The meaning of being/growing old—discussion of themes from Simone de Beauvoir’s The Coming of Age

Simone de Beauvoir

By Bob Stone

Simone de Beauvoir’s assessment of the situation of women in The Second Sex, published in 1949, inspired the women’s movement. Less well known is her equally trenchant assessment of the situation of old people in La Vieillesse, literally “old age”—published in 1970 when she was 62 and translated as The Coming of Age.

Lecture
The meaning of being/growing old
Thu, Mar 24, 4pm
Center for Global Justice
Calzada de la Luz 42

For any who wants to grow old in full consciousness of their situation, the Center for Global Justice offers a free exploration of themes on aging and dying selected from this work by Fagie Fainman, a criminal defense attorney; David Lippman, a psychiatrist; and Bob Stone, a philosopher. The event, with refreshments, will be at 4pm Thursday, March 24, at the Center, Calzada de la Luz 42.

Situations for the existential philosophy advanced by Simone de Beauvoir and others are all the bodily, cultural, and social realities facing us as historical/biological agents. We escape them only at the cost of self-deception.  Women and old people are made “others”—hence less than fully human—by cultures built on profits, Beauvoir holds. The French existentialists also examined situations of being Jewish, black, colonized, and gay, among others.

Aging, Beauvoir says, is not a slow alteration but a series of bad surprises. She writes: “When he was 70, [the writer] Jouhandeau scolded himself: “For half a century I have persisted in being 20 years of age. The time has come to relinquish this unjust claim.” But this “relinquishing” is not so easy. Discussion may touch on moving from youth’s infinite future to the finite but indefinite future of adulthood, and then to the inevitably terminated future of old age, carnal eroticism after 70, incontinence, and impotence—what retired “seniors” really need in order to live; resisting capitalist warehousing; dealing with growing dependence, constructing transgenerational futurity, models of alternatives in the Tolantongo Cooperative, and the “village movement,” etc.

“There is only one solution if old age is not to be a derisory parody of our former existence,” Beauvoir concluded, “and that is to go on pursuing ends that give our life a meaning—devotion to individuals, to collectives, to causes, social, political, intellectual, or creative work…One’s life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation, compassion.”

The Center, at Calzada de la Luz 42, is between Loreto & Animas. Free entry, donations welcome. For brief readings: admin@globaljusticecenter.org, 415 150 0025.

 

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