Old Age and Modernity: Older People as Outsider Figures in 19th Century Literature
June 21, 2022, 18:00 (CET)
The acceleration of change since the early 19th century, the fact that everything ‘old’ (political systems, values, norms, customs, fashions) appears to be replaced by something ‘new’, is probably a contributory factor to a cult of youth and the marginalization of older people. This paper focuses on figures of oldness representative of ‘modernity’, i.e. referring to what contemporary authors understood as the ‘spirit of the age’ as well as to manifestations of a long-term cultural narrative whose driving forces continue to affect the present. Terms like ‘revolution’, ‘progress’, or ‘modernity’ point to profound transformations in society and everyday life, with special consequence for the sense of living in time and the status of older people. These terms have also inspired counter-narratives of alternative existences with other experiences of time on the outsides of standard life, where we often find old age. The examples, taken from Western literature, gravitate around France, Paris being in Benjamin’s view, “the capital of modernity”.