Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Age! Nyet!

“An aged man is but a paltry thing/A tattered cloak upon a stick.” William Butler Yeats’ words are a generous and even euphemistic fashion statement. And he qualifies the dismissal of age with “unless Soul clap it’s hands and sing,” an appeal to the spiritual.  Lear, for example, is a play about age and transcendence.  Shakespeare’s character comes out the other side, maybe not whole, but more holistically inclined than he was at the start. But age actually has few defenders. Hamm’s parents Nagg and Nell in Beckett’s Endgame live in dustbins. The fate of the aged is a heightened awareness of finitude that torments even Beckett’s more youthful characters, Clov: “Do you believe in the life to come?” Hamm: “Mine was always that.” The fact is there is nothing particularly commendable about age. To invoke Shakespeare again, here’s Jaques in the famous “All the world a stage" speech from ,As You Like It, “Last scene of all, That ends this strange eventful history, Is second childishness and mere oblivion, Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.” Unless of course you have a good gastroenterologist. Remember Mark Leyner’s comic novel, My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist? A good urologist or proctologist doesn’t hurt either. And then there is Ray Kurzweil who offers the prospect of immortality through microprocessors with even organs of the brain being refit with computer parts. Maybe someday you’ll be able to walk right into your local Apple store and purchase a new lease on life.

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