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Health Humanities Lecture Series 2022-2023



Old age, it seems, has fallen off its pedestal. Once an inexhaustible source of wisdom, it is now increasingly associated with deficits and dependencies. Some even consider it a disease – a bad thing to have in a culture obsessed with eternal youth. Is there a way out of patronizing and pathologizing old age? How can we restore some of its dignity? The speakers of this year’s lecture series answer these questions by focusing on middle age and old age from a wide range of humanities perspectives, including literary studies, age studies, medical and cultural history, philosophy, and disability studies. Join us online and on campus, at KU Leuven, for a series of wonderful health humanities talks about ageing.

The Meaning of Midlife

‘Middle of the road’, ‘middling’, ‘middle aged’: none of these terms are meant as compliments. But what does it mean to speak of middleness? Is it simply the default setting for our understanding of the human life span – or does it have its own distinct qualities? With the help of some of the greatest figures in the history of literature, this talk will enquire as to how we have understood middle age in the past, how we understand it in the present, and how we might make it as productive as possible in the future. What does it mean to start slipping from the ‘prime of life’ towards a long, slow decline? How does it feel to become conscious of starting the second half of one’s existence? And how do we even define a period that has no clear beginning and no obvious end? To paraphrase Socrates, the unexamined midlife is not worth living.

Ben Hutchinson is an award-winning essayist and literary critic. Professor of European literature at the University of Kent and a Contributing Editor at the Times Literary Supplement, he is the author of six books, including The Midlife Mind (Reaktion Books, 2020), Comparative Literature: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2018), and Lateness and Modern European Literature (Oxford University Press, 2016). His latest collection of essays, On Purpose, will be published in 2023.

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