Aging as a Social Form: The Phenomenology of the Passage

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If philosophers have discussed life as preparation for death, this seems to make aging coterminous with dying and a melancholy passage that we are condemned to survive. It is important to examine the discourse on aging and end of life and the ways various models either limit possibilities for human agency or suggest means of being innovative in relation to such parameters. I challenge developmental views of aging not by arguing for eternal life, but by using Plato's conception of form in conjunction with Simmel's work and Arendt's meditation on intergenerational solidarity, to evoke a picture of the subject as having capacities that offer avenues for improvisational action. This paper proposes a method for analyzing any social form as a problem-solving situation where the real "problem" is the fundamental ambiguity that inheres in the mix between the finite characteristics of the action and its infinite perplexity. I work through the most conventional chronological view of aging to show how it dramatizes a fundamental ethical collision in life that intensifies anxiety under many conditions, always raising the question of what is to be done with respect to contingency, revealing such "work" as a paradigm of the human condition.

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... The ritual order serves as if a grammar of social life that allocates sacred and profane status to regions of conduct and that makes associations and specifies courses of action designed to produce and be performed in standard ways. Although such a grammar has been formulated as ways and means of performing (an assemblage aka Deleuze), whether in general through Parsonian (Parsons, 1951) typologies, as Goffman's (1961) account of an institutional grammar, in Schutz's (1973Schutz's ( [1953) and Garfinkel's (1967) background expectancies or for particular notions such as motive (Blum, 1984(Blum, , 2013a(Blum, , 2013b, the heart of such a grammar must reside in the expurgatory work it does in removing matters from consideration either by force or surreptitiously and acts of expurgation that depend upon abeyances) and are described by Lacan (1993Lacan ( [1955Lacan ( -1956) as modes of foreclosure, disavowal and exclusion (Blum, 2013a). For example, the posit that the greeting is a gesture of acknowledgement is both profane, by virtue of its status as a conventional agreement that could be otherwise, and sacred, insofar as it appears as an agreement invested inexplicably with an untouchable status that removes its ambiguity from consideration (e.g. ...
In response to Freud’s notion that large things reveal themselves in small indications, this article analyses the greeting as a social form, using the resources of classical sociological theory and particularly the works of Simmel and Durkheim. The focus in not upon external aspects of the content studied, say, the difference between war as a macro-event and coquetry as a micro-event, nor on the social organisation of the event as an orderly phenomenon, but on the collective representation and its unstated configuration of layered meanings that discloses a tension in modern life around the enigma of acknowledgement. The example allows us to bring together a focus on language and embodiment through analysis of the gesture. In particular, the greeting raises the problem of the ambiguous relationship of intimacy and anonymity that haunts modernity. The method is illustrated through an analysis of the cliché as a circuit of commonplace representations and then traced as a narrative to disclose its form as mirroring a fundamental problem for the social actor’s relationship to the gesture of acknowledgement as a problem of self-worth.
Purpose: This phenomenological inquiry explored what it is like to become and to be old. The principal aims of this study were to first characterize participants' lived experience of becoming and being an older person, then to determine the extent to which they were aging in a conscious way that evidenced aspects of gerotranscendence, and finally, to contextualize participants' responses within existing research on the phenomenon. Design and methods: In a concurrent embedded mixed-methods design using an interpretive inquiry strategy, 17 men and women living independently in their communities responded to questions about their experience of aging and completed measures of gerotranscendence and adjustment to aging and their psychosocial correlates. A structural analysis of the verbatim transcripts of the interviews employed a phenomenological-hermeneutic approach. The quantitative measures informed further interpretations of interview data. Results: Most participants exemplified aging well with strengths and positive experiences across multiple domains; others evidenced optimal aging as physical challenges began to appear. Seven themes emerged from the structural analysis of the interview transcripts: Accepting/making accommodations for the inexorable physical changes; Being old versus feeling old; Being seen as old; Changing-and growing-psychologically and emotionally; Experiencing time as long and as short; Maintaining meaningful interpersonal relationships; and Speaking and living freely, and authentically. Discussion and implications: Convergences and divergences between the themes identified in this study and prior literature on the phenomenology of aging are discussed. Findings from this and similar studies have implications both for older adults and for those who care for and about them. If an older person is motivated to adapt in positive ways, then the potential to continue developing and growing into very old age is enhanced. On the macro level, an increased understanding of and appreciation for the breadth of older adults' experience of their eighth, ninth, and tenth decades of life should inform the development of policies, programs, and services to enhance their day-to-day lives.
This article recovers the understated engagement with the question of mortality and the relationship to death in life through a reading of the classics of sociology - Durkheim, Marx, Simmel and Weber-in order to dramatize the relationship of such a concern to the imaginary of perpetual happiness idealized by the bourgeoisie of each generation and exemplified by Lacan as the ‘problem’ of the city. If engaging mortality is conceived as an example of the thinking of limits, I suggest that this ban parallels disavowing the question of meaning that the bourgeoisie have cultivated and perfected in the name of practical thinking. In this way, the bourgeoisie can be said to have mastered the secret of life and the connection between mental hygiene and intellectual parsimony celebrated by Kant as the advance of enlightenment. This adjustment is located at least as far back as the Stoics and replayed in much thought and in popular culture as a symptom of the self-destructiveness of the fixation on ‘ultimate meaning’ and its realistic pursuit in life. In this sense, the conditions of citizenship in the city are said to require a systemic disregard of such ‘deep’ concerns on Kantian grounds that their inaccessibility and irresolute character can only distract circumspection from its limited goals. Georg Simmel is maintained as the classical figure who both engaged death (and so the risk of thinking limit) and suffered marginalization for this, making his resolution of this tension not tragic, as his idiom suggests, but an exemplification of sociological artistry and of the playful relationship to life that it promises when unencumbered by the fear of the bourgeoisie.
Our aims in bringing together the scholars assembled in this volume were threefold. First, we wanted to link a variety of research strategies and disciplinary vantage points in the human and social sciences in order to better understand the remaking-biological and clinical, economic and political, public and phenomenological-of the senile dementias today. Beyond the specificity of Alzheimer's disease or vascular dementia, many of us have been involved in research on what I have long termed senility. By senility, I mean the perception of deleterious behavioral change in someone understood to be old, with attention to both the biology and the institutional milieu in which such change is marked, measured, researched, and treated (Cohen 1998). For us, as social scientists and humanists of medicine, to organize our conversations around senility in this sense of the word, as opposed to organizing them around dementia, is simply not to presume in advance how perception, biology, and milieu are related. This reluctance to presume, as opposed to any shibboleth of naive social construction, is what makes us careful about terms and what makes our conversation anthropological. But far-ranging and systematic conversations among scholars of senility are few. Second, we presume that the future of senility, and clinically of the dementias, is an open one. Much is changing: state- and corporate-funded pharmaceutical, genomic, and epidemiological initiatives; instruments and regimes of health-care funding and insurance; structures and strategies of treatment and of care and their associated forms of reason; modes of therapeutic and nontherapeutic practice challenging the limits to such reason; differences and inequalities across axes of difference we attempt to capture by terms such as class, gender, race, and nation; and the larger frames of the structure of economies and institutions, generations and ethics, and bodies and persons. The perspective of the editors is not to presume that we understand what senility has been and must be-in the home, laboratory, clinic, chronic-care facility, regulatory office, or boardroom-and thus to offer an expert critique. It is rather to put our interpretive and critical tools to work to understand what senility might be becoming. In the case of the assembled chapters, our focus is on the dominant modern clinical form by which senility has been articulated-dementia-and what is happening to it. Finally, we presume that thinking about dementia is not only a salutary but also a necessary practice to address broader questions: of language, selfhood, and sovereignty; of the structure of care both in general and in the clinic; and of the practices and forms of reason and of life. That is, we hope to begin to reanimate the relation of senility to creative understanding in the human sciences more broadly, to move beyond the solicitous and welfare-driven categories of contemporary gerontology. We do not wish to claim that these chapters, or this introduction, singly or collectively accomplish all these objectives: such a claim would not do justice to the specific and contingent projects of the authors. But we do hope and expect that bringing these projects together will begin to suggest the contours of a field in the three ways we have outlined. Nor do we claim that we have been able to invite all or even most of the growing number of scholars thinking creatively about senility and dementia to participate in this volume. Our expectation is simply to frame a broader and more inclusive conversation. Both editors have in earlier or ongoing work focused on what the dementia clinic looks like beyond Western Europe and North America and share as well a sense of critical distinctions in the making and management of dementia within the so-called West. We have asked for contributions from authors who have been trained or are working or doing research in and across a variety of national sites (Brazil, Canada, Germany, India, Japan, the Netherlands, and the United States). The tools and theoretical commitments of these authors differ from one another and from those of the editors, and we have encouraged these contradictions in service of a robust conversation. The chapters in Thinking about Dementia are organized around a discrete set of problems, specific sites of the creative application of technical reason: (1) the emergence of new or reorganized forms of clinical practice in dementia given shifts in the dynamic of forces constituting clinical reality; (2) the role of genomics in Alzheimer's research and clinical practice, its reconstitution as a media object, and the popular reception and use of such media-driven understandings; (3) the organization of voice, self, or personhood in individuals with dementia across therapeutic and experimental milieus as well as the set of forces and forms that constitute both clinical and scholarly attention to "the person" with dementia; and (4) the relation between dependency and discipline in the constitution of senility as what Steven Collier and Andrew Lakoff (2005) have termed a regime of life. Before we turn to a preliminary engagement with each of these sets of problems, we offer some general reflections.
In The Imaginative Structure of the City Alan Blum explores the symbolic and imaginative nature of the city as a vital part of everyday life in modern civilization. He introduces the city as a community that must struggle to maintain its collective identity against typical problems - problems that threaten to fragment the city's sense of itself. Blum's distinctive form of theoretical inquiry pushes the reader to move beyond conventional ways of thinking about familiar urban issues in answering such fundamental questions as, How does a city exist? How do its inhabitants define their relationship to it? Who is entitled to speak for it? What is its symbolic nature? In what way does the city function as a focus of attempts to resolve social problems such as alienation, participation, and community? In what ways do night and nighttime affect our relationship to it? How is it possible to speak of a city as both exciting and alienating?.
An analysis of the collective engagement with the disease known as Alzheimer's and the dementia reputed of it reveals recourse to a socially standardized formula that attributes causal agency to the brain in the absence of clinching knowledge. I propose that what Baudrillard calls the model of molecular idealism stipulates such a neurological view of determinism in order to provide caregivers with reassurance in the face of the perplexing character of dementia and the depressing reactions to mortality that it brings to the surface.
This book examines aspects of aging that are commonly overlooked by dominant conceptual models in gerontology, which focus on the observable, measurable, or "outside" dimensions of aging. Drawing on the emerging field of narrative gerontology, it provides conceptual-theoretical support to scholars of aging who are interested in bringing such topics as reminiscence and life review more into the center of gerontological inquiry. Although aging has often been framed in terms of a narrative of inevitable decline, a more positive portrayal of aging becomes possible as the focus is placed on the intricate psychological dimensions or "inside" of aging, and as the storied nature of human experience is taken explicitly into account. The book looks at aging as, potentially, a process of poeisis : a creative endeavor of fashioning meaning from the ever-accumulating, ever-thickening texts - memories and reflections - that constitute our inner worlds. At its center is the conviction that, although we are constantly reading our lives to some degree anyway, doing so in a mindful manner is critical to our development, or growth, in the second half of life. The book employs a narrative, and thus interdisciplinary, perspective to link together topics that have tended to be of marginal interest within mainstream gerontology, specifically memory, meaning, wisdom, and spirituality. It does this by exploring the convergence of ideas from literary theory regarding reader-response; of advances in neuroscience regarding the narrative basis of consciousness itself; and of thinking about narrative development and narrative identity within psychology, in particular the psychology of aging.
In this piece Simmel claims that in order to understand death we must detach ourselves from its common association with the idea of a final and irrevocable 'fate' and recognize that life and death are inherently conjoined. Simmel observes that in every single moment of life we are those who must die. Each of life's moments is revealed only through a temporal approximation to death and life is shaped by death as a real element of life. To this extent life and death occupy one level of being as thesis and antithesis. Simmel concludes that, in opposition to conceptions of immortality found in religion, immortality is more appropriately understood as a separation of the self from the contingency of individual life contents.
• This work, a second edition of which has very kindly been requested, was followed by La Construction du réel chez l'enfant and was to have been completed by a study of the genesis of imitation in the child. The latter piece of research, whose publication we have postponed because it is so closely connected with the analysis of play and representational symbolism, appeared in 1945, inserted in a third work, La formation du symbole chez l'enfant. Together these three works form one entity dedicated to the beginnings of intelligence, that is to say, to the various manifestations of sensorimotor intelligence and to the most elementary forms of expression. The theses developed in this volume, which concern in particular the formation of the sensorimotor schemata and the mechanism of mental assimilation, have given rise to much discussion which pleases us and prompts us to thank both our opponents and our sympathizers for their kind interest in our work. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
In The Tragedy and Comedy of Life, Seth Benardete focuses on the idea of the good in what is widely regarded as one of Plato's most challenging and complex dialogues, the Philebus. Traditionally the Philebus is interpreted as affirming the doctrine that the good resides in thought and mind rather than in pleasure or the body. Benardete challenges this view, arguing that Socrates vindicates the life of the mind over the life of pleasure not by separating the two and advocating a strict asceticism, but by mixing pleasure and pain with mind in such a way that the philosophic life emerges as the only possible human life. Benardete combines a probing and challenging commentary that subtly mirrors and illuminates the complexities of this dialogue with the finest English translation of the Philebus yet available. The result is a work that will be of great value to classicists, philosophers, and political theorists alike.
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Remembering, Repeating, and Working-Through: Further Recommendations on the Technique of Psychoanalysis II
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Can the Dying Mourn?” In Layers of Death and Dying
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From Generation to Generation: Age Groups and Social Structure
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