Insight on Ageing – Beauvoir and Critchley

In her insightful, if depressing, 1970 book, Old Age, she brings the existential analysis begun in the groundbreaking The Second Sex (1949) to the topic of ageing. She writes that society sees old age as a ‘shameful secret that is unseemly to mention’. Beauvoir argues that we do not experience old age from within but without. Old age is not discovered, it is imposed from the outside. As Stella Stanford writes, “It also reveals the fundamental mistake – the pathetic delusion – in the claim that ‘you are only as old as you feel’. You are, on the contrary, as old as the others say you are.”

Ageing opens up a gap between one’s subjective existence and how that existence is viewed objectively. In old age, one’s being is defined by the way in which one is seen by others, regardless of how one might feel subjectively.

Of course, one can always lie about one’s age, but isn’t this truly the saddest thing in the world, as is a denial of the fact of one’s life, of one’s past and memory? I think it is in the stigma attached to old age that our society stands most condemned. As Beauvoir writes,It is the whole system that is at issue, and our claim cannot be otherwise than radical – change life itself.

The Book of Dead Philosophers
Simon Critchley

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