‘All ages and no age’: Memory, and Self-Narration in Irma Kurtz’s Then Again: Travels in Search of My Younger Self
Keywords:Kurtz, Memory, Narrative, Ageing, Temporality
AbstractIn her recently published text Out of Time: The Pleasures and the Perils of Ageing (2013) Lynne Segal argues that, in relation to the ageing process “what essentially matters is neither the sociology nor the biology of ageing but the narrative of the self, the stories we tell ourselves” (Segal 2013, 9). Psychoanalyst Christopher Bollas, suggests that in order to achieve a functioning personal narrative, each individual requires a perspectival mapping of his/her “internal topography” as the past does not simply lie dormant awaiting some form of resurrection but holds the potential for creative collaboration. One recent text which specifically engages with the pivotal role that memory plays in the ageing process and whether it is possible to, as Bollas suggests, “make the past available for the self’s future” (Bollas 1993, 3) is Irma Kurtz’s travelogue/memoir entitled Then Again: travels in search of my younger self my Younger Self (2003). Born in New Jersey in 1935 to Eastern European immigrants, Irma Kurtz has written four autobiographical texts, several novels as well as a number of publications related to her long-standing role as ‘agony aunt’ for Cosmopolitan magazine. My reading of Kurtz’s Then Again will focus not only on Bollas’s perspective on what he terms the “psychic signifiers” that are implicitly linked to the creative use of memory and how this concept can be applied to Kurtz’s text but also suggests that Stephen Frosh’s view on the importance of the achievement of a personal narrative which creatively engages with what he terms the “hauntings” of the past is also relevant to the central thematic concern of Then Again. Kurtz’s emphasis upon the threads of continuity that enable us to both differentiate and recapitulate past experiences as we experience the crisis of old age, will be specifically linked to the belief expounded by both Frosh and Bollas that ageing represents a multiplicity of continuities over time and how a successful negotiation of the ageing process depends upon an ability to make use of the self as an object of memory that simultaneously is, and is not, equivalent to its present manifestation(s). This article attempts to depict the central roles that memory and narration must play if such possibilities are to be achieved.
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