By Rachel Cohen
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Out of Time: The Pleasures and Perils of Aging

This article is over 7 years, 9 months old
Lynne Segal, Verso, £16.99
Issue 390

This is a beautifully written book of the complexities of aging in a society that treats the old with disdain or indifference while prizing youth and “newness”.

Drawing on literature, memoirs and sociological research with older people, as well as historical writing and journalism, Lynne Segal examines what it means to age, both culturally and physically.

She surveys the “varied and inconsistent” memoirs of writers who try to make sense of their aging as they celebrate, lament, or try to meet the challenge of a new vulnerability.

One of the themes of the book is how the post-war generation is blamed for the economic crisis. The reality is, Segal argues, that neoliberalism continually attempts to erode the rights won by campaigners in the 1960s and 1970s.

She also explores the question of desire, our need for love and sexual expression in later life, drawing on psychoanalytic theory, poetry, novels and autobiographical writing of Doris Lessing, Simone De Beauvoir, Philip Roth and John Updike among others.

She illustrates how gender affects experiences of aging. Making extensive use of De Beauvoir’s writing, Segal points out that she was deeply troubled by her aging physique and bemoaned, as did Lessing, her sexual invisibility.

Segal considers the words of older feminists and writers who have the advantages of fulfilling work and reasonable economic means, although she acknowledges the difficulties of aging for the poor, noting that, “20 percent of those who live in poverty are pensioners, rising to around 30 percent if they are single women.”

Another key theme is one of resistance and she cites older people’s activism including her own experience campaigning in opposition to Israel’s illegal blockade of Gaza. For Segal aging well is entirely bound up with remaining connected and engaged with the world.

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