To be Forever Young? Towards Reframing Corporeal Subjectivity in Maturity

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Liz Schwaiger


In this paper I examine the relationship between the body in midlife and subjectivity in contemporary western cultures, drawing on both social constructionist and psychoanalytic perspectives. Referring to recent theoretical accounts, I take the position that how we are aged by culture begins in midlife, and that this period is therefore critical in understanding how the body-subject in western consumer cultures is aged and gendered through culturally normative discourses and practices. I also address the gendering of ageing bodies, and argue that, like the feminine, ageing has been marked by ambiguity and lack. This ambiguity has presented a problem for dualistic age theories, in that it has been difficult to theorize the ageing body productively since the binary language used to theorize it already devalues old age. I contend that our tacit understanding of both male and female ageing bodies is as discursively constituted as ’feminine’, based on cultural perceptions of loss of bodily control and the ambiguity of ageing bodies that become increasingly recalcitrant in the ’correct’ performance of cultural age and gender norms. Finally, I inquire whether alternative, non-dualistic perspectives might be developed that redress this problem, and disrupt the alignment of ageing with negative associations such as lack and loss, perspectives that, rather than associating gendered ageing with decline, loss or lack, associate it with the goal of living an abundant life into deep old age.


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