To be Forever Young? Towards Reframing Corporeal Subjectivity in Maturity

Main Article Content

Liz Schwaiger

Abstract

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.

Metrics

Metrics Loading ...

Article Details

Section
Articles

References

Barrett, A. E. (2005). Gendered experiences in midlife: Implications for age identity. Journal of Aging Studies 19(2): 163–183.


Biggs, S. (1993). Understanding Ageing: Images, Attitudes and Professional Practice. Buckingham, PA: Open University Press.


Biggs, S. (1997). Choosing not to be old? Masks, bodies and identity management in later life. Ageing and Society 17: 553–70. [Read this article]


Biggs, S. (1999). The Mature Imagination: Dynamics of Identity in Midlife and Beyond. Buckingham, PA: Open University Press.


Burt, R. (1995). The Male Dancer: Bodies, Spectacle, Sexualities. London: Routledge.


Bury, M. (1995). Ageing, gender and sociological theory. In S. Arber & J. Ginn (eds.), Connecting Gender and Ageing: A Sociological Approach. Buckingham, PA: Open University Press.


Butler, J. (1990). Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity.New York: Routledge.


Butler, J. (1993). Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex”. New York: Routledge.


Calasanti, T. (2005). Is feminist gerontology marginal?, Contemporary Gerontology 11(3): 107–111.


Calasanti, T. (2004). Feminist gerontology and old men, Journal of Gerontology 59B(6): 305–314.


Calasanti, T. (1999). Feminism and aging: Not just for women, Hallym International Journal of Aging 1(1): 44–55.


Connell, R. W. (1983). Men’s bodies. In Which Way is Up? Essays on Sex, Class and Culture. Sydney: Allen & Unwin.


Connell, R. W. (1995). Masculinities. St. Leonards, NSW: Allen & Unwin.


Diprose, R. (1994). Performing body-identity, Writings on Dance 11(12): 7–15.


Douglas, M. (1966). Purity and Danger. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.


Douglas, M. (1973). Natural Symbols: Explorations in Cosmology. Harmondworth:Penguin Books.


Esposito, J. (1987). The Obsolete Self: Philosophical Dimensions on Aging. Berkeley: University of California Press.


Featherstone, M. (1991). The body in consumer culture. In M. Featherstone, M. Hepworth & B. S. Turner (eds.), The Body: Social Process and Cultural Theory, London: Sage.


Featherstone, M., & Hepworth, M. (1991a). The mask of ageing and the postmodern life course. In M. Featherstone, M. Hepworth & B. S.


Turner (eds.), The Body: Social Process and Cultural Theory. London: Sage.


Featherstone, M., & Hepworth, M. (1991b). The midlifestyle of ‘George and Lynne’: Notes on a popular strip. In M. Featherstone, M. Hepworth & B. S. Turner (eds.), The Body: Social Process and Cultural Theory. London: Sage.


Foucault, M. (1972). The Archaeology of Knowledge. London: Tavistock Publications. Original edition, L’Archéologie du Savoir.


Foucault, M. (1980). The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1: An Introduction. New York: Random House.


Foucault, M. (1988). Technologies of the Self: A Seminar with Michel Foucault. L. H. Martin, H. Gutman & P. Hutton (eds.). London: Tavistock Publications.


Foucault, M. (1989). Foucault Live (Interviews, 1966–84). Semiotext€ (Foreign Agents Series). S. Lotringer (ed.). New York: Semiotext€.


Foucault, M. (1990). The History of Sexuality, Vol. 3: The Care of the Self. Harmondsworth: Penguin.


Foucault, M. (2005). The Hermeneutics of the Subject: Lectures at the College de France, 198182. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.


Gatens, M. (1996). Imaginary Bodies: Ethics, Power and Corporeality. London: Routledge.


Grosz, E. (1992). The body. In E. Wright (ed.), Feminism and Psychoanalysis: a Critical Dictionary (pp. 35–40). Oxford: Blackwell.


Grosz, E. (1993). Bodies and knowledges: Feminism and the crisis of reason. In L. Alcoff & E. Potter (eds.), Feminist Epistemologies. New York: Routledge.


Grosz, E. (1994). Volatile Bodies: Toward a Corporeal Feminism. Sydney: Allen & Unwin.


Gullette, M. M. (1998). Midlife discourses in twentieth-century United States: An essay on the sexuality, ideology, and politics of ‘middleageism’. In R. A. Shweder (ed.), Welcome to Middle Age! (And Other Cultural Fictions), Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


Hareven, T. K. (1995). Changing images of aging and the social construction of the life course. In M. Featherstone & A. Wernick (eds.), Images of Aging: Cultural Representations of Later Life. London: Routledge.


Harper, S. (1997). Constructing later life/Constructing the body: Some thoughts from feminist theory. In A. Jamieson, S. Harper & C. Victor (eds.), Critical Approaches to Ageing and Later Life. Buckingham, Philadelphia: Open University Press.


Hearn, J. (1995). Imaging the aging of men. In M. Featherstone & A. Wernick (eds.), Images of Aging: Cultural Representations of Later Life London: Routledge.


Irigaray, L. (1985a). Speculum of the Other Woman. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.


Irigaray, L. (1985b). This Sex which is not One. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.


Kristeva, J. (1982). Powers of Horror. New York: Columbia University Press.


Lasch, C. (1979). Politics and Social Theory: a Reply to the Critics. Salmagundi 46.


Mansfield, N. (2000). Subjectivity: Theories of the Self from Freud to Haraway. New York: New York University Press.


de Medeiros, K. (2005). The complementary self: multiple perspectives on the aging person. Journal of Aging Studies 19: 1–13. [Read this article]


Markson, E. W., & Taylor, C. A. (2000). The mirror has two faces, Ageing and Society 20: 137–160. [Read this article]


Mellencamp, P. (1992). High Anxiety: Catastrophe, Scandal, Age and Comedy. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.


Ray, R. (1999). Researching to transgress: The need for critical feminism in gerontology. In J. D Garner (ed.), Fundamentals of feminist Gerontology (pp. 171–184). New York: Haworth.


Ray, R. (1996). A postmodern perspective on feminist gerontology. The Gerontologist 36: 674–680.


Riviere, J. (1929). Womanliness as a masquerade, International Journal of Psychoanalysis 10: 303–313.


Schwaiger, E. (2005a). Performing One’s Age: Cultural Constructions of Ageing and Embodiment in Western Theatrical Dancers. Dance Research Journal, Congress on Research in Dance, New York (Spring 2005, in press).


Schwaiger, E. (2005b). Ageing, Gender and Dancers’ Bodies: An Interdisciplinary Perspective. Unpublished PhD dissertation. School of Human Movement, Recreation and Performance, Victoria University, Melbourne.


Sullivan, S. (2000). Reconfiguring gender with John Dewey: Habit, bodies and cultural change, Hypatia 15(1): 23–42. [Read this article]


Theweleit, K. (1987). Male Fantasies Vol. 1: Women, Floods, Bodies, History. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.


Turner, B. S. (1984). The Body and Society: Explorations in Social Theory. Oxford: Blackwell.


Turner, B. S. (1994). The postmodernisation of the life course: Towards a new social gerontology, Australian Journal on Ageing 13(3): 109–111.


Woodward, K., ed. (1999). Figuring Age: Women, Bodies, Generations. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.


Woodward, K. (1991). Aging and its Discontents: Freud and other Fictions. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.