Viewing the body as an (almost) ageing thing

The question of whether we have or whether we are our bodies remains a problem of concern as much to the humanities as to the sciences. This talk reconsiders the question and its relevance to the study of ageing. After outlining some of the dilemmas posed by Descartes concerning the relationship between bodies selves and persons, I go on to review more recent explorations of body identity and body ownership, particularly those undertaken within experimental and clinical neuroscience. Drawing on this background I turn to a central metaphor in social gerontology, that of the mask of ageing, which considers the gap between an ‘inside’ and an ‘outside’ agedness. Rather than assume that such a mask represents a form of bad faith, or a gap between personal and social identities, I suggest instead that it can be understood as the ‘normal abnormality’ of ageing. Drawing upon de Beauvoir’s notion of the ‘unrealisability’ of old age, I propose that age, old age, possesses an irreducible corporeal objectivity, whereby the body, as much as society, ‘others’ an otherwise ageless self.