cover image Juvenescence: A Cultural History of Our Age

Juvenescence: A Cultural History of Our Age

Robert Pogue Harrison. Univ. of Chicago, $25 (224p) ISBN 978-0-226-17199-9

In this study, Harrison (The Dominion of the Dead) explores our culture’s understanding of age, youth, and aging. Why, Harrison wants to know, do middle-aged adults in the West seem so physically and culturally youthful? Harrison offers some insight into the subject with this set of reflections, which are informed by Plato, the Bible, Shakespeare, and Nietzsche. At times, the book feels impenetrable, with observations that read like academic koans: “All we know for sure is that we are at once strangely young and immensely old, thanks to the extreme heterochrony of our present age, where the puer exists alongside the senex.” Hidden inside that cryptic sentence is one of Harrison’s main concerns: that the “puer” and “senex” (Latin for “boy” and “old man,” respectively) do not just coexist in the same society, but are also mutually alienated. In particular, Harrison asserts, old people are alienated by younger generations’ obsession with “neoteric novelties”—newness for its own sake. Perhaps no nation is as invested in the energy of youth as America; furthermore, the extent to which the world has changed so much over the past few decades means the old can no longer guide the young into maturity. For those readers, young or old, willing to press through the denser patches of Harrison’s prose, his book will provide mature wisdom indeed. [em](Nov.) [/em]