Anticipatory Imagination in Aging: Revolt and Resignation in Modern Day France
Keywords:Améry, imagination, revolt resignation,
“Rien n’arrive ni comme on l’espère, ni comme on le craint. Nothing really happens as we hope it will, nor as we fear it will.”1 Améry appropriates this quote of Proust to highlight how our imaginative powers can never approach its reality during an extreme event. This failure of what he coins our anticipatory imagination is depicted in his phenomenological account of torture, an event whose extremity is later compared to another embodied experience: that of aging. Equating torture with aging may seem shocking to some, and Améry was critiqued for suggesting such a parallel, particularly since he narrates a lived experience with the latter at the mere age of fifty-five. He revisits this critique in the preface to the fourth edition of On Aging: Revolt and Resignation where he states:
"Today as much as yesterday I think that society has to undertake everything to relieve old and aging persons of their unpleasant destiny. And at the same time I stick to my position that all high- minded and reverential efforts in this direction, though indeed capable of being somewhat soothing- are still not capable of changing anything fundamental about the tragic hardship of aging." - Jean Améry, On Aging [Améry’s emphasis]
The “today” of society that Améry referenced was 1977. But what about today? Is Améry correct in projecting that despite our best efforts nothing fundamental can change the quite unbearable experience of aging? Are attempts to aid the aging complicit in a “vile dupery” that ends in “metaphorically empty” phrases such as “rest in peace”?3 I would like to pose these questions in the wake of a heated debate in France regarding the legality of assisted suicide for aging persons (Améry took his own life and sees suicide as an acceptable form of revolt and resignation, the only authentic choices left to the aging). Thus, this paper seeks to not only dissect his account of aging (and the failure of anticipatory imagination in futural projections of it) but to ask whether his philosophy could be read alongside current French thinkers to better assess comment mourir dans la dignité.
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