Johnson, Dr. Galen A.
aging; death and dying; hypomnemata; lived philosophy; interview
As a student about to graduate with a degree in philosophy, the task of merging both the intellectual and practical aspects of the discipline necessarily emerges from the past four years of my study. As I myself am at the precipice of a whole new stage of life, I find myself drawn to questions of reflection and purpose. Throughout the history of philosophy, questions arising around the concept of death and one’s own mortality are ever-present and I am drawn to the stories that individuals have to share of their experiences surrounding death and dying. How is it that one reckons one’s own personal truths and ideas about the world in the day-to-day practice of life itself?
In Simone de Beauvoir’s groundbreaking account of experiencing her mother’s passing in A Very Easy Death, I find the text rife with philosophical truth. By objectively narrating the reality that is the death of her own mother, Beauvoir bears witness to arguably one of the most intimate stages of life—death—and adds a living praxis to philosophical writing. In the work of Michel Foucault, most specifically his interview,
“The Ethics of the Care of the Self as a Practice of Freedom,” Foucault presents it as essential to maintain a certain level of self-critique and attentiveness in order to rise against the constraints imposed upon us both in society and in our personal sphere.
With Beauvoir and Foucault as the primary guides to my endeavor, I have chosen to undertake a project focused on interviewing elderly individuals in the later-stages of life. Though initially I had selected male and female subjects for my inquiry, after my goals and interest narrowed, I have decided to focus my energies on communicating the stories shared to me by five elderly women in particular. These five vignettes are intended to shed light on the philosophical questions that emerge with age, death, dying, and the meaning of life—all as they have been communicated to me in my research.
In that I see philosophy itself to be a form of writing, as argued by Derrida and Rorty, I have decided to produce a series of vignettes highlighting my experience with each elderly individual. By writing both a personal and philosophical reflection, thus establishing my own philosophical style and voice, the process of writing becomes the process of forming myself.