“Exploring the Boundaries of Age Studies,” a roundtable at the MLA convention in Philadelphia in January 2017, was proposed by members of the Modern Language Association’s Age Studies Forum as a response to this year’s Conference’s Presidential Theme: “Boundary Conditions.”
At times, it seems that Old Age is something that only we post-moderns have had to think about, let alone deal with its physical and economic consequences, or the cultural polarization that renders the elderly as wise or foolish, rich or poor, healthy or sick, or athletic of bed-bound. We are attuned to the media battles that pit youth against age, but there is another, more disturbing conflict that sets elderly people off against each other. Perhaps this is seen most clearly in the role of money and medicine in the life of older people. We can chart a clear demographic shift between people who have money and access to elective health care procedures and those who do not.
This paper discusses two works by Hervé Guibert, a French author who was an influential voice in the public debates surrounding AIDS in the early 1990s. It examines how his post-diagnosis novels play with the autobiographical genre, rejecting the conception of autobiography as a monument to the aged man, a stable subject reflecting on and recasting his life as purposeful and fulfilled. Instead, Guibert highlights his lack of control or authorship over his life and confronts his own youth mainly through the antithetical way he portrays his friend and mentor, Michel Foucault, reclaiming subjectivity in a series of political texts.
The issue of late fatherhood and the role children play in creative works of senior writers frame my discussion of representations of fathering in the late work of J.M. Coetzee. I focus on Coetzee’s allegorical treatment of fractured father-son relationships in The Childhood of Jesus and The Schooldays of Jesus. Drawing on the literary nonfiction which I teach, and have employed to narrate my own experience of “senior fathering,” I critique the dystopian outcomes of the father-figure’s (Simón’s) compulsive self-erasure. His “blind faith” in a mother’s innate superiority represents not only the author’s reflections on his own shortcomings as a father, but his interrogation of the absence of the father in literary traditions.
In her collection The Breaking Point (1959), Daphne du Maurier gives rise to a series of short stories which feature ageing characters facing a critical period in their lives, that subvert traditional dictates of gender and ageing. Du Maurier identified her writing persona in this later stage of creativity as “neither girl nor boy but disembodied spirit,” thus acknowledging how traditional cultural dictates could be blurred through creativity. This article explores the matrix of ageing, gender, and creativity with respect to du Maurier’s stories “The Alibi,” “The Menace,” and “The Chamois” in order to describe her writing persona at this particular moment of creativity, especially through feminist critic Betty Friedan’s precepts in her book The Fountain of Age (1993). Friedan argues that a gender-role crossover often takes place in the years following parenthood, as men and women adopt qualities that they felt required to suppress years earlier in order to fulfil their respective culturally-assigned gender roles.
This article highlights a problem with social justice criticism in the humanities that treats age inequalities as if they were analogous to inequalities between different races or genders. It claims that what is missing from such criticism is an awareness of the peculiar temporality of age and its implications with regard to the distribution of goods. After outlining the problem with reference to the most sophisticated liberal account of social justice—namely John Rawls’s theory of justice as fairness—the article discusses three ways of addressing the problem and concludes with a preliminary evaluation of these.