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  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: November 2019

Chapter 6 - Gray Modernism

Summary

The sixth chapter, “Gray Modernism,” argues that modernist experimentation with narrative form draws theoretical and disciplinary inspiration from the invention of gerontology and geriatrics as a science. During the twentieth century, aging becomes the subject of clinical interest, a temporal pathology detachable from the body it affects. Similarly, for modernist novels like Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, duration becomes separable from the highly charged aesthetic moments it contains. Though Orlando lives through many centuries, she does not grow old; instead, her greatest transformation occurs when her gender instantaneously switches from male to female. The novel creates a divide between the systems of duration and aging on the one hand, and the momentariness and constructedness of identity on the other. By breaking with the conventions that link duration and objective, shared time, Woolf situates aging in an ironic temporality that disrupts the forward press of years.

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