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    发表于 2017-11-14 12:19:34 | 显示全部楼层 |阅读模式


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    本帖最后由 小山林卡 于 2017-11-14 12:19 编辑
    OCTOBER 1, 2015

    What Old Age Is Really Like

    Old age is perplexing to imagine in part because the definition of it isnotoriously unstable. As people age, they tend to move the goalposts that markout major life stages.


    Part 1

    What does it feel like to be old? Not middle-aged,or late-middle-aged, but one of the members of the fastest-growing demographic:the “oldest old,” those aged eighty-five and above? This has been the questionanimating me for a couple of years, as I’ve tried to write a novel from theperspective of a man in his late eighties. The aging population is on ourcollective minds; a statistic that intrigued me is that the average lifeexpectancy in the U.K.—and, by extension, most of the rich West—is increasing bymore than five hours a day, every day. I’m in my mid-thirties, but feltconfident that I could imagine my way into old age. How hard could it be,really?

    Somewhere along the way, though, things went wrong.My protagonist became Generic Old Man: crabby, computer illiterate, grievingfor his dementia-addled wife. Not satisfied to leave him to his misery, Iforced on him a new love interest, Eccentric Old Woman: radical, full ofenergy, a fan of wearing magenta turbans and handing out safe-sex pamphletsoutside retirement homes.

    In other words, I modelled mycharacters on the two dominant cultural constructions of old age: thedoddering, depressed pensioner and the ageless-in-spirit, quirky oddball. Afterreading the first draft, an editor I respect said to me, “But what else arethey, other than old?” I was mortified, and began to ask myself somesoul-searching questions that I should have answered long before I’d writtenthe opening word.

    The first was: Why did I soblithely assume that I had the right to imagine my way into old age—and that Icould do it well—when I would approach with extreme caution the task ofimagining my way into the interior world of a character of a different gender,race, or class? Had I assumed that anybody elderly who might happen to read thebook would simply be grateful that someone much younger was interested in hisor her experience, and forgive my stereotyping?

    The conundrum of who has the authority to writeabout old age is that, unlike the subjective experience of most imaginedOthers, seniority is something that many of us will eventually experience forourselves. By contrast, I can imagine what it might be like to be a man, forexample, but won’t ever know for sure. As the literary scholar Sarah Falcuswrites, building on the work of Sally Chivers, “We may all have amore mobile relationship to age than to other perspectives or subject positions… because we are all aging at any one moment.” Yet just because I may, one day,know if I got it right—perhaps, to my surprise, I will find the world of my ownold age populated entirely by grumpy old men and old women who are either lostto dementia or sprightly and renegade—doesn’t mean that I should be cavalierabout how I imagine my elderly characters now. Of course, like any fictionalrepresentation, old age can be done well or badly regardless ofone’s own positioning as an author, but there’s less chance of being called outon hackneyed depictions of old age, in part because those in the know—theover-eighty-five-year-olds themselves—haven’t historically had any culturalpower.

    Stereotypes of old age, whether positive ornegative, do real harm in the real world, argues Lynne Segal, the author of “Outof Time: The Pleasures and the Perils of Ageing” (2013). She saysthat the biggest problem for many older people is “ageism, rather than the processof aging itself.” There is no possibility of diversified, personal approachesto aging if we are all reductively “aged by culture,” to use the age criticMargaret Morganroth Gullette’s iconic phrase, from her 2004 book, “Aged byCulture.” Gullette highlights the limitations of having only two sociallyaccepted narratives of aging: stories of progress or stories of decline.Neither does justice to the “radical ambiguities” of old age,Segal says. We’re forced either to lament or to celebrate old age, rather thansimply “affirm it as a significant part of life.”

    Old age is perplexing to imagine in part becausethe definition of it is notoriously unstable. As people age, they tend to movethe goalposts that mark out major life stages: a 2009 survey ofAmerican attitudes toward old age found that young adults (those betweeneighteen and twenty-nine) said that old age begins at sixty; middle-agedrespondents said seventy; and those above the age of sixty-five put thethreshold at seventy-four. We tend to feel younger as we get older: almost halfthe respondents aged fifty or more reported feeling at least ten years youngerthan their actual age, while a third of respondents aged sixty-five or moresaid that they felt up to nineteen years younger.

    The researchers also found “a sizable gap betweenthe expectations that young and middle-aged adults have about old age and theactual experiences reported by older Americans themselves.” Young andmiddle-aged adults anticipate the “negative benchmarks” associated with aging(such as memory loss, illness, or an end to sexual activity) at much higherlevels than the old report experiencing them. However, the elderly also reportexperiencing fewer of the benefits that younger adults expect old age to bring(such as more time for travel, hobbies, or volunteer work).

    These perceptual gaps betweengenerations are large and persistent. Simone de Beauvoir, in her exhaustivestudy “The Coming of Age” (published in 1970, when she was sixty-two), wrote,“Old age is particularly difficult to assume because we have always regarded itas something alien, a foreign species.” The anthropologist Barbara Myerhoff,who made the documentary film “In Her Time,” about a community of elderlyCalifornians, when she was in her forties, believed that “we are dehumanizedand impoverished without our old people, for only by contact with them can wecome to know ourselves.”

    Even more confusingly, we don’texperience old age identically. As Germaine Greer puts it, “Nobody ages likeanybody else.” The poet Fleur Adcock, who is eighty-one, says “this great rangeof abilities and states of health confuses the young: they can’t figure usout.” We age as individuals and as members of particular social contexts, yetthe shared experience of old age continues to be overstated. Theeighty-two-year-old British novelist Penelope Lively writes that herdemographic has “nothing much in common except the accretion of years, ahistorical context, and a generous range of ailments.” At the same time, though,she warns that aging is such a “commonplace experience” that nobody should“behave as though … uniquely afflicted.”

    The actress Juliet Stevenson, who is in her latefifties, recently commented that “as you go through life it gets more and moreinteresting and complicated, but the parts offered get more and more simple,and less complicated.” The same could be said for the dearth of good roles forold characters in literature. Lively believes that “old age is foreverstereotyped … from the smiling old dear to the grumbling curmudgeon.” Infiction, she says, the stereotypes “are rife—indeed fiction is perhapsresponsible for the standard perception of the old, with just a few writersable to raise the game.”·      

    I started to realize that, in creating my spunkyelderly female character, I had romanticized the version of old age that tellsa story of progress, indulging a fantasy of who I might be when I’m old. Whenwriting her, I had been thinking of Jenny Joseph’s “Warning,” regularly votedthe U.K.’s favorite postwar poem, in which the youngspeaker imagines with longing the freedoms of rebellious old age and theprospect of making up for the “sobriety of youth.” I’m hardly a renegade now,however, so why did I harbor the illusion that as I get older I will somehowthrow off the shackles of propriety? Most of what has been written in thesociological literature about life in our seventies, eighties, and ninetiessuggests that who we are when we are old remains pretty close to who we werewhen we were young. There is comfort in the idea of some consistency of selfacross the decades. While sometimes distressing, the denialism ofold age—think of the sixty-three-year-old Freud’s horror at realizing that theelderly gentleman he’s glimpsed on the train is in fact his own reflection, orthe scientist Lewis Wolpert’s lament, “How can a seventeen-year-old like mesuddenly be eighty-one?”—is also proof of our ability to remain on intimateterms with younger versions of ourself. “Live in the layers, / not on thelitter,” as the Stanley Kunitz poem goes, and he knew what he was talkingabout: he became Poet Laureate of the United Statesat the age of ninety-five.

    Another aspect of my fantasy was that old age is aconsistently satisfying bookend to a shapely arc of a life, a time for gettingthings in order. But in this, I was ignoring the fact that old people are justas vulnerable to disorder, not to mention happenstance, caprice, and bad luck,as anybody else. Grasping for closure might be the goal of fiction, but it isnot necessarily the lived experience of old age. As Helen Small writesin “The Long Life,” her study of the literature and philosophyof old age, “declining to describe our lives as unified stories … is the onlyway we can hope to live out our time other than as tragedy.” Lively describesthe frustrations of autobiographical memory in oldage. “The novelist in me—the reader, too—wants shape and structure,development, a theme, insights,” she writes. “Instead of which, there is thisassortment of slides, some of them welcome, others not at all, defying,refusing structure.” After reading the stories in “StoneMattress,” by Margaret Atwood, who is now seventy-five, I began to questionmy portrayal of old age as a time for the tying up of loose ends; as onereviewer wrote, Atwood’sstories depict “the stored-up rancour that one can amass over the years.” Manyof her characters express a desire for revenge over reconciliation.

    I’m not alone, among my generation, in falling intothis trap of positive stereotyping. A friend my age who is in medical schoolrecently chose to specialize in geriatrics, and over drinks with some otherdoctors she was asked why. “Because I love old people,” she replied. “I likehearing their stories and what they have to say about the world.” One of thechronology doctors made a dismissive sound. “Don’t be ridiculous,” he said.“Old people are just regular people who happen to be old.” My friend stuckwith geriatrics, but realized that she had been fostering anidealized notion of the elderly. “At the end of the day,” she told me, “an oldperson can be just as trying as any other person; just as messy, just asunthankful.”

    She has alsobecome wary of her instinctual empathy impulse when dealing with elderlypatients. In this, she draws on the academic work of Kate Rossiter, whoadvocates fostering “ethical responsibility” rather than empathy in medicalpractitioners. “There’s something almost greedy about empathy, because itrelies on the notion that we can somehow assimilate the other,” my friendexplained. “A respectful and thoughtful distance is also part of what enablesus to respond to the other’s needs.”A few years before he died, at the age ofeighty-nine, the literary critic Frank Kermode wrote that “the young knownothing directly about old age and their inquiries into the topic must be doneblind.” Perhaps this is why younger artists seem to get waylaid by the sametropes: we are sometimes tempted to imagine old age as one big, funny,wisdom-rich adventure, with the comic caper a stalwart of the form, from the film“Grumpy Old Men” to the novel (and later film) “The Hundred-Year-Old Man WhoClimbed Out of the Window and Disappeared” (one film critic has dubbed thisgenre Old People Behaving Hilariously). At the other extreme are themind-disease psycho-dramas that we might call Old People BehavingTerrifyingly—recent novels like “The Farm” or “Elizabeth is Missing,” or thefilms “Iris” or “The Iron Lady.” As Sally Chiversargues in “The Silvering Screen: Old Age andDisability in Cinema” (2011), “in the public imagination … old age does notever escape the stigma and restraints imposed upon disability.”

    There are notable exceptions, of course, and too many to mention in fullhere. Lynne Segal, the author who warned against the negative impact ofstereotypes of old age, admires the work of Julian Barnes. Even as a youngwriter, she believes, he had an uncanny ability to write old age well. Perhapsthis is because he is a “thanataphobe,” as he puts itin his recent memoir, “Nothing to Be Frightened Of” (published when he wassixty-two); that is, he is more afraid of death than of old age, and so hiselderly characters—in, say, “Staring at the Sun” (published when Barnes wasforty)—are void, to Segal, of “any of the customary expressions of horroraccompanying the portrayals of old age.” In this way, Barnes also manages tocapture the unexpected indifference of many old people to death; as Lively haswritten, “Many of us who are on the last lap are too busy with the baggage ofold age to waste much time anticipating the finish line.”

    The Scottish writer Muriel Spark has also beencommended by authors who are themselves elderly, including Lively and herfellow British novelist Paul Bailey, as proof that a young writer cansuccessfully make a leap into the imagined territory of old age. Spark was onlyforty-one in 1959, when she published her novel “Memento Mori,”a black comedy about a group of nursing-home residents who begin receivingmysterious phone calls from an anonymous caller who announces portentously, asif it were unknown to them already, “Remember you must die.” Lively lauds thebook for its “bunch of sharply drawn individuals, convincingly old, bedeviledby specific ailments, and mainly concerned with revisions of their past.” V. S.Pritchett, in an introduction to a 1964 edition of “Memento Mori,” praisedSpark for taking on “the great suppressed and censored subject of contemporarysociety, the one we do not care to face, which we regard as indecent: old age.”
    自身已步入老年的作家,包括莱夫利和她的同事英国小说家保罗·贝利,都推荐了苏格兰作家穆丽尔·斯帕克,这证明一位年轻作家能成功跨入想象中的老年领域。斯帕克于1959年出版了小说《记住你将死亡》,当时她只有四十一岁,这部小说是一部荒诞喜剧,讲述了养老院里的一群老人突然开始收到一位匿名人士打来的神秘电话,那个神秘人在电话里不详地宣告:“记住,你一定会死。”就好像他们还不知道一样。莱夫利赞扬这本书“犀利描写了一群人,一群有说服力的老人,受到特定疾病困扰,将自己的注意力大部分用于回忆过去。” V·S·普利切特在1964年版《记住你将死亡》的前言中赞扬斯帕克呈现了“一个当代社会中受到极度压抑和严格审核的主题,一个我们不愿面对,视为不适当的主题:变老。”

    A more recent example is the thirty-seven-year-oldAustralian author Fiona McFarlane’s 2013 début novel, “The NightGuest.” McFarlane’s protagonist, Ruth, though succumbing to dementia andat the mercy of an unreliable caregiver, is capable of seeing beauty or takinggreat pleasure in her present—in a sexual encounter, for example—while alsoderiving equal parts enjoyment and pain from memories of her unusual past. Sheis neither hilarious nor terrifying. McFarlane says that, while writing Ruth,she thought of her as “an individual who, at seventy-five, is the sum of yearsof experience, memory, opinion, prejudice, decision-making, and desire.”

    But why search for depictions of old age by the young when I shouldinstead be seeking out narratives by natives of old age? I don’t mean the richbody of work by late-middle-aged authors, which tends to be more about the fearof aging than about the experience of old age itself (fiction by Martin Amis,for example, or, further back, T. S. Eliot’s poetry), but literature written byauthors aged seventy-five and older.

    翻译BY 湘湘


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