Geriatric Modernism (CFP for MSA18, 17-20 November 2016)

Simone de Beauvoir saw old age as a category of unrecognized but radical difference, a situation of being “outside humanity.” The old, Beauvoir argues, are foreigners, even to themselves. Ann Kaplan has similarly theorized old age as an experience of ideological trauma, while Kathleen Woodward shows that the old, and old women in particular, are incompatible with psychoanalytic models of the subject. For all of these theorists, old age is a troubling site of psychic violence, where our understandings of identity, subjectivity, and humanity come under pressure. This proposed panel for the 2016 conference of the Modernist Studies Association poses the question of what old age meant to modernism. In Beauvoir’s historical narrative, the question of old age became particularly urgent in the early and mid twentieth century, which witnessed a shift in the culture of aging: age seemed to become the condition of all humanity, not its outer limit. Human civilization itself took on the mantle of the old person, as human knowledge, rather than accumulating and growing, instead became obsolete. This panel takes up Beauvoir’s interest in both historicizing and theorizing aging in modernism, that literary period known for its investment in the new.


Papers might consider:

·      The old body in modernism

·      Aging and memory or time

·      The narrative function of age in modernist texts

·      Texts centered around old people (Samuel Beckett’s Malone Dies, Ronald Firbank’s Valmouth, Wyndham Lewis’s The Apes of God, Muriel Spark’s A Far Cry From Kensington, Barbara Pym’sQuartet in Autumn, Doris Lessing’s Diary of Jane Somers)

·      Mythic old age (Tiresias, the sibyl, the crone)

·      Modernist writers in their own old age

·      Generational divides in modernism

·      The modernist grandparent

·      The aged person vs the aged civilization

·      Old age in/and the culture industry

·      Age and celebrity culture in the early 20th century

Conference: MSA 18, Pasadena, 17-20 November 2016


Please send 250 word abstracts along with brief biographical notes to Heather Fielding by March 25, 2016.