Blue Nights: The Experience of Frailty in Modern Life-writing, Literature and Thought

Medical Humanities - 2024-03-28
28 Mar 2024 10.00 AM - 11.30 AM Alumni, Current Students, Industry/Academic Partners, Prospective Students, Public
Organised by:
Michelle Chiang

This is a hybrid seminar.

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This talk will examine the concept and lived experience of frailty understood in relation to factors such as risk and change, drawing for its conceptual framework on work on frailty and the phenomenology of illness by philosophers Sally Gadow and Havi Carel, gerontologist Amanda Grenier and sociologist Susan Pickard. It will also consider the depictions of the condition of frailty in the lifewriting and fiction of prominent literary figures such as Marcel Proust, Colette, Joan Didion, and Candia McWilliam. Both Colette and Didion write lyrically but acutely about the ‘blue time’ of the fourth age of life, and the talk will think about the changed—and changing—relation to time, space, the natural world and other people in this last phase of life. In reflecting on these representations, the talk will attend to the older subject as active, self-reflexive agent, but also explore what frailty reveals about the constitutive place of vulnerability and interdependency in the human lifecourse. 

Elizabeth Barry is Professor of Modern Literature at the University of Warwick. She works in the fields of modern literary studies, medical humanities and literary age studies, and has published on mental health and representations of ageing in the work of Samuel Beckett, Marcel Proust, Audre Lorde, Alice Munro and Margaret Atwood, among others. She has held national research council grants (in both the UK and Norway) to work with doctors and psychiatrists in investigating disorders of self and older age, including dementia. She edited a collection on Literature and Ageing (Boydell) with Margery Vibe Skagen in 2020 and is writing a monograph on ageing and the experience of time, to appear with Bloomsbury in 2026.