Confronting Ageism and the Dilemmas of Aging: Literary Gerontology and Poetic Imagination—Baranskaya to Marinina

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Jane Gary Harris


Literary gerontology, a relatively new field of scholarship, endeavors to contemplate, analyze, and examine social, cultural, and biological expectations and ageist stereotypes as well as to query perceptions, representations, and misrepresentations of aging and old age, frailty and dementia, forms of victimization, family relationships, and the experience of daily life. Research requires the examination of both external and internal perspectives of social gerontology and its expression in literary and linguistic forms. These may include discourses emerging from a theoretical distance (gerontology, biology, demography, psychology, philosophy, etc.) as well as discourses stemming from subjective or experiential knowledge (diaries, autobiography, prose, poetry as well as common proverbs and adages).
  This essay endeavors to investigate Russian cultural stereotypes of the constructs of aging not only via Eriksonian psychosocial theory, Ol’ga Krasnova’s challenge to ageist delusions, or the United Nation’s World Report on Aging and Health, but through the poetic imagination as reflected in literary discourse expressed in a vividly imagined portrait gallery of older male and female heroes, and the linguistic discourse inhabiting the cultural legacy of proverbs and sayings. For example, while Natalya Baranskaya’s 1968 story “Provody” (The Retirement Party) offers readers a chance to evaluate the effect of retirement on the heroine’s identity, by 1999 Prizrak muzyki (The Spector of Music), Aleksandra Marinina’s novel, provides a radical alternative to the image of the old woman as victim. Meanwhile, Irina Muravyova and Ludmila Ulitskaya vividly envisage images of older women as victimizers. In contrast, Ludmilla Petrushevskaya’s “Most Vaterloo” (Waterloo Bridge, 1995) and Ludmila Ulitskaya’s “Vtorogo marta togo zhe goda” (March Second of That Year, 1991) proffer the poetic imagination as agency, challenging society’s culturally imposed ageist stereotypes, while Denis Dragunsky’s and Tatyana Tolstaya’s narratives suggest how older male heroes retrospectively and prospectively imagine and contemplate alternatives of aging and dying.  

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DOI: 10.25285/2078-1938-2020-12-2-146-168


Ageism, Agency, Biological Determinism, Ego Integrity, Literary Gerontology, Poetic Imagination, Retrospection, Wisdom

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