CfP Aging Experiments: Futures and Fantasies of Old Age

 

In response to the sustained expansion of the life-span and the attendant demographic changes the west has undergone in recent decades, there has lately been an increase in the number of cultural texts that explore alternative representations of aging and old age, replacing traditional images of inevitable decline and venerable maturity for visions of late life transformation, improvisation and adaptation to new circumstances. Although artists across all genres have been participating in the ongoing debate about how old age is to be redefined, this symposium will focus on the particular contributions of science-fiction, fantasy and the avant-garde, genres that make it their aim to challenge our conceptions of the real, the normal and the natural and might therefore more productively help us differentiate between harmful dreams and welcome epistemic shifts.

Works like Drew Magary’s dystopian novel The Postmortal have weighed the pros and cons of the abolition of death and the perpetuation of youth, while others, like Vernor Vinge’s Rainbows End, have dwelled on the topic of retraining, its curmudgeon protagonist being pushed to adopt a new career and learn how to use the gadgets of the more technologically advanced society he wakes up in. Although we welcome critical contributions on texts that likewise interrogate the concepts of flexibility, longevity and immortality, we also wish to discuss how the genres in question foreground risk, vulnerability, disability and nonstandard forms of embodiment. Taking a cue from Stephen Katz, we acknowledge that the notions of flexibility and risk, undoubtedly valuable for the experimental approaches to aging we wish to explore, need to be clarified with due caution and responsibility in an age of increasing fragmentation and precarity.

Above all we are interested in perspectives on aging that challenge the predominant narratives of decline as well as the equally prevalent fantasies of invulnerability and eternal youth. Our goal is ultimately to plumb and promote alternative conceptions to the good life as defined by neoliberal notions of health, able-bodiedness, agency, self-improvement, progress, plasticity and productivity.

DEADLINE: 300 word abstracts due January 31st 2020.

KEYNOTE SPEAKER: Michael Davidson is Professor Emeritus at University of California, San Diego. He is most recently the author of Invalid Modernisms: Disability and the Missing Body of the Aesthetic (Oxford University Press, 2019). The book examines the work of experimental authors like James Joyce, Samuel Beckett and Virginia Woolf from the standpoint of disability studies. Professor Davidson has over the years written extensively on avant-garde poetry, multiculturalism, music and the visual arts. https://literature.ucsd.edu/people/faculty/emeriti/mdavidson.html

EDITED COLLECTION: Selected essays will be published in a volume dedicated to the topic of the symposium. CONTACT: joao.guimaraes@ucd.ie / https://twitter.com/Joaopcguimaraes