‘What is Old Age’ ? New perspectives from the Humanities conference

The compensation of growing old … was simply this; that the passion remains as strong as ever, but one has gained — at last! — the power which adds the supreme flavour to existence — the power of taking hold of experience, of turning it round, slowly, in the light.    VIRGINIA WOOLF, Mrs. Dalloway

 I attended the conference “What is old age ? New perspectives from the Humanities” at the University of Warwick. It was a fascinating day.

When I used to take my very young mixed race granddaughter on holiday with me I noticed that the first thing she would do was to scan the hotel, the beach, the streets to see if there were people who were black like her and then tended to gravitate towards them. I find myself doing the same thing these days. Looking around the assembly of scholars I noticed that the majority were women. The delegate list gives 48 women and 10 men. Next I look for people with white hair. There were very few of us.  It seemed to me that in general the delegates were ‘young’. Of course without actual data on ages it is impossible to judge the age range of the participants. Assigning ages is difficult these days with hair dye and good dental care.  I may be mistaken but I think there was no participants above the age of ….. 65?  The only person who gave a personal presentation not based on a research paper was an old man of over 70.

These observations apart I found the day very stimulating. I was amazed by the diversity of papers and the richness of information that I gathered.   From ageism in the Middle Ages to the haptic turn in the representation of women in German cinema the topics put my own experience of ageing in a wide context. I relished revisiting Beckett’s  Krapp and Malone. In these days of ‘positive ageing’ when the old body and death are ignored I had to smile   at the accuracy of some of Maximianus descriptions.  There was also a live old man speaking about his life course and the importance of theology.

But among all the young women voices interested in and researching old age , I longed to hear an old woman speaking for herself, a writer, a poet, an actor, a painter.

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