Conference e-mail
fcree-aleksconf@helsinki.fi



The Aleksanteri Institute

Unioninkatu 33 (P.O. Box 42)
00014 University of Helsinki

Past Aleksanteri Conferences

Literary Gerontology, Demographics and the Culture of Aging in Russia, Today and in the Future

Chair: Sanna Turoma (Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki, Finland)
Discussant: Natalia Bachsmakoff (University of Eastern Finland, Finland)
Maija Könönen (University of Eastern, Finland): Does Genre Matter? The Role of Literary Genre and Narrator in Representing Old Age Senility in Contemporary Russian Literature
Irina Savkina (University of Tampere, Finland): "I tut poiavilis' starukhi…": starost' kak inoe v rossijskoj proze kontsa XX-nachala XXI vekakh
Jane Gary Harris
(University of Pittsburgh, USA): Literature and Gerontology: Resistance, Agency and Creativity in Petrushevskaia's Representations of the Culture of Aging

“Literary Gerontology, Demographics and the Culture of Aging in Russia, Today and in the Future” > Demographic trends toward greater life expectancy already affect Russia’s culture of aging, and will undoubtedly continue to influence Russia’s political, social, moral and cultural norms in the future. Literary gerontology, as a relatively new field of scholarship, endeavors to contemplate, analyze, and examine issues of expectations and stereotypes of aging, of perceptions, representations and mis-representations of old age, frailty and dementia, family and intergenerational relationships, and indeed, of society’s confusion as well as compassion regarding the roles, activities and experiences of older people in everyday life. > Our panel will focus on several different aspects of literary gerontology and its application to constructs of aging in contemporary Russian society, reflecting on its potential impact on the demographic future of the culture of aging in Russia of 2030 and beyond. > Maija Kononen’s paper, “Does Genre Matter? The Role of Literary Genre and Narrator in Representing Old Age Senility in Contemporary Russian Literature,” treats the topic of old age from the viewpoint of literary gerontology. As she maintains, “it is a well-known fact that, not unlike madness, dementia is compelling in fiction, but cruel in life.” She questions whether dementia, like madness, finds its own “speaking and experiencing subject in literature with its own rhetoric and logic and how can this be achieved and articulated? Or does he/she remain an object of depiction, another case-study about a person with dementia told by an outside narrator, e.g. a caregiver or a nurse?” In her discussion, she explores both documentary and fictional prose texts. > Irina Savkina’s paper, “I tut poiavilis’ starukhi…”: starost’ kak inoe v rossijskoj proze kontsa XX-nachala XXI vekakh,” focuses on a particularly noticeable and significant tendency which may be examined and analyzed as the conflict between “the I” and “the other,” that is, the “Othering” of fear of older persons and death. Special attention is paid to the archetype of the terrifying and mysterious older person. In her paper, this subject also assumes strong social connotations, which emerge within the discussion of problems of old/new in the political realm, and raise questions of construction and de/re/construction of the Nation, the Russian state system, and the National idea. > Jane Gary Harris’ paper, “Literature and Gerontology: Resistance, Agency and Creativity in Petrushevskaia’s Representations of the Culture of Aging,” examines older characters in three distinct genres—the short story, novella, and drama. These representations are contextualized both through the lens of Erik and Joan Erikson’s psychosocial theory of lifespan development and its polar dichotomies (ie, Joan Erikson questioned her husband’s ideal of retrospection leading to “wisdom and integrity” as something “other people see in an older person,” suggesting the need to reconsider subjective reality and feelings). This theory is juxtaposed to the literary context of Russian 19th century character development and genre formation: Gogolian fantasy, Dostoevskian isolation and expression through “Zapiski,” and Chekhovian undercurrents, crushed by political ideology or elevated through the beauty of poetry and music.