An Aging World: History as Senescence
“I grow old as the world does.” --- Adso of Melk, The Name of the Rose
When writing his memoir at an old age, the protagonist-narrator of Umberto Eco’s novel, Adso, leads us into the intertwined imagination of human life and world history. The cited phrase shows how history is imagined as a vital circle. The conceptualization of the world as a living being encompasses Platonism, mysticism, and Apocalypticism. It also influences historiographical writing by fusing the periodization of history and the seven stages of human life. By analogy, the limits and the process of deterioration of human life suggest an immanent crisis of the world: its inevitable degradation. In literature and arts, the experience of aging offers a projection to lament the decay of the exterior environment, no matter the spatial surrounding or political entity: buildings, cities, motherlands, and empires, all getting old on the verge of ruination. Due to the pessimism—mixed with the nostalgia for youth and the threat of forgetting—attached to the imaginaries of an aging world, it is often deployed during difficult times. While the experience of senescence encompasses that of the inevitable march towards death, we believe that is not only a sign of crisis. It might become, as it permeates all projects of grandeur and the everyday, a remarkable axis of aesthetic and historical interrogation.
Our seminar invites explorations of the imaginaries or discourses of “an aging world” in an interdisciplinary exchange between historiography, literature, theology, politics, and natural philosophy in pre- and early modern times (until the 17th century). How does the image of an aging world shape the vision and periodization of history? How is the idea of aetates mundi deployed to convey criticism and emotions toward human history? How does the understanding of history as senescence cooperate or contradict with the Christian chronology leading to the early modern scientific discourse on Earth?
Papers presented at the seminar are to be completed and circulated at least 2 weeks prior to the convention, which starts on March 10, 2022. Participants will be asked to read all papers and be prepared to participate in a structured conversation. Papers will be 8-15 page long.
Please submit proposals through NeMLA (www.cfplist.com/nemla/Home/S/19424) by September 30th, 2021. If you have any questions, please contact Chenyun Li at email@example.com or Arturo Ruiz-Mautino at firstname.lastname@example.org.