An Aging World: History as Senescence

deadline for submissions: 
October 15, 2021
full name / name of organization: 
Arturo Ruiz-Mautino
contact email: 

“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 pessimism—mixed with the nostalgia for youth and the threat of forgetting—of the aging world imagination, it is often deployed during difficult times. Adso’s premodern discourse on the intersected life and history is also embedded in our time.

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 does the idea of aetates mundi is deployed to convey criticism and emotions or affects 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 8-12 pages long.

Please submit proposals through NeMLA (www.cfplist.com/nemla/Home/S/19424) by September 30th. If you have any questions, contact Chenyun Li at cl2393@cornell.edu or Arturo Ruiz Mautino at ar2358@cornell.edu.