When I was approaching retirement age in 2015, after more than 50 years of work in Academia, I began taking a closer look at my earlier life and work.
In the beginning the aim was purely personal. I simply wanted to learn to know myself better (see further the Personal aims page). As I began to go through my memories and read the piles of documents in the archive, however, I began to see the contours of an emeritus research project that might have some public interest as well.
It’s a demographic fact that the proportion of older people in the population is steadily increasing in most parts of the world. The level of education is increasing too, and so is the proportion of people spending their professional careers in creative work of different kinds: making art works, film and music, producing technologies and innovations, writing books and articles, building start-up companies, etc. As a consequence, ‘the retired creative class’, i.e., the proportion of retired people who can look back on a life in production of oeuvres of different kinds, is growing rapidly.
In this project I focus on a subset of this group, namely former academic researchers, educators and scholars. People like me, who used to be employed in universities but have now left the career stage of their life behind and have become emeriti.
One of the issues that occupy the minds of many of us who have have spent a major part of our lives producing creative works of one kind or the other is the meaning and legacy of our achievements (the life portfolio, the collected oeuvre). The achievements loom large in our retrospective awareness (we are what we produced) and it is probably for this reason many emeriti become engaged in memoir activities.
The scholarly aim of this project is to reflect on such memoir practices. How do members of ‘the retired creative class’ make sense of their careers and accumulated oeuvre? What role does the life vs. oeuvre play in these retrospective accounts? What kinds of memoirs do we write and what purposes do they serve?
Using my own life as an example, and drawing on my privileged access to documents, photos and memories from this life, I will try to show how memoir writing can be a both pleasurable and meaningful emeritus activity, which can be also used as a means for ‘care of self’ and graceful ageing in the later stages of one’s life — in anticipation of the inevitable physical and mental decline, and ultimately death.
However, although the project focuses on the academic emeritus and the ‘retired creative class’, these reflections will hopefully be useful for broader segments of the ageing population as well.