The Bloomsbury Handbook to Ageing in Contemporary Literature and Film

By | September 1, 2023

In this Handbook to Ageing in Contemporary Literature and Film we provide a concise introduction to how the interdisciplinary and intersectional endeavour of Age(ing) Studies has shaped and been shaped by literary and film studies in recent decades. We seek to explore how literary and filmic narratives have addressed, contributed to and shaped our understanding of and experiences of age and ageing in recent decades. In focusing on the contemporary period, we self-consciously recognize the challenges and opportunities of rapid demographic change and the tangle of cultural, political and economic discourses surrounding this, from the ‘grey tsunami’ and the ‘dementia boom’ to ‘successful ageing’. 

The Handbook follows a tripartite structure, looking, first, at the relationship between age(ing) and genre, incorporating narrative genres as well as poetry, drama and imagery. A second section explores key themes and concepts at the intersection of literary and Age(ing) Studies. The third section brings together case studies focussing on individual artists, national traditions and global ageing. The book contains original contributions by pioneers in the field as well as new scholars, with the aim of bringing together current scholarship on ageing in literary and film studies, and offering new directions and perspectives. This book broadens the intercultural direction of Age(ing) Studies by including scholarship from non-Western countries and cultures, with contributions by scholars from and on topics about Latin America, Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

 All chapters in this Handbook make clear what film and literary studies can contribute to the knowledge of age and ageing, from many different perspectives. Approaches from these disciplines share the basic view that literary and film representations of ageing do not merely serve the purpose of illustrating age-related knowledge. Instead, they have epistemological functions for constituting this knowledge by conceptualizing and reflecting upon age in different forms, styles and genres of artistic representation. In response to questions which aim to differentiate our knowledge about age, the discipline of cultural Age(ing) Studies has evolved, interrogating the binary of decline versus successful ageing in its exploration of the embodied experience of ageing in film and literature. Reflecting this expansion of the interdisciplinary endeavour of Age(ing) Studies, this Handbook aims to present the state of the art of the discipline, but also to outline new directions it may take.

As the first section of the Handbook illustrates, studying different genres in film and literature with reference to age representation has proved productive. Recent work has focused, for instance, on age representation in age and illness memoir, detective fiction and children’s literature, and the Bildungsroman or novel of formation. While these are mainly narrative genres, more recently work on poetry has begun to emerge. To this can be added research on the visual arts, and film, television and other media.

The Handbook acknowledges gender and feminist studies, which have been foundational to the field of Age(ing) Studies, including more recent work that extends that intersectional tradition to include ageing masculinities and queer ageing. Emerging themes in studies of ageing in film and literature include care, memory, ecological concerns and travel. The Handbook reflects these developments in its second section, with attention paid to, amongst other things, the relationship between home, care and the nation, and performativity, late style and frailty.

Age(ing) Studies is an interdisciplinary field that first emerged in North America and Western Europe, and therefore their cultural, political, social and economic contexts have shaped the approaches that humanities and arts scholarship has taken when analyzing age and ageing in literature and film. However, the realities of age(ing) expand beyond these specific Western spaces and, although we acknowledge the important impact these notions of ageing have had on a globalized world, we consider, particularly in the third section of the Handbook, that other realities need to be recognized, researched and showcased.

The intersection between postcolonial studies and ageing has enabled more diverse critical perspectives on what it means to age in place. In fact, the readings and analyses of literary and filmic texts belonging to other cultural contexts show that the decline and/or successful ageing narratives are not hegemonic at all and have very little importance in some cultures. The proliferation of representations of ageing has meant the increased publication of work from and based on different national contexts. Nevertheless, the study of narratives and discourses of age(ing) in non-Western national contexts is still relatively rare within Age(ing) Studies, a situation to which our Handbook responds in all of its sections.

Age(ing) Studies continues to change and expand. The original focus on close reading and representational strategies remains central, recognizing the power of images of age(ing) in our cultural and social imaginaries. Nevertheless, increasingly important are approaches that consider creativity and its role in the lifecourse; the effects of age(ing) on reading and viewing, which encompasses, for instance, the re-reading of texts and re-viewing of films and other visual media throughout the lifecourse; the materiality of texts and their place in the world; the repercussions of this materiality for the embodied experience of age(ing) in time; and the inter-relationship of affect and ethics on different experiences and representations of age(ing). Showcasing the variety of approaches, contexts and concerns in the area, this Handbook celebrates the thriving, intersectional and interdisciplinary field that is contemporary Age(ing) Studies.  

About the editors of The Bloomsbury Handbook to Ageing in Contemporary Literature and Film:

Sarah Falcus is a Reader in Contemporary Literature at the University of Huddersfield, UK. She is the co-author (with Katsura Sako) of Contemporary Narratives of Dementia: Ethics, Ageing, Politics and is the Primary Collaborator on the project ‘Ageing and Illness in British and Japanese Children’s Picturebooks 1950-2000: Historical and Cross-Cultural Perspectives’, funded by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science. She is also the co-director of the Dementia and Cultural Narrative Network.

Heike Hartung has published widely in interdisciplinary ageing studies. Recent publications include Ageing, Gender and Illness in Anglophone Literature and Embodied Narration. She is a founding member of the European Network in Ageing Studies and co-editor of the Transcript Aging Studies publication series.

Raquel Medina is Senior Lecturer in Spanish Studies at Aston University, UK. She has published numerous articles and chapters on representations of ageing in film, fiction and non-fiction narrative, and poetry. She is the author of Cinematic Representations of Alzheimer’s Disease and the Director of the International Research Network CinemAGEnder, and co-director of Dementia and Cultural Narrative Network.

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