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Ageing, agency, and autobiography: Challenging Ricoeur's concept of narrative identity


Rivera Godoy-Benesch, Rahel (2016). Ageing, agency, and autobiography: Challenging Ricoeur's concept of narrative identity. In: Cerezo Moreno, Marta; Pascual Soler, Nieves. Traces of Aging: Old Age and Memory in Contemporary Narrative. Bielefeld: transcript, 91-109.

Abstract

This chapter focuses on the specific challenges of old age autobiography. In old age, when individuals have a long past and countless memories at their disposal, writing one’s autobiography should be particularly rewarding. However, some autobiographies of old age – in both fiction and non-fiction – present a sobering outlook: ageing writers battle to uphold the structures of language and text against their slowly deteriorating bodies and minds, but in the end their physical reality is stronger than the narrative illusion they intend to create. To illustrate this, I analyze John Barth’s short stories “Peeping Tom” and “Assisted Living” and Joan Didion’s Blue Nights in connection with Ricoeur’s concept of narrative identity. The chapter concludes with a commentary on contemporary tendencies in society and science, which privilege memory and high mental capacity as the fundament of a person’s identity, agency, and ultimately humanity, shifting the fourth age even more to the margins of society. Barth and Didion, who both refuse to euphemize physical and mental distress in old age, contribute to a growing body of literature that counters this trend.

Abstract

This chapter focuses on the specific challenges of old age autobiography. In old age, when individuals have a long past and countless memories at their disposal, writing one’s autobiography should be particularly rewarding. However, some autobiographies of old age – in both fiction and non-fiction – present a sobering outlook: ageing writers battle to uphold the structures of language and text against their slowly deteriorating bodies and minds, but in the end their physical reality is stronger than the narrative illusion they intend to create. To illustrate this, I analyze John Barth’s short stories “Peeping Tom” and “Assisted Living” and Joan Didion’s Blue Nights in connection with Ricoeur’s concept of narrative identity. The chapter concludes with a commentary on contemporary tendencies in society and science, which privilege memory and high mental capacity as the fundament of a person’s identity, agency, and ultimately humanity, shifting the fourth age even more to the margins of society. Barth and Didion, who both refuse to euphemize physical and mental distress in old age, contribute to a growing body of literature that counters this trend.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Book Section, not_refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > English Department
Dewey Decimal Classification:820 English & Old English literatures
Language:English
Date:March 2016
Deposited On:29 Mar 2016 16:19
Last Modified:02 Feb 2018 09:55
Publisher:transcript
ISBN:978-3-8376-3439-6
OA Status:Closed
Related URLs:http://www.transcript-verlag.de/978-3-8376-3439-6/traces-of-aging# (Publisher)
https://www.recherche-portal.ch/ZAD:default_scope:ebi01_prod010577527 (Library Catalogue)

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