the aftermath of world war two was put on trial for his support of the occupation forces. The criminal case was however dismissed, after a prolonged observation in a psychiatric facility. According to the psychiatrist, the old man was only partially responsible for his actions. The psychiatric report, which was published verbatim two decades later, offers a rare occasion for studying different views of the human and agency, where the neo-romantic views of the young Hamsun are juxtaposed with scientific modernism of the psychiatric experts. Special attention is also paid to the way the psychiatrists are narrativising the life of the author, and the special psychiatric significance of this narrativisation.


Keywords: criminal law, psychiatry, Hamsun



Flavia Soubiran

Phd researcher in Film studies

University of Montreal


A Study of the Aging Actress Figure in Hollywood: The Persona of Bette Davis, from her Origins to her Influence


This paper will attempt to answer several questions related to the aging actress figure through its representations in cinema and especially in Hollywood movies. Today these representations remain marginal in visual culture, having emerged during the golden age of Hollywood studios and fallen with its decline. This figure of the actress most often ages before her time, that is to say, artificially and heavily, constituting a narrative of the ritual passage of one age of film history to another. My research focuses on the appearance and disappearance of the aging actress in Hollywood and how this particular problem elicit the very human issue of loss and disfigurement. An aesthetic analysis will aim to deepen the question of demythologizing the aging female body and her re-mythologizing when cinema takes on a cynical, yet nostalgic view of time stretched onto the body of the aging star. The almost unrecognizable face of the aging stars acting out their fall from grace thus confirms the passage and work of time. This dialectical phenomenon will therefore be addressed in terms of an ontological study on memory and its temporality in Hollywood movies. In such cases the memories brought to life in Hollywood are revived by the trivial and involuntary gesture of a woman whose studio career is just about to fall apart. This paper will demonstrate how Hollywood has portrayed women on the threshold of reminiscence as a means to avert the disappearance of the figure they once embodied. The body of work reviewed will primarily consist of four films in which Bette Davis plays an aging actress: Dangerous (1935), All About Eve (1950), The Star(1952) and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962).


Adrian Tait

Doctor of English Literature

Independent Scholar


“A strange prolongation of life by misfortune”: Thomas Hardy and the Philosophy of Senescence


(Part 2 after Ettorre)


As we discuss in the first of our papers, Hardy’s novels exemplify his difficulty in reconciling himself to old age, yet his later life reflects a rather different trajectory.  In a decisive change of direction, Hardy abandoned novel writing for poetry, a second career that occupied the last thirty years of his long life (1840-1928).  Here, his resistance to old age was accompanied (if never succeeded) by a willingness to exploit his experience and independence to offer markedly more radical and anti-realist readings of the world.  Thus, and whilst Hardy never lost his sense of the way that time abrades and humiliates – it is the stuff of much of his verse, as the title of his third collection, Time's Laughingstocks, signals – three very different threads emerge, each with continuing resonance.  As he contemplated his old age, Hardy began to register, firstly, a sense of himself as far more immanent in a world that was itself more real, more present to him, and this began to break down not only the human-animal divide, but also the separation of biotic and abiotic, as poems like ‘Transformations’, and, more personally, ‘While Drawing in a Churchyard’, suggest.  Secondly, a sense of his own freedom from narrow matters of taste enabled him to engage at length with his own emerging philosophy of life.  Thirdly, and as Hardy confronted his own mortality, he was driven to seek consolation even in the absence of traditional religious beliefs, and find eschatological meaning in a god-forsaken or god-forgotten world.  These three threads combined most notably in The Dynasts, a work of almost impossible idiosyncrasy, but which is yet his most visionary and innovative.  Thus, the work of old age merged with his work about old age, providing a dazzling second life, like that of (in his own words) a 'phoenix Verdi'. 


Keywords: freedom, independence, immanence


Marie Thevenon

Doctor of American Literature

English Lector (Stendhal University, Grenoble 3)


Paul Auster's Winter Journals: When an Author and his Characters Confront Old Age Simultaneously


From The Invention of Solitude (1982) to Winter Journal (2012), the New York author Paul Auster presents an authentic walk through life in his autobiographical and autofictional works which feature characters who grow older at the same rhythm as the author does. In two of his more recent novels, the theme of old age is explicitly evoked. Travels in the Scriptorium (2006) and Man in the Dark (2008) both describe and analyse the physical and mental decline which the two elderly characters, two authors approaching the end of their life, have to endure.

Cut off from the world in a “locked room”, following a frequent theme in Paul Auster's works, the main character of Travels in the Scriptorium, Mr. Blank, discovers that he is condemned by his condition as an “old man” to be inactive and finds it impossible to really know what he is doing there. The story takes place in a universe greatly inspired by Beckett and in which the sole scenery is a single room (the famous “locked room” which reappears in all of Auster's novels). Handicapped by his old age and his illness, Mr. Blank finds it immensely difficult to move around. Furthermore, he suffers from a form of dementia which makes him lose even his own identity.

The hero of Man in the Dark, August Brill, is also a prisoner in a “locked room” after he was the victim of an accident which has deprived him of the use of his legs. As a grieving widower, tortured by life, he seeks refuge in his imagination in order to prevent his fall into the abyss of the memories of his bygone life.


The two characters nevertheless succeed in confronting their physical degeneration thanks to the regular work in which they engage on their mind and their imagination.

It is the paradox between physical incapacity and mental virtuosity in people who have reached an advanced age which I propose to study in my presentation. This work will also refer to two other works by Paul Auster, published in 2012 and 2013 : Winter Journal, which is described by the editor as a profound autobiographical reflexion by the author on old age at the precise moment when he considers he has reached the “winter of his life” and offers a summary of his life enlightened by the increased hindsight gained specifically with advancing years ; and Report from the Interior, its companion volume.


Keywords: Paul Auster, ageing author/characters, ageing body/mind.



Eivind Tjønneland,

Professor of Scandinavian Literature

LLE, University of Bergen


Ageing as a Threat to Narcissism


100 years ago, in “Zur Einführung des Narzissmus” Freud described narcissism as loving oneself as one used to be, as one is or as one want to be in the future. Although thinking narcissism within a temporal structure, he did not describe narcissism particularly in relation to ageing or how the narcissist copes with the passing of time when growing older. But Freud certainly spoke of “die von der Realität hart bedrängte Unsterblichkeit des Ich“. The mortality of man implies a threat to narcissism. Death is stated as the ultimate risk against which there is no defense strong enough. 


When a primary narcissism by all human beings is presupposed, then it would also be the case that we are all more or less incapable of “auf die einmal genossene Befriedigung zu verzichten”: We will not be able to completely give up the paradise of our childhood. All though ageing is not a theme in Freud’s essay on narcissism the above mentioned presuppositions would be enough to apply his concept of narcissism to the problem of ageing. This is exactly what my paper intends to do.



Catherine du Toit

Associate Professor of French and Comparative Literature

University of Stellenbosch, South Africa


The Representation of Ageing and Eroticism in Contemporary Fiction: Trap or Taboo?


In a world, which often appears to value beauty and youth above all else, a world, on the other hand, where people generally live longer, what are the defence mechanisms and the coping or adaptation strategies with regards to the ageing body and how are they represented in contemporary fiction?  This comparative study examines the perceptions of the ageing body and sexuality in the 21st century in a selection of novels in German, French and English (Walser, Maron, Houellebecq, Cixous, Coetzee, Roth) published from 2001 to 2014.  How does the decline of the body and physical suffering transform desire and  interaction with others but also the relation to death and memory?  Shrinkage, shame, alienation are all figures that influence the identity of the ageing subject. Torn between alienation and desire, the ageing body reveals the passing of time as it tries to defy decrepitude: a constant and inevitable crispation between Eros and Thanatos. In the 21st century, in an age where everything seems possible and where the fountain of eternal youth seems increasingly accessible due to astounding scientific advances, several ethical complexities are added to the stakes when it comes to ageing. Bio-medical interventions as well as tangentially related research in, for example, cloning, have created a discourse of ageing as ambivalent and at odds with longevity. As a source of ethical and aesthetic challenges, writing about ageing remains, exactly like eroticism, an effort to make sense of the changing present but also of the past and the future; a struggle to remain truly alive until death.


Keywords: ageing, eroticism, comparative literature


Peter Svare Valeur

Associate Professor of Comparative Literature

University of Bergen


Habit, Fame, Grace: Wordsworth’s Poem “Animal Tranquillity and Decay” (Lyrical Ballads)


My paper considers the relation between old age and habitude in William Wordsworth’s poem “Animal Tranquillity and Decay” (sometimes called “Old Man Travelling”) from 1798, a poem which can be deemed exemplary of the young Wordsworth’s interest in and celebration of old persons in his writings. My point of departure is Hegel’s Enzyclopädie, where old age is defined as “prozeβlose Gewohnheit”, and where “Gewohnheit” is understood as freedom from any interests or needs. I will argue that Wordsworth’s celebration of old age, such as he pursues it in this and other poems, specifically highlights this freedom. Two topics will be highlighted: Firstly, I claim that Wordsworth’s poem anticipates something which the French philosopher Félix Ravaisson would elaborate a few years later in his De l’habitude (1833), where he explains why habits are closely related to grace. Secondly, Wordsworth seems to pattern his description of the old man on the image of Habitude (consuetudo) found in the famous medieval iconology of Cesare Ripa. In Ripa, the image of Habitude, allegorically portrayed as an old man walking, is accompanied by a text containing a quotation from Virgil’s Aeneid about Fama (fame). To my knowledge, no one has ever pointed out this intriguing connection, nor its possible link to Wordsworth.


It merits emphasis that unlike most other writers of the romantic age Wordsworth endows the two phenomena of old age and habit (both frequently disparaged by his contemporaries) with new semantic energy. The idea of the regularity and habitualness exemplified by old persons does not fill Wordsworth with contempt, but with admiration, and in his poem(s) he seeks to uncover the ethical, epistemological and aesthetic values inherent in this particular form of life such as it unfolds at the threshold of death. 


Keywords: Habit, grace, fame



Kate Wakeling

Research Fellow


Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music & Dance

Discovering 'virtual selves':

Reimagining the Experience of Older Age through Music and Dance


This paper explores how participatory arts practice can engender new conceptions of temporality and vibrant new personal narratives among older people, and in turn challenges conventional paradigms of the ageing process. The paper will discuss how arts participation can shift conceptions of past, present and future in the memories and anticipations of older people to awaken bold new identities in older age. As such, the paper contests more linear models of ageing which may presuppose the depletion of creative agency across the life course, both in terms of artistic output and individuals’ creative capacity to reimagine and reanimate their own pasts.


Combining ethnographic and theoretical research, the paper focuses on the work of a community arts group of older adults who regularly devise their own experimental music and dance pieces. The paper presents group members’ detailed and insightful reflections on their own creative experiences alongside a phenomenological approach to the study of memory and future anticipation. Drawing on Bergson’s theory of the virtuality of temporal perception, the paper explores how such creative activity can not only create forms of potentiality for subjective identities in the present and future (‘becoming future selves’), but can also act as a causal agent in the construction of ‘virtual past selves’, through the formation and fusing of ‘ideal’ memories and anticipations.


Sparked by participants’ own commentaries about their twin experiences of the creative process and the ageing process, this paper highlights the rich capacity of older people to challenge linear paradigms of ageing in favour of personal, dynamic and imaginative linkages between one’s ever-‘becoming’ past, present and future.


Keywords: Ethnography, Participatory Arts, Virtuality



Maggie Yancey

Ph.D. Researcher in History

University of Tennessee


“I will not say how long I will hold out”:

Memory, Alcohol, and Identity Among in Ageing Civil War Veterans and Their Compatriots


Civil War era Americans grew old in a different culture than the one in which they came of age. The changes American society underwent in the Civil War era, arguably as vast as those of the late twentieth century, can shed light on the experience of ageing in an era of intense change. Civil War era Americans experienced the rapid transformation of their country, culture, and government. Between 1861 and 1865, the wartime state quickly mobilised and enlarged itself irrevocably. The abolition of slavery transformed the American south, socially, culturally, and economically. The postwar reconstruction process even fundamentally changed and expanded the scope of the United States Constitution, its guiding legal document. Meanwhile, on micro and collective levels, the experience of the war often disrupted or transformed individual identities. Men and women alike, across regional and class divides, reported the experience of living lifetimes in a day, and even of growing old overnight. So, during the war years, the idea of ageing took place in self-conceptualisation long before it would in bodies. Because alcohol was symbolically linked with evangelical American concepts of blood, sacrifice, spirit, and ultimately the self, it was a natural symbolic locus for identities transformed by war, which many Civil War era Americans understood as a transformational blood sacrifice performed on the altar of the nation. The symbolic and cultural meaning of alcohol was further transformed by the wartime experience, and Americans continued to reshape it as the war faded into memory. Men and women who came of age in the Civil War era sought to make sense of their lives, themselves, and the legacy of the war. These needs were reflected in the stories they told about themselves as they aged, and the transmogrification of the symbol of alcohol in those narratives ultimately represented the transformation of the ageing American self.


Keywords: memory, alcohol, identity