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  • Print publication year: 2015
  • Online publication date: November 2015

5 - The look of age: aversion

from Part II - Disputing the past

Summary

How does the look of age come? … Does it come of itself, unobserved, unrecorded, unmeasured? or do you woo it and set baits and traps for it, and watch it like the dawning brownness of a meerschaum pipe, and make it fast, when it appears, … and give thanks to it daily? Or do you forbid it and fight it and resist it, and yet feel it settling and deepening about you, as irresistible as fate?

Henry James, 1871

O envious age! Thou dost destroy all things with the relentless teeth of old age, little by little in a slow death. Helen, when she looked in her mirror and saw the withered wrinkles made in her face by old age, wept and wondered why she had been twice ravished.

Leonardo da Vinci, 1508

I hope I die before I get old

Pete Townshend, 1965

That doesn’t mean they’re old, dear. Prunes are supposed to be wrinkled.

‘Dennis the Menace’, 1984

Awareness of things past derives from two distinct but often conjoined traits: antiquity and decay. Antiquity involves cognizance of historical change, decay of biological or material change. The benefits and burdens of the past discussed in Chapters 3 and 4 mainly concerned age in its historical sense, though often couched in metaphors of youth and old age. This and the next chapter explore views about age in its biological sense.

Marks of age are quite distinct from manifestations of antiquity, such as historical residues and revivals or retro styles. Things seem biologically aged owing to erosion or accretion, altered colours or forms. Ageing is a worn chair, a wrinkled face, a corroded tin, an ivy-covered or mildewed wall; it is a house with sagging eaves, flaking paint, furnishings faded by time and use. Whatever their historical pedigree, objects that are weathered, decayed, or bear the marks of long use look aged and thus seem to stem from the past.

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The Past Is a Foreign Country – Revisited
  • Online ISBN: 9781139024884
  • Book DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781139024884
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