The Poetics of Ageism - An Obermann Afternoons Talk

Wednesday, October 16, 2013 - 4:00pm to 5:30pm
Event Location: 
Obermann Center
111 Church Street
Iowa City, IA 52242

The Invention of Aging

At one point in Plato’s Symposium, the philosopher Diotima describes how human beings strive for immortality through the process of poiesis, that is, through making and creating. The generative urge of writing, language, and the arts thus constitutes the practice of “poetics” in its broadest sense. In this talk, Andrea Charise invites us to consider one set of tools that has helped give shape to ageism in the modern cultural imagination.  Although prejudicial views of aging have long been part of the Western literary tradition, this talk explores how the invention of population at the end of the eighteenth century helped fashion the “aging population” into a major character in the cultural landscape.  With reference to a range of literary and art works, we will examine the ways in which ageism and the specter of aging populations took form in the nineteenth-century imagination. 
The second part of this talk shifts from the past into the present day where similar impulses are not just alive but thriving. Using examples drawn from twenty-first century literature, journalism, and health policy, we will discover how contemporary anxieties about population aging can be traced back to their nineteenth-century predecessors.  The rhetoric and metaphors used to characterize aging populations—then as now—therefore provide a timely example of interdisciplinarity’s darker side: specifically, how the overlapping textual practices of various disciplines can co-operate to disguise ageist ideology as a neutral and self-evident fact.  Are we doomed to the poetics of ageism and its effects?  This talk concludes on an optimistic note.  Provocative instances of contemporary arts and literature should give us hope that just as Western culture so imaginatively built up the poetics of ageism, so can we find the tools to creatively unmake it.