Aging and Identity: A Humanities Perspective

Aging and Identity: A Humanities Perspective

Aging and Identity: A Humanities Perspective

Aging and Identity: A Humanities Perspective

Synopsis

Viewing artistic works through the lens of both contemporary gerontological theory and postmodernist concepts, the contributing scholars examine literary treatments, cinematic depictions, and artistic portraits of aging from Shakespeare to Hemingway, from Horton Foote to Disney, from Rembrandt to Alice Neale, while also comparing the attitudes toward aging in Native American, African American, and Anglo American literature. The examples demonstrate that long before gerontologists endorsed a Janus-faced model of aging, artists were celebrating the diversity of the elderly, challenging the bio-medical equation of senescence with inevitable senility. Underlying all of this discussion is the firm conviction that cultural texts construct as well as encode the conventional perceptions of their society; that literature, the arts, and the media not only mirror society's mores but can also help to create and enforce them.

Excerpt

Sara Munson Deats and Lagretta Tallent Lenker

Matthew Arnold once stated that literature enshrines the best that has been said and thought in the world. This study affirms the more comprehensive view that not only literature but the humanities as a whole transmit multiple reflections on human life that have shaped our social mores for good or ill. Moreover, this study asserts that the humanities continue to bear a vital relationship to situations experienced by individuals in almost any given culture. On the one hand, literature, the arts, and the media mirror the conventional mores and attitudes of their own social milieu, even as history records these mores and attitudes. However, since all societies contain multiple clashing ideologies, these aesthetic forms may also reflect the concepts of a residual culture or anticipate the tenets of an emerging one, often establishing a dialectical tension between these competing discourses. In addition, the way in which individuals view the world is largely determined by the language they use to describe the phenomenon that they experience as reality and by the images (in literature, painting, sculpture, the performing arts, and, perhaps most of all, the media) through which they depict this phenomenon. We suggest, therefore, that these cultural forms construct as well as encode the conventional perceptions of individuals in a given society; they intervene in history even as they reflect history. It follows, therefore, that literature, the arts, and the media not only mirror society's conventions, but also create them.

The chapters in this volume examine both the ways in which the humanities have contributed to the construction of stereotypic images of aging in our society and the ways in which the humanities can be employed to deconstruct these images. The contributors to this volume believe that in . . .

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