In Marguerite Yourcenar's novel, Hadrian's Memoirs, the aging emperor comments sadly on the dissolution of the good relationship he had formerly had with his body. Le Gouès utilizes this notion of a change in the relationship to the body to discuss the work which the psychic apparatus must carry out in the aging process when constantly confronted with physical discomfort and weakness. Although the work of aging may be in some ways no different from that involved in physical illness
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or injury earlier in life, it acquires a particular dimension in great age because of the chronicity of the handicap and the pale hope of restitution. There is an irrevocable modification in the body image, that pedestal of identity, and therefore in the narcissism involved. There is a redistribution of resources at the expense of the earlier sublimatory activities and object relations. Aging is, above all, a difficulty in experiencing and living in an aging body, a difficulty not easily or clearly imaginable by younger persons in good health until a personal encounter with it in oneself or in one's family occurs. A thinness of the preconscious occurs in the same way that Marty has described for psychosomatic illness, opening the way for somatic manifestations. The author emphasizes the change in the "space of illusion," which even in adult life and well into the aging process was always directed toward the future. Suddenly, the polarity of this space is reversed, and turned to the past. There arise wishes to deal with one's past, to "write one's legend," whether in memoirs, a novel, etc. The old person launches him/herself in the conquest of the past because the future seems less enviable. Some become marvelous raconteurs, to the pleasure of their listeners, and may find a sort of narcissistic reparation in the attentiveness of children who like to listen to the old folks' stories. There are other aspects to aging: there is an anxiety about weakness or exhaustion, an obligatory experience of passivity, and the necessity to come to terms with the notion of loss. Some have spoken of a "narcissistic anemia." This involves the loss of professional activity, the loss of companions, the loss of autonomy. Some of the pages of Yourcenar's novel are virtually clinical descriptions of Hadrian's depression and acceptance of his aging and loss of sense of self. The presence of another person at the time of death seems important in carrying out what de M'Uzan has called the work of death.
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Wilson, E., Jr. (1992). Revue Française De Psychanalyse. XLVIII, 1984. Psychoanal. Q., 61:143-144