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Memory Revisited in Julian Barnes's The Sense of an Ending

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An accumulation of years brings with it an accumulation of experiences. The revision of such experiences usually becomes more recurrent after retirement, a transition time from one period of life to another and, as such, a time in which we, human beings, have a tendency to take stock of our lives. This is actually one of the main issues present in Julian Barnes's last novel The Sense of an Ending (2011). When the main protagonist, a retired man quite comfortable and contented with his present life, receives an unexpected inheritance from the mother of a girlfriend from his university years, he is forced to track down a part of his life that he had left at the back of his mind a long time ago. As he explains his story, the protagonist and narrator of the novel raises a number of questions related to the quality and function of memory as one gets into old age. He experiments the unreliability of memory and questions to what extent memory is constructed through the remembered emotions that invaded him over that episode of his life rather than through the events as they actually took place. On the other hand, the act of revisiting and revising that specific episode, brings with it feelings of guilt and remorse as the protagonist realises that his past acts were not as noble as he remembered them to be. However, these acts are part of the past and they cannot be changed; thus, another question that the novel raises is how to account for those actions of which one does not feel proud and, more importantly, how to manage those bad memories as one gets older
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Memory Revisited in Julian Barnes's The Sense of an Ending
Maricel Oró Piqueras
Abstract: An accumulation of years brings with it an accumulation of experiences. The
revision of such experiences usually becomes more recurrent after retirement, a transition
time from one period of life to another and, as such, a time in which we, human beings,
have a tendency to take stock of our lives. This is actually one of the main issues present in
Julian Barnes's last novel The Sense of an Ending (2011). When the main protagonist, a
retired man quite comfortable and contented with his present life, receives an unexpected
inheritance from the mother of a girlfriend from his university years, he is forced to track
down a part of his life that he had left at the back of his mind a long time ago. As he
explains his story, the protagonist and narrator of the novel raises a number of questions
related to the quality and function of memory as one gets into old age. He experiments the
unreliability of memory and questions to what extent memory is constructed through the
remembered emotions that invaded him over that episode of his life rather than through the
events as they actually took place. On the other hand, the act of revisiting and revising that
specific episode, brings with it feelings of guilt and remorse as the protagonist realises that
his past acts were not as noble as he remembered them to be. However, these acts are part
of the past and they cannot be changed; thus, another question that the novel raises is how
to account for those actions of which one does not feel proud and, more importantly, how to
manage those bad memories as one gets older.
Keywords: the ageing process, memory, narrative
The increasing interest in the study of ageing and old age has brought with it the emergence
of two disciplines known as narrative gerontology and literary gerontology. Both
disciplines intend to provide insight in the study of the ageing process by studying and
analysing cultural images transmitted through narrative, either coming from autobiography
or biography, self-narratives and life-writing by ageing and older citizens when referring to
narrative gerontology, and from literary works when referring to literary gerontology. The
word narrative has actually become key in ageing studies, as Heike Hartung and Roberta
Copyright©2014 Maricel Oró Piqueras. This text may be
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Maierhofer state in the introduction to their edited volume Narrative of Life: Mediating
Age, “[t]he concern with the analysis of narrative structures has become a focus in both the
humanities and the life sciences after the narrative turn has drawn attention to the ways in
which narrative shapes knowledge across disciplinary boundaries” (2009: 5).
In fact, researchers from different fields of study point out to the fact that the study of
human ageing requires the combination of traditional disciplines such as gerontology and
sociology with disciplines closer to the humanities. In that sense, gerontologists Jan-Erik
Ruth and Gary Kenyon in their article “Biography in Adult Development and Aging”
acknowledge the need to deepen the understanding of the ageing process moving forward
from more traditional disciplines. For Ruth and Kenyon, “many studies in gerontology
view aging from the outside,” analyzing, for example, changes in health in aging
organisms, or appropriate roles for the retired in society. The “inside” of aging has largely
been forgotten” (1996: 1). Thus, they analyse biographical and autobiographical narratives
as rich sources to obtain insight into the manifold aspects that take place in the ageing
process, the physical and biological aspects but also the sociocultural and experiential ones.
Ruth and Kenyon acknowledge that academic as well as professional communities are
interested in understanding the ageing process since “[t]he way people perceive their lives
is of vital importance, not only as a means of exploring the aging process, but also as a
guideline for social policy and the delivery of care in an aging society (1996: 2).
Moreover, by getting closer to the lived experience of old citizens through biographical and
autobiographical narratives, Ruth and Kenyon have been able to approach ageing, both as
an individual and as a social process, from a more comprehensive perspective and to
observe to what extent “cultures, subcultures, or family patterns” (1996: 2) influence
individual lives either because those patterns are challenged and expanded or, contrarily,
they are seen as immovable and kept so.
In their study Aging and Identity. A Humanities Perspective, Lagretta Talent Lenker and
Sarah Munson Deats go one step further when considering the importance of resourcing to
narrative and the humanities in order to understand the human ageing process and to
challenge limiting cultural pre-conceptions attached to old age. According to Lenker and
Deats, “cultural forms construct as well as encode the conventional perceptions on
individuals in a given society; they intervene in history as they reflect history” (1999: 19).
Thus, for Lenker and Deats, literature, the arts, and the media not only mirror society’s
conventions, but also create them” (1999: 19). It is in that sense that Lenker and Deats
consider that by analysing the images created through fictional narratives and by
challenging them, negative stereotypes in regard to the ageing process can be modelled and
reconstructed. In 2000, gerontologist Mike Hepworth resources to literary works in order to
analyse contemporary conceptions in relation to the ageing process in his study Stories of
Ageing. For Hepworth, contemporary fiction is a valuable resource to understand
conceptions and dynamics related to contemporary ageing because “it allows the writer,
through the exercise of imagination, access to the personal variations and ambiguities
underlying the common condition of growing older” (2000: 4). Hannah Zeilig establishes a
difference between narrative gerontology and literary gerontology by pointing out that
whereas in narrative gerontology real-life informants retell their life stories as they perceive
them, the stories in literary gerontology are works of art that directly or indirectly seek to
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“appeal to our minds” (2011: 22). Still, literary narratives in which the process of ageing
and old age are addressed are based on the writers’ individual experience as well as on their
social and cultural backgrounds. Despite the fact that literary works usually part from
everyday experience, they tend to reflect on the multiple and diverse aspects that make a
human life.
One of the words associated with narrative is memory; using one’s memory, narrative is
constructed and, as narrative progresses, identity is built. The postmodern turn which was
deeply rooted around the seventies and eighties and which helps find a meaning to a fast-
changing contemporary society has contributed to the present conception of identity as a
fluid entity which is constructed and negotiated through the life span. Within this context,
life narratives have the function of providing a sense of continuity and logical meaning to a
long life trajectory. In “Identity Construction in the Third Age: The Role of Self-
Narratives”, Gerben J. Westerhof analyses the role of self-narrative in identity development
between the ages of sixty and seventy-five by interviewing one informant. Westerhof
reaches the conclusion that narratives are used “to create unity and purpose in the manifold
experiences occurring across the course of one’s life and thereby to find meaning in life”
(2009: 56), especially after retirement. In fact, Westerhof goes one step further and
acknowledges that the construction of an ongoing life narrative is specially needed to keep
a “healthy identity development” because it guarantees a balance between maintenance of
structures and openness to new experiences” and thus, self-narratives can be seen as
important means to coordinate existing identities with changing situations” (2009: 57).
This is precisely what Tony Webster, the narrator and protagonist of Julian Barnes’ last
novel, The Sense of an Ending (2011), is forced to do when he receives a small inheritance
from someone he knew in his university years. The Sense of an Ending is the story of a man
who has crossed the line of retirement and who is quite contented both with his present life
and with his life trajectory up until the moment in which something forces him to review
his life narrative. This is how the narrator and protagonist, Tony Webster, takes stock of his
present life:
I’m retired now. I have my flat with my possessions. I keep up with a few drinking
pals, and have some women friends platonic, of course. (And they’re not part of the
story either.) I’m a member of the local history society, though less excited than some
about what metal detectors unearth. A while ago, I volunteered to run the library at the
local hospital; I go round the ward delivering, collecting, recommending. It gets me
out, and it’s good to do something useful; also, I meet some new people. Sick people,
of course; dying people as well. But at least I shall know my way around the hospital
when my turn comes. (2012: 56)
By using the first person, Webster rewrites his life narrative speaking directly to the
readers. As he rewrites a specific episode from his own life story, he reflects on the
deceitfulness of memory driven by human beings’ need to go on with their lives despite
having gone through negative episodes. However, as memory is revisited and revised in his
last life stage, the protagonist also rediscovers a remorse that was hidden deep inside
himself and that he had managed to ignore by modifying what he remembered from that
episode of his life.
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Daniel L. Schacter has researched and published on memory over the life span and defines
memory as intrinsic to human beings but volatile at the same time: “Sometimes we forget
the past and at other times we distort it; some disturbing memories haunt us for years. Yet
we also rely on memory to perform an astonishing variety of tasks in our everyday lives”
(2001: 1). However, “[m]emory plays such a pervasive role in our daily lives that we often
take it for granted until an incident of forgetting or distortion demands our attention” (2001:
1). And memory will be a pervasive element in Tony Webster’s narrative as he recounts an
episode from his life story. When revising his memory, Webster realises that time as well as
a superposition of feelings he had felt at the time had seasoned his remembrance of what
happened in that specific episode in his life. As he revises it, as well as the consequences
derived from it, Webster realises that, contrarily to what he thought, memory is not a
reliable scrapbook of the most relevant moments of his life. In that sense, Daniel L.
Schacter explains that our memories are strongly influenced by our feelings, beliefs and the
knowledge obtained after living a specific experience. As Schacter explains, “[w]e extract
key elements from our experiences and store them. We then recreate or reconstruct our
experiences rather than retrieve copies of them […]. In other words, we bias our memories
of the past by attributing to them emotions or knowledge we acquired after the event”
(2001: 9).
The novel starts during the university years of the protagonist and narrator when he meets a
girl named Veronica and they start a relationship which lasts around two years. Tony
Webster visits Veronica’s family in Kent and Veronica also visits the protagonist’s friends in
London. However, at one point over their second year together, Veronica tells the
protagonist she feels their relationship is at a stagnant point and they decide to split up and
follow different paths. Veronica tries to recover their relationship by seducing Webster but
he neither understands Veronica’s complaints regarding their relationship nor shows any
sign of intending to amend them. They finally decide to follow their own ways and the
protagonist never feels guilt or remorse for not having taken more care of the relationship.
Over this period, Webster remembers himself as a carefree young man interested in
discovering the intricacies of sex more than in understanding relationships or in analysing
the behaviour of his peers: “the more you liked a girl, and the better matched you were, the
less your chance of sex, it seemed” (2012: 23).
Some time later, Webster receives a letter from one of his best friends, Adrian, in which he
asks for his permission to go out with Veronica. In the protagonist’s memory, his reaction at
the time was to write a short letter to Adrian in which, half-jokingly, he expressed his lack
of interest in Veronica and in their relationship. After this episode, the narrator goes on with
his life without news from either Veronica or Adrian until they finish their degrees. The first
part of the novel finishes when the narrator is informed about Adrian’s death. After having
graduated, Adrian commits suicide for no apparent reason, apart from the fact that he was
of above average intelligence. As Webster retells this first part of the story, he keeps
referring to the deceitfulness of memory as a new discovery in his life: “Again, I must
stress that this is my reading now of what happened then. Or rather, my memory now of my
reading then of what was happening at the time” (2012: 41). Webster is reorganising his
particular scrapbook and, with it, he is becoming aware that every decision one makes,
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even if insignificant, may mean a different turn in one’s life.
In the second part of the novel, the reasons that make Tony Webster wonder about the truth
of memory and to revise his life story are clearly stated. The narrator receives a letter from
a solicitor in which he is informed of the fact that he has received an inheritance from
Veronica’s mother, a person he only saw once in his life. The inheritance consists of five
hundred pounds and a personal diary, Adrian’s personal diary, which has been safeguarded
by Veronica. Without understanding, the perplexed narrator tries to contact Veronica. From
Veronica he only gets the letter he had sent to Adrian when Webster finds out that Adrian
and Veronica had started a relationship. To his surprise, the letter is not jokey or brief at all
as he remembered it to be. In it, the narrator had poured out his anger and disillusionment
against both Veronica and Adrian, accusing Veronica of having been damaged in her
childhood and of having a domineering and uncontrollable character and asking Adrian
never to get in touch with him again. After reading the letter, the protagonist finds himself
at a crossroads forty years after that episode of his life had taken place:
At first, I thought mainly about me, and how what I’d been: chippy, jealous and
malign. Also about my attempt to undermine their relationship. At least I’d failed in
this, since Veronica’s mother had assured me the last months of Adrian’s life had been
happy. Not that this let me off the hook. My younger self had come back to shock my
older self with what that self had been, or was, or was sometimes capable of being.
And only recently I’d been going on about how the witnesses to our lives decrease, and
with them our essential corroboration. (2012: 98)
That carefree young Webster who had inhabited the protagonist’s memory for many years
had turned into someone he found difficult to recognise. In his personal narration, Webster
had constructed his younger self as not far removed from the boys of his age at that specific
time and place, mid-twentieth century England. Thus, as he reconsiders his relationship
with Veronica, he compares its innocence and lack of sexual intercourse with a sexually-
loaded story he had recently heard from one of his friends whose daughters is at university.
In his mind as well as in his personal narration, the relationship he had had with Veronica
would respond to a common and harmless relationship for their age at that time. In
Narrative and Identity: Studies in autobiography, self and culture, Jens Brockmeier and
Donal Carbaugh explain how we construct our lives as well as create them through
narration and, as we do so, we mould our identity as individuals but also as cultural beings
(2001: 1, 2). In Webster’s memory, Veronica’s relationship as well as her starting an affair
with his best friend had been an insignificant episode which did not have any negative
consequence in his carefully-woven life narrative. As he is forced to revise his life narrative
at sixty-five, Webster realises that the number of people who were around him when this
episode of his life took place is decreasing in number, either because they have died
which is the case with his parents and Adrian , or because they have followed different
paths in life which is the case with his close friends at college. After receiving part of
Adrian’s diary from Veronica, Tony Webster is left alone reconstructing his memories as
well as his own identity. Moreover, he has to come to terms with a number of emotions he
thought would be well under control in his old age and which he finds flourishing and
floating at ease.
Tony Webster feels remorse because his viperous letter was the last contact he had with
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Adrian. But more importantly, he feels remorse because he had treated Veronica in a very
unfair way. The narrator decides to keep on investigating about the months before Adrian’s
death; he tries to get some information from Veronica but failing to do so, he decides to
follow her. By the end of the novel, he discovers that Adrian had had an affair with
Veronica’s mother which resulted in pregnancy and, to make things more complicated, the
baby was born disabled. Webster imagines that the pressure caused by this situation had
brought Adrian, a twenty-two year old man, young and brilliant, to commit suicide.
Moreover, Veronica had been the person who had taken care of her brother after her
mother’s death and realises that by simplifying Veronica’s character as selfish and
domineering and erasing her from his mind and his life narrative as he had done, he had
manipulated both his memory and his life story. The narrator, Tony Webster, realises that
the emotions triggered by the fact that he and Veronica had split up and she had started
going out with his best friend had had a negative effect on the memorised episode in his life
narrative and he is aware that, at the present time, when his feelings are completely
different, the plot of that episode will be changed in his memory too. As he puts it:
I think I theorise that something something else happens to the memory
over time. For years you survive with the same loops, the same facts and the
same emotions. I press a button marked Adrian and Veronica, the tape runs, the
usual stuff spools out. […] But what if, ever at a late stage, our emotions
relating to those long-ago events and people change? That ugly letter of mine
provoked remorse in me. […] Then, not long afterwards, I began remembering
forgotten things. I don’t know if there’s a scientific explanation for this to do
with new affective states reopening blocked-off neural pathways. All I can say
is that it happened, and that it astonished me. (2012: 120)
Tony Webster imagined the beginning of his old age as a quiet period in which he would
suffer the pains of biological ageing and the deserved emotional tranquillity of lived and
past experiences: “Later in life, you expect a bit of rest, don’t you? You think you deserve
it. I did, anyway. But then you begin to understand that the reward of merit is not life’s
business” (2012: 59). Instead, he realises that his life narrative is a never-ending narrative
until death and that remorse and guilt are two emotions one has to come to terms with
whether one is ready to do so or not: “What you fail to do is look ahead, and then imagine
yourself looking back from that future point. Learning the new emotions that time brings.
Discovering, for example, that as the witnesses to your life diminish, there is less
corroboration, and therefore less certainty, as to what you are or have been” (2012: 59).
Instead, as he points out in other passages of his narration, he realises that getting into old
age makes your memories less reliable due to the accumulation of years and experiences
but also because those who had been acquainted with your life trajectory are gradually
disappearing.
Thus, Tony Webster, the narrator and protagonist of the story, goes from a state of accepting
the beginning of his old age with its expected nuances, to a deep revision of his
remembered young self and the realisation that memory is deceitful and remorse is a feeling
that can emerge at any time over a human life. Once he accepts all this, he realises he has to
find a solution so that his life narrative can continue. The first step is to come to terms with
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the fact that memory and reality do not always match and that memory is strongly
influenced by the feelings that invaded someone regarding a specific event. Secondly, the
narrator has to admit and include the changes in his life narrative. The following logical
step is to try to find a way to come to terms with the reality of the facts as well as his
feelings of remorse and guilt since change is impossible at this stage. Being aware that
Veronica will not accept seeing him again, Webster decides to send her an email in which
he expresses his apologies for his negative interference between her and Adrian as well as
for having erased her from his life altogether. Despite this, the narrator has become aware
of a new reality he never considered before. In other words, getting into old age does not
always mean to have come to terms with the past as it does not mean that a quiet path will
lead the old person towards the end. Old age, as a part of life, requires readjustments as
well as an ongoing narrative, which will be told with more experience, but also with unrest.
As the narrator explains: “You get towards the end of life – no, not life itself, but of
something else: the end of any likelihood of change in that life. You are allowed a long
moment of pause, time enough to ask the question: what else have I done wrong? […]
There is accumulation. There is responsibility. And beyond these, there is unrest. There is
great unrest” (2012: 150). He has to rewrite his life narrative by taking remorse into
account. As Gerben J. Westerhof points out when analysing the healing role of life
narratives in old age, it is not only necessary for the narrator and protagonist of the novel to
go on rewriting his life narrative but also a sign of healthiness since when one’s life
narrative is reconstructed and adjusted new experiences can be fitted into it.
By presenting a specific episode of the life narrative of a retired character, Julian Barnes
allows the reader into the growing character’s awareness of the fact that when entering into
old age one is not automatically freed from the same feelings and emotions that have
invaded him or her in their previous life stages. On the contrary, the fact of having more
free time to review one’s memories together with the deceitful quality of memory may
force those in old age to come to terms with negative memories and to absorb remorse and
guilt as feelings which need to be integrated in order to go on writing one’s life narrative. In
fact, Tony Webster himself acknowledges the fact that it was actually easier for him to
manage memories when he was a young man. As he explains: “When you are in your
twenties, even if you’re confused and uncertain about your aims and purposes, you have a
strong sense of what life itself is, and of what you in life are, and might become.
Later…later there is more uncertainty, more overlapping, more backtracking, more false
memories. Back then, you can remember your short life in its entirety. Later, the memory
becomes a thing of shreds and patches” (2012: 105). At the age of sixty-five, Webster did
not expect to find himself in this position because he had interiorised the message that old
age was a time of peace and quietness in which one had to wait for the end without making
much fuss about it. In one of the first studies on literary gerontology, Safe at Last in the
Middle Years: the Invention of the Midlife Progress Narrative, Margaret Moganroth
Gullette analyses the emergence of a new kind of novel she names “the progress narrative
of the middle years” (1988: xi). Gullette is aware of a number of contemporary Anglo-
American authors who, instead of depicting middle age and the entering into old age as a
time of constant loss and decline which will lead to social oblivion, they present ageing
heroines and heroes entangled in “new plots of recovery and development in those years”
(1988: xii). In that sense, as time cannot be defined in a straight line, the entering into old
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age is not a continuum through which one can go quietly; instead, crisis and coming to
terms with them are also part of the game, as they are in the other life stages. As Tony
Webster points out, “[we] live with such easy assumptions, don’t we? For instance, that
memory equals events plus time. But it’s all much odder than this. Who was it said that
memory is what we thought we’d forgotten? And it ought to be obvious to us that time
doesn’t act as a fixative, rather as a solvent” (2012: 63).
Literary gerontology helps understand the process of ageing in a more comprehensive way
in the sense that it allows the reader to go into mental processes which are quite difficult to
express and define in scientific terms. By getting into the life narrative of Tony Webster
who addresses us as if we were listening to him, we side with him in the fact that memory
is a double-edged weapon. It is the door towards our past and the construction of a logical
life narrative but it is also the reminder that everything we did in the past and will do in the
future is seasoned by feelings and emotions which give subjectivity to our memories and
which require constant reconsideration and rewriting of who we are, whatever the age.
Works cited
Barnes, Julian. (2011) The Sense of an Ending. London: Vintage Books, 2012.
Brockmeier, Jens and Donal Carbaugh eds. Narrative and Identity: Studies in
Autobiography, Self and Culture. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2001.
Deats, Sara Munson and Lagretta Tallent Lenker eds. Aging and Identity. A Humanities
Perspective. Westport CT: Praeger Publishers, 1990.
Gullette, Margaret Moganroth. Safe at Last in the Middle Years: The Invention of the
Midlife Progress Novel. University of California Press, 1988.
Hartung, Heike and Roberta Maierhofer. “Introduction”. Narratives of Life: Mediating Age.
Berlin: Lit Verlag, 2009.
Hepworth, Mike. Stories of Ageing. Open University Press, 2000.
Ruth, Jan Erik and Gary Kenyon. “Biography in Adult Development and Aging” in Birren,
James E. et alii. Aging and Biography. Explorations in Adult Development. New
York: Springer Publishing Company, 1996.
Schacter, Daniel L. The Seven Sins of Memory. New York: Houghton Hifflin Company,
2001.
Westerhof, Gerben J. “Identity Construction in the Third Age: The Role of Self-Narratives”
in Hartung, Heike and Roberta Maierhofer. Narratives of Life: Mediating Age. Berlin:
Lit Verlag, 2009.
Zeilig, Hannah. “The critical use of narrative of literary gerontology”. International
Journal of Ageing and Later Life, 2001. 6 (2): 7-37.
Maricel Oró-Piqueras graduated in English Philology at the University of Lleida in 1999.
She also holds a BA in English from the University of Surrey at Roehampton. She started
her PhD studies after having been awarded a government research scholarship in 2002 and
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became part of the literature research group Grup Dedal-Lit in the Department of English
and Linguistics at the University of Lleida. In 2003, she completed her minor thesis on
Angela Carter and Magical Realism. In 2007, she defended her PhD thesis which has
recently been published by LAP LAMBERT Academic Publishing (Saarbrücken,
Germany) with the title Ageing Corporealities in Contemporary British Fiction: Redefining
Stereotypes (April, 2011). Maricel Oró-Piqueras is currently working at the Official School
of Languages (Escola Oficial d’Idiomes) in Vendrell (Tarragona) and she collaborates with
the Department English and Linguistics at the University of Lleida as a part-time lecturer.
She also participates actively with the literature research group Grup Dedal-Lit,
contributing with her research on ageing in contemporary British fiction.
... Paynel, [6] in the article "Serious About Being Serious: elaborates that the abstract images in the beginning of the novel as listed by Tony, the narrator of the novel states that he does not remember events in a particular order. This assertion reflects the narrator"s sense of meditation that time is not linear and he has to rely on his partial memory. ...
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La literatura es especialmente importante para las personas mayores, ya que, a través de representaciones literarias, éstas pueden cuestionar estereotipos y tabúes asociados al envejecimiento, así como la continuidad de la creatividad durante la vejez. El análisis y los resultados que se presentan en este trabajo se basan en un taller sobre lectura y escritura creativa organizado dentro del programa "Aula abierta" de la Universitat de Lleida. En las cuatro sesiones del taller se comentaron textos de autores contemporáneos en los que predominaban temas como la sabiduría, la soledad, la enfermedad y la muerte. A partir del análisis de los debates, y de los ejercicios creativos de los participantes, concluimos que la literatura es un medio ideal para reflexionar y debatir sobre la vejez de forma abierta y creativa. Entre las principales conclusiones consideramos que la creatividad continúa activa en la vejez. Reading and creative writing as a tool for analysis and transformation of the ageing experience ABSTRACT: Literature is especially important for senior citizens, since through literary representations they can question stereotypes and taboos associated to the ageing experience as well as the continuity of creativity during old age. The analysis and the results presented in this article are based on a reading and creative writing workshop organised within the "Aula abierta" programme at the Universitat de Lleida. In the four sessions that composed the workshop, texts from contemporary authors that focused on topics such as wisdom, loneliness, illness and death were analysed. Through the analysis of the debates and the creative writing activities of the participants, we conclude that literature is an ideal medium to reflect and debate on ageing from an open and creative perspective. Amongst the main conclusions of the analysis, creativity continues to be present in old age.
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The objective of this paper is to examine in which way the use of the oral and written discourse in Julian Barnes’s novel The Sense of an Ending (2011) reflects, on the one hand, a social hierarchy based on classificatory cultural, intellectual, and educational competencies and resources and, on the other, dominance strategies and power relations developed among the principal actors. It will be investigated how trivial discussions and letters exchanged between friends are deployed in order to sustain or eliminate control over the other(s) and indicate status positions. The proposed methodological framework of analysis is founded on Bourdieu’s approach to cultural capital, according to which cultural preferences are markers of social stratification, while highbrow aesthetic judgment is both a means to, and a stake in, upward social mobility. Foucault’s theory of a “decentralised” and ubiquitous power, dispersed at all levels and defined as an action directed to other people’s actions, will also be applied.
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Julian Barnes in his novel The Sense of an Ending (2011) depicts an old man who is confronting some instances of his young age. In the process of remembering, he is dealing with the unreliability of his memory. This is both because of the nature of memories and some buried realities of his narrative. The film adaptation of the novel released with the same title The Sense of an Ending (2017), directed by Ritesh Batra and written by Nick Payne, represents sections from the past and the present of this man, Tony Webster, who tries to revalue his life by telling his life story. The film adaptation of the novel presents the subjective narrative of Tony through certain flashbacks, which carry significant traces of some annoying memories. The film adaptation keeps the novel’s concerns about old age including some deviations within the plot line, yet it also contributes to the evaluation process of the slippery recollection of the memories that are shaping the present self of the mature individual. In this article, the film The Sense of an Ending adapted from Julian Barnes’s novel that visualises the traces of a traumatic incident causing the old protagonist to re-evaluate his life will be elaborated on.
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It is now widely accepted that ''age'' and ''ageing'' are cultural concepts that are open to question. The thinking encouraged by critical gerontology has been crucially important in provoking questions about the complex-ities of later life, age and ageing. Similarly, the interrogation of stories of age and ageing via narrative approaches and as found in literature are increasingly recognised as an important source of knowledge for mining the intricacies of later life. There are close links between the interests of critical gerontologists and those who engage in narrative and literary gerontology. However, the potential that critical gerontology has for illuminating and probing these stories of age has often been neglected. The central argument of this article is that narrative and literary approaches to age and ageing when allied to perspectives from critical gerontology can furnish scholars with important perspectives for inter-preting and re-configuring ''age''. The focus is upon how a genuinely dialogic relationship between critical gerontology and narrative and literary gerontology can be forged. In this way, the full potential of these stories of ageing; their epistemological status for enriching theoretical work on ageing, might be better exploited.
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We examine the relation between memory and self by considering errors of memory. We draw on the idea that memory's imperfections can be classified into seven basic categories or “sins.” Three of the sins concern different types of forgetting (transience, absent-mindedness, and blocking), three concern different types of distortion (misattribution, suggestibility, and bias), and one concerns intrusive memories (persistence). We focus in particular on two of the distortion-related sins, misattribution and bias. By describing cognitive, neuropsychological, and neuroimaging studies that illuminate these memory sins, we consider how they might bear on the relation between memory and self.
The Sense of an Ending
  • Julian Barnes
Barnes, Julian. (2011) The Sense of an Ending. London: Vintage Books, 2012.
Safe at Last in the Middle Years: The Invention of the Midlife Progress Novel
  • Margaret Gullette
  • Moganroth
Gullette, Margaret Moganroth. Safe at Last in the Middle Years: The Invention of the Midlife Progress Novel. University of California Press, 1988.
The Sense of an Ending. London: Vintage Books, 2012. Brockmeier, Jens and Donal Carbaugh eds. Narrative and Identity: Studies in Autobiography
  • Julian Barnes
Barnes, Julian. (2011) The Sense of an Ending. London: Vintage Books, 2012. Brockmeier, Jens and Donal Carbaugh eds. Narrative and Identity: Studies in Autobiography, Self and Culture. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2001.