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Alienation and alterity: Age in the existentialist discourse on others


Zimmermann, Harm-Peer (2016). Alienation and alterity: Age in the existentialist discourse on others. Journal of Aging Studies, 39:83-95.

Abstract

Aging Studies and Postcolonial Studies belong together in a rather fundamental way, given that they share profound theoretical roots and far-reaching critical perspectives. These derive not only from the more recent poststructuralist discourse on others but also, further back, from the existentialist discourse on others — particularly in issues relating to “The Look” as elaborated by Jean-Paul Sartre in his major philosophical treatise Being and Nothingness and in his reflections on racism, colonialism and humanism. These texts have had a decisive influence on both Aging Studies and Postcolonial Studies. First, no less a figure than one of the main progenitors of Postcolonial Studies, Frantz Fanon, drawing on Sartre, analyses the gaze of the colonial masters and black responses. Second, two of the most significant theoretical works on aging and age to have appeared since 1945 were directly inspired by Sartre: Jean Améry's On Aging and Simone de Beauvoir's The Coming of Age. Additional sources of interest are the phenomenology of responsibility by Emmanuel Lévinas and works on absurdity and rebellion by Albert Camus. It is this early influence that is explored fromtwo perspectives adopted bymore recent postcolonialist discourse: debates around the concept of alienation involve analysing and critiquing the kind of epistemic violence which renders abject and invisible not only old people but also all those who are ‘othered’ by a dominant gaze (racism, ageism, othering); and the concept of alterity involves debating ways of acknowledging otherness responsibly on the one hand and being able to articulate and represent oneself on the other: Can the subaltern speak? We might similarly ask “Can the old speak?” Postcolonial discourse tells us that this is not quite as easy as some versions of so-called “Happy Gerontology” proclaim. The aim of the present article is to examine the foundational existentialist critique of racism and ageism and to render it useful for re-negotiating possibilities for aging differently — without othering.

Abstract

Aging Studies and Postcolonial Studies belong together in a rather fundamental way, given that they share profound theoretical roots and far-reaching critical perspectives. These derive not only from the more recent poststructuralist discourse on others but also, further back, from the existentialist discourse on others — particularly in issues relating to “The Look” as elaborated by Jean-Paul Sartre in his major philosophical treatise Being and Nothingness and in his reflections on racism, colonialism and humanism. These texts have had a decisive influence on both Aging Studies and Postcolonial Studies. First, no less a figure than one of the main progenitors of Postcolonial Studies, Frantz Fanon, drawing on Sartre, analyses the gaze of the colonial masters and black responses. Second, two of the most significant theoretical works on aging and age to have appeared since 1945 were directly inspired by Sartre: Jean Améry's On Aging and Simone de Beauvoir's The Coming of Age. Additional sources of interest are the phenomenology of responsibility by Emmanuel Lévinas and works on absurdity and rebellion by Albert Camus. It is this early influence that is explored fromtwo perspectives adopted bymore recent postcolonialist discourse: debates around the concept of alienation involve analysing and critiquing the kind of epistemic violence which renders abject and invisible not only old people but also all those who are ‘othered’ by a dominant gaze (racism, ageism, othering); and the concept of alterity involves debating ways of acknowledging otherness responsibly on the one hand and being able to articulate and represent oneself on the other: Can the subaltern speak? We might similarly ask “Can the old speak?” Postcolonial discourse tells us that this is not quite as easy as some versions of so-called “Happy Gerontology” proclaim. The aim of the present article is to examine the foundational existentialist critique of racism and ageism and to render it useful for re-negotiating possibilities for aging differently — without othering.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > Department of Social Anthropology and Cultural Studies
Dewey Decimal Classification:790 Sports, games & entertainment
390 Customs, etiquette & folklore
300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology
Language:English
Date:December 2016
Deposited On:01 Dec 2016 11:39
Last Modified:02 Dec 2016 08:54
Publisher:Elsevier
ISSN:0890-4065
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaging.2016.06.002

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