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Dementia, Senility, Literary Gerontology, Russian Prose
This essay explores the various ways of talking about senility and how the two competing (or, possibly, complementing) discourses—the biomedical dementia discourse and the discourse of senility as part of “normal” aging—affect our perception of and attitudes toward old age. Moreover, I explore the role of fiction in articulating senility.
As my approach combines critical gerontology with narratological analysis, it belongs to the burgeoning domain of literary gerontology, a discipline that embraces various literary genres from fiction to nonfiction. This double perspective of literary studies and cultural gerontology makes it possible to examine senility as a historically and culturally specific concept and phenomenon. My aim is to demonstrate with two examples from contemporary Russian short prose (Nina Katerli’s story “Na dva golosa” [In Two Voices] and Nina Sadur’s story “Stul” [The Chair]) how a literary work can be related to prevailing cultural, sociological, and medical discourses on and norms of aging. With tools of narratology I shed light on the literary devices deployed in the stories to articulate the experience of senility from the viewpoint of the elderly protagonists themselves.
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