Journal of Aging Studies 17 (2003) 101 – 111

From life storytelling to age autobiography
Margaret Morganroth Gullette*
68 Pembroke Street, Newton, MA 02158, USA

Abstract This essay, excerpted from the forthcoming The New Time Machines: Practicing Age Studies (University of Chicago Press), proposes that we create a new genre of life storytelling—age autobiography—to understand how Americans at all ages come to describe ‘‘aging’’ and the age classes, starting with aging into adolescence. The author returns to early adolescence, recalling a progress narrative her mother enjoyed repeating, which her father’s story did not match. She suggests that Americans share master narratives about aging—often drawn from the progress/decline binary— and cultural forces pressuring us to speak ‘‘difference’’ and dictating ‘‘change.’’ Age autobiographies, endowed with revelatory historical/cultural critiques, promise to replace the term ‘‘aging’’ with narratives about ‘‘being aged by culture’’ and will emphasize that selfhood concerns an embodied psyche, in culture, over time. What feminist autobiography is to being gendered, what anti-racist autobiography is to being racialized, age autobiography will be to being aged by culture: the revealer of the conditions of discourse. D 2002 Margaret Morganroth Gullette. Published by Elsevier Science Inc. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Age autobiography; Age critic; Adult development; Age consciousness (redefined); Age identity; Age studies; The American dream as a life-course narrative; Autobiography theory; Being aged by culture; Change; Cultural criticism through age autobiography; Decline narrative; The embodied psyche in culture over time; Identity theory; The life-course imaginaries; Master narratives of the life course; Multiple selves (diachronic); Progress narrative; Selfhood as a narrative; Socialization into aging

* Tel.: +1-617-965-2164. E-mail address: (M.M. Gullette). 0890-4065/02/$ – see front matter D 2002 Margaret Morganroth Gullette. Published by Elsevier Science Inc. All rights reserved. PII: S 0 8 9 0 - 4 0 6 5 ( 0 2 ) 0 0 0 9 3 - 2


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But getting access to what one possesses within, apparently the most natural thing in the world, is actually the most difficult. (Gabrielle Roy, 1987, Enchantment and Sorrow).

1. Introduction The embodied psyche-in-culture, over time—I would offer that this is the Grail of the human sciences. This is what writers dream of representing as selfhood, what theorists yearn to understand. There is a subtle war going on within the disciplines about how to include what the others omit. Anthropologists believe that what gets left out of non-ethnographic accounts of the life course is culture, the unregarded atmosphere (Weisner, 1996). Psychotherapists claim that the severest neglect is of psyche, each particular interior self within the family matrix that cuts mental pathways for the temporal journey. Developmentalists argue that they alone get beyond child-centeredness to the whole life. Psychological anthropologists, material-feminist psychoanalysts, and phenomenologists think they best bridge the inner and outer divide. Historians retort that then the likeliest omission is long time: anticipating majority or menopause in 1875 in the United States was different from doing so in 1975. Each relies on its privileged form of testimony. Age critics counter that ‘‘over life time’’ is the dimension of narrative theory, identity theory, and theory of self that (in contrast to the concepts of embodiment or psyche) needs to be unfolded and expanded. Even with the advantage of looking backwards, where age is concerned, the last thing the self seems to understand are the circumstances that beat on it. Over time, it knows its aging troubles, to alter a distinction from C. Wright Mills (1959, p. 226), but not its aging issues. One issue gets us to the heart of the matter. How do the subjects of a particular culture come up with narratives of aging—comprehensible stories, prospective and retrospective, about moving through all the given ages of life? These supply the meanings of what people normally call aging, which age critics investigate as being aged by culture (Gullette, 1997). These stories have intensely personal aspects, but the narratives are comprehensible because they are tied to shared—dominant—models of the way aging really goes. I call these naturalized narratives the life-course imaginaries: in the plural because those of China, Samoa, etc. presumably are (or once were; Shweder, 1998) different from those of the USA. I use imaginary to emphasize their constructedness; life course because they influence us not just toward the end, not just at the beginning, but lifelong, from early childhood on (Gullette, 1998). Development, segmented as childhood plus youth plus maturity plus old age, may make a ‘‘whole life’’ at some other level, but until you add being aged by culture, does not account for the influence of these imaginaries on ordinary life storytelling. The last decade has seen much rich theorizing of life storytelling from many disciplines, paralleled by the astounding production and retrieval of diaries, autobiographical fictions, memoirs, confessions, apologies, autoethnographies, thanatographies, surveys, and oral histories. Autobiography is winning the life-writing sweepstakes, becoming the most important evidence of the human. (Despite their anti-Cartesian doubt that the self has good

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access to its past, postmodern narratologists can accept that it nevertheless has the best access there is.) Against stories told about a self from outside, only self-constituted so profoundly by its own word—gets the authoritative last word. But autobiography, and life storytelling as a whole, could become far more acutely aware of the ways in which people are aged by culture. Whatever aspect of age and aging we want to look at starts from introspection about that lifelong process, but it ends in what I call, below and elsewhere, critical age autobiography (Gullette, in press). The disciplines might do well to focus on this genre, which has the potential to be the most important method for studying the connection between selfhood and the life-course imaginaries. People have to realize that they are not automatically savvy about being aged by culture simply by having lived long enough to call it ‘‘aging,’’ any more than women understood what being ‘‘gendered’’ was before feminism. Surviving midlife by dint of health and wealth is not enough of a watershed to justify a ‘‘single-experience autobiography’’ (Bloom, 1987). Traversing ready-made ‘‘transitions’’ and so-called ‘‘stages’’ does not by itself constitute age expertise. Mouthing your era’s cliches about ‘‘the big 5-0’’ or describing your eighties (welcome as that might be as an authentic ‘‘insider’’ account) does not raise age consciousness enough. These are life writings we must revise to achieve that. The next interesting move toward theorizing the embodied psyche-in-culture, over time might emerge from those working on autobiography who can think through problems from within the historicized, culturist, narrative, and critical perspective of age studies (Gullette, 1999).

2. The American dream as a life-course narrative Narratives may have most power over us when they are most invisible: that is, infinitely repeatable but unnoticed and unanalyzed. The American dream is actually—whatever else it may be—such a narrative. As such, it flourishes in the half-lit, preconscious realm of conversation and writing, where all the other master narratives once dwelt. It is an example of a life-course story told by ordinary people, over time, about work and its consequences: first to themselves prospectively, then in medias res, and finally, retrospectively. Usually there is a motive or a pressure to tell a particular dream-narrative to others. I first heard one told by my mother, spontaneously, as she was sitting at the kitchenette table doing her lesson plans for her first-grade class. I must have been in mid-adolescence, so she was then in her early forties. She had been teaching maybe four years. ‘‘Well, there was the base pay that I started with—$. . . (giving the dollar amount of the first salary she had earned); then there was an increase of 3.2% the first year; the second year an increase of (she gave the percent increase each year since), so that’s $. . .; plus the extra for the in-service courses, plus the extra for the extra degree (she had an MA), so that makes $. . ..’’ Every year, the numbers got bigger, and the implication was that they always would. (They did: thanks to the American Federation of Teachers.) My mother loved the litany. She also loved children and teaching in itself; later, training apprentice teachers; the friends it made her—it was all John Dewey, conviviality, and mission. Talk about narrative pleasure! I have heard many self-


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delighting talkers in my time and judge their solid satisfaction by this oft-told version of an incremental progress tale anchored to a rising age–wage curve. My father, by contrast, when pressed, told economic stories that featured exciting and puzzling events—running booze to Trenton for a bootlegger during the Depression, working for a haberdasher—as well as an episode of failure (6 months of unemployment—mentioned once and never again). He had a daily story, certainly: up and out at six in all weathers, home late, and hard work. He was a small businessman who went during those years from installing oil-burners to co-owning a landscape nursery, delivering beverages from his own truck, running his own parking lot. There was accumulation, there was saving; I knew he made the mortgage payments. However, he told no long-line economic story; he lacked a plot with narrative unity. What he earned was never mentioned. I assumed it veered up and down from year to year. This was frustrating and unsatisfying. I wanted my parents to have matched narratives; I wanted yet another happy progress story as a model and portent. His was incomplete. Or he did not have one. Frank Lentricchia (1990, p. 321) talks about unpublished anecdotes that stand in for a bigger story, a socially pivotal and pervasive biography. My parents’ storytellings inducted me young, as must happen to children, into what may be the biggest of those stories. What hers matched, and his did not, I can finally see, was the cultural archetype of success, with its nifty graphic shape (exhilarated storytelling in the kitchen, shopping expeditions made possible by the annual surpluses) and its personally applicable telos (my future going-tocollege, leading toward some unknown career curving above theirs into empyreans of the elite). It was a family life-course story involving even more than our two generations, because my mother felt that her success was owed to her immigrant father, who had put her and her sister through college during the Depression on his earnings as the owner of a windowwashing firm. My father rarely mentioned his parents as earners: they had owned a precarious butter-and-egg store in Philadelphia. His father was a self-appointed Talmud scholar who left the running of the store to his unstable wife. My mother’s autobiography had idiosyncratic elements, of course, but because she was permanently hooked into a seniority system, it was also a story of the good worklife that many Americans want to be able to tell about themselves. The local gender oddity was that my mother had the perfect story; my father the ad-hoc, shapeless, deprived one. Whether as spur, delusion, or reward, the so-called American dream is a model national biography that shapes subjectivity and autobiography. It is the Pilgrim’s Progress of our secular, capitalist world. Working Americans of all hyphenations strive in some relationship to it. It may seem purely personal or domestic because it is so often focused on owning a home. But it is an economic life-course story that can be realized only through the opportunity structures of a particular material world in historical time, in relation to such factors as class, race/ethnicity, gender, and age, access to education, unionization, laws outlawing midlife discrimination, legal remedies, etc. It requires extrinsic measures like steady employment, salary, security, and of course a rising age–wage curve and no pressure to superannuate oneself prematurely. However, this material infrastructure, as well as the number and fine qualities of those who fail, is concealed under an innocuous patriotic label that is also apparently ahistorical.

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My mother’s story introduced me to this basic progress narrative in the most imposing way: as a prospective story that could be mine. My early identification with her, my disidentification with my father—this original slight bent in my character, self-concept, and narrative wistfulness was confirmed for many years by my shooting up through the public education system in Brooklyn, going to Radcliffe, getting an MA. I seemed to be on my way to joining the elite. In my particular case, the actual progress as opposed to the imagined narrative was thwarted by the academic depression of 1975, the year I received my PhD, a year after my father died. But my 1975 self held tight to her/her mother’s/our national narrative of progress, gulped down the tragedy of missed vocation, found another kind of university job, and by 1988—by now with some degree of detachment—published a book about the invention of the progress novel of the middle years (Gullette, 1988). Over the years, I discovered yet more reason to be sensitive to aging narratives, whether progress or decline. My father’s disconcerting counter-example acted as an irritant. For a long time, my understanding of him was hampered—empathetically obstructed—by the lack of fit between his work history and the requirements of the dominant narrative. I continued to believe that he was stoically telling himself a decline story. His watchful daughter admired his fortitude, but for a long time, she could not understand why he did not just change his story. Over time, I reinterpreted his situation and came closer to him. I came to see that in his later self’s version, income might have played a small role (he actually wound up prosperous by his 1930s young-adult standard). Retirement—late retirement, at about 67—made an enormous positive difference to him: He came to visit us, built us a shop in the basement, and stocked it with tools, played tennis with his grandson, and argued less fiercely at family political discussions. Getting out of competitive and exploitative capitalism was the secret of much of the later-life happiness he possessed. However, history loomed large: he was a political animal and his side, the side of the oppressed around the world, appeared to be losing. I also saw the efforts my mother had to make to maintain her favorite narrative. For her, secure income was nowhere near the whole story; but (as it will) it cushioned some of life’s shocking drops into the pit. Through these biographical retellings and the readings they led to, I came to see both the limitations and the power of this narrative called the American dream. As an economic lifecourse story, it privileges only the part of the life course that coincides with workforce participation: life from the first paycheck—perhaps from part-time hourly work as early as 12 or 16—until retirement. An economic life-course story also has a reflux effect on the earlier and later ages that appear to surround the working life: childhood and old age. They are both cast as unproductive and dependent, at their best, sites of idle consumerism. Old age, in particular, can be treated as a shard of life detached from the main site, an archeological fragment that ought to be lovely in itself but is likely to drift into inconsequence, even abjectness. In addition, the comfort of old age depends in part on earlier acquisitions—a house, pension, Social Security, savings—tied into your economic history. My father did not feel inconsequential because he made his triumphant escape into retirement with a bag of savings from his years of 13-hour days. Yet both their stories showed me how central our economic possibilities are to life-course autobiography. The so-called American dream narrative, the dream of progress and its violent


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twin, decline, cannot absolutely determine, but they certainly affect, any meaningful life story we tell, during our working years and beyond, about selfhood and development, the fate of the family life course, friendship, community, avocations. They are ubiquitous. Having been exposed to such intimate vicissitudes of the two warring master narratives made me in the long run suspicious of their claims and cautious in their vicinity. As long as I live, perhaps, every one of my later selves will have something new to add about its relation to these dominant American life-course imaginaries. Latterly, at times, I know I sound like my disillusioned and stoic father. The relation of each narrative to the other, inside me, in weird battle, also changes. But so far, despite my mounting wariness, I must confess, in answer to the question, ‘‘What narrative had the greatest effect on the author?’’ that I still find myself trying to write experience as a progress story. Each autobiographer chooses one or more younger selves to contrast with, in order to tell a progress or decline story. The younger selves I choose (the one in the kitchenette not yet earning money, compared to the latest self who wrote the essay you are reading) demonstrate this point. My overcoming narratives are smarter than the usual pop versions, of course—they give history and culture and adversity their due (Gullette, 1997, Part One, ‘‘My Private Midlife’’). By now, they tend toward becoming self-reflexive age autobiographies. But I feel the power of the dominant genre every time I close my mouth to wonder, ‘‘How can I make this not sound like a decline story?’’ Or every time I open my mouth to utter a prospective narrative and find myself sounding like my good mother. So, if the identity theorists want a history of change in relation to storytelling, it is there. And if they want a history of continuity, it is there too. Cultural studies as-is could deal with my father’s work-life and his politics and with my mother’s seniority system and aspirations. But it could not deal with everything that age autobiography brings out: the pressures exerted—differently on each of the three of us—by these preexisting imaginaries, or the adjustments we each kept having to make to our particular storytellings as the life course proceeded. It cannot deal with my strange triangulations over midlife. We need a feminist, materialist, critical/cultural, historically minded, cross-disciplinary age studies with one foot in the humanities before we can have a notion of temporality that foregrounds narrative-as-life-history—before we can see the whole life as a field for storytelling. And see even our own intimate stories about money—and sex and love, and gender and race and class—as tie-died by the life-course imaginaries of our time. And this is enough, I think, about my secrets and those of others, given that I lend us as subjects solely to exemplify age autobiography and to be able to explain further, next, the methods and theories that might make its advances possible.

3. Age autobiography: getting closer Through patiently disinterring and then deciphering our age autobiographies, any of us can eventually discover how aging, in discursive and historical senses still largely to be determined, has affected each and all of our multiple identities, separately and interactively. A naive insider becomes a wiser expert on age by writing this form. Imagining the discoveries

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to come from all these new stories makes age-autobiography an augmented theory of ‘‘autobiography as cultural criticism’’ (Miller, 1991, p. 1). We learn, for example, that as children, unaware, we accumulate knowledge about age, or, as in the kitchenette, about aging. Much of this goes on semi-consciously, but it is latently available. Who would have anticipated, reading my mother’s happy little speech about her rising income, that it would have anything to do with my sense of the meaning of agingthrough-adulthood, let alone hers? Yet, it was foundational. (And it is particularly useful as an instance of an aging narrative because it had nothing at all to do with my mother as a specular body, either in her forties or later, when she chose to retire.) ‘‘Many elements extremely important to the social actor (among them consciousness of age [. . .]) are in both psychological theory and the mind of the actor removed from the boundary of the construction called the self’’, John W. Meyer (1985, p. 215) has said. True age consciousness puts together in the minds of actors concepts that we can use to understand being aged by culture. If I had not stumbled upon the concept of the age-wage curve, I might never have connected my mother’s storytelling in the kitchenette with being aged by culture. And if I had not been a narratologist first and later an age-critic, I might never have understood the American dream I held on to so tenaciously as a life-course narrative, and, like decline narrative, a guide to life. It took a lot to lift the fog. We have to elevate subtextual matters into explicitness and contextualize spotty evidence. We have to ask: What are our preferred genres (diary or retrospective forms; portraits or history; aside from progress and decline, comedy, tragedy, elegy)? Do our metaphors assert, explain, or deny difference? When do we deploy continuity stories? Do we use languages of teleology or process, stasis or continuity, agelocation (cohort, chronological age, generation), etc.? That ‘‘etcetera’’ means we have no inventory yet of exactly what to look for. The result of developing one’s age consciousness in this step by step way, rising above the layers of simplicity and mystification, is different from consciousness of being young, being a Generation X-er, being no-longer-young, or being old-old. Terms like these are the pretheorized, prehistoricized formulas that get automatically stocked in our mental rolodex through having been aged in our particular culture. Such statements typically have little age critique. Take for example the often-repeated statement, ‘‘I am still young.’’ I had a Brandeis intern, 20 years old, who said this after she observed how senior men seek out first-year women instead of juniors like her. As a counter-assertion to imposed decline, ‘‘I am still young’’ is lame. It ignores age ideology, especially decline, which is now clamped over progress in the life course like a kink in a hose, as early as 20 or even 15 (Gullette, in press, Chap. 1). Any aspersion cast on a person’s health, specular body, amorous or marital prospects can cue such defensiveness. So, can the American dream narrative, because it establishes a graph for accomplishment that ruthlessly disregards socioeconomic circumstances: e.g., the stock market, globalization, one’s level of education, the history of one’s occupational field, all in relation to chronological age. More and more, younger Americans fear they will not do as well as their parents did, and at midlife many people fear they will be unable to find work/ earnings until Social Security kicks in (Gregory, 2001; Gullette, in press).


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Because some of this is unsayable in a class-ridden society where meritocracy is allegedly king, and the rest is invisible to them, people fall back on natural age. ‘‘I am still young’’ can have grief in it, anxiety, disappointment, buoyancy, or dismissal. But any response that automatically foregrounds age makes it much harder to retort, in whatever vocabulary comes easily, I am being superannuated prematurely by the latest drastic phase of American capitalism and/or decline ideology. Age consciousness is the term now used for naive levels of self-description involving age and aging. It is an obstacle to true age consciousness. We can be too conscious of age, too prompt to fall into decline’s scripts. Instead, discovering ‘‘This has nothing to do with age’’ could lead to the shock of recognition: This is what being aged by culture means! We could keep the term age consciousness but dignify it with a new definition, parallel to gender consciousness. As my story from the kitchenette shows, some of the elements we need in order to write critical age autobiography exist potentially in our individual memories. The social lore about age, aging, and the life course that we learned as children and adolescents and young adults—much of that can probably be recovered for critical evaluation. How we accumulated misinformation can be reconstructed backwards from the present. Living as we do before age studies—before interdisciplinary theory-building and institutionalization across all the fields that do age—this will require a cumulative and collective effort of recall. Over 30 years of feminism, many autobiographies as well as novels have enriched the store of ideas about how women in general were socially constructed as gendered beings. Our resocialization into the ages of life—into becoming what we were told in advance we were going to become—can be at least partly reconstructed. The history of my telling progress narrative confirms that we hold implicit theories of the life course, as William (Mac) Runyon believes. It would be valuable to investigate the processes through which these theories are constructed and revised (Runyon, 1984, p. 114). One way might be to analyze the biographies we tell of other, older people, especially our parents. I kept watching my father, that man of silences, and listening to him, waiting to see what would happen. It may be easier to see how our parents are aged by culture, telling pre-scripted narratives, and revising their metaphors and life theories, and then look for similarities to our own storytelling. There are many powerful cultural/psychological obstacles to writing a more critical kind of age autobiography. It is all too common for younger people to have no imagination of anyone older having an intense selfhood like their own. In a memoir Vladimir Nabokov wrote when he was almost 50, Speak Memory, he well describes his queer shock when he learned that his drawing master, ‘‘whose age I used to synchronize with that of grand uncles, had married a young woman: It was as if life had impinged upon my creative rights by wriggling on beyond the subjective limits so elegantly and economically set by childhood memories that I thought I had signed and sealed’’ (Nabokov, 1951/1966) (57). Even when a writer discovers into how tightly cramped a package he has stuffed the life of an elder, the discovery may not expand his age consciousness. At 50, Nabokov too—so rhapsodic about his mother when she was his, and young, and doting on him—neglected to tell the reader what happened to her ´ ´ afterwards. He had settled on divine elegiac mode, and her emigre life in Prague did not fit.

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There are 50 ways to lose your midlife mother (Gullette, 1997, Ch. 7). And perhaps, therefore, your own midlife self. The data—our anecdotal memories and those stories about aging we learned—have not been expunged, rather, repressed through naturalization, half-forgotten through being undervalued, or misread because we lack the right theoretical lenses. Insofar as such obliterations are the result of age socialization, at least some of it may be recuperable. Each of us closes in first on one embodied psyche in-culture over time: our own. To some memoirists, all this may seem too strenuous a charge. They like to set it down just as it seems to come to them, allegedly raw and authentic. Activists and theorists might respond, ‘‘It is not so hard.’’ We taught ourselves to deconstruct gender and race and sexuality out of desire and fierce need. Knowing your sources sounds impossible, but it is not. An African American woman in one of Ruth Ray’s (2000) life-writing courses asked her white peers, ‘‘Are you making any effort to look at your past and examine what’s been fed into you and see, is that appropriate [now]?’’ (p. 160). Similar procedures can be applied to age. Gary M. Kenyon and William L. Randall provide four dimensions of self to apply the analysis to—the personal, interpersonal, social, and structural (Kenyon & Randall, 1997, p. 16). Age-identity theorists would emphasize history: each identity (woman, politico, lesbian, mother, Puerto Rican, etc.) has a long story in which some or all four of these dimensions might need to be considered, over time. Once our primary distraction is no longer cosmetic age in or on the body, we can discriminate among the ways we possess to say how people are being aged through culture: by the master narratives impinging on ‘‘experience’’ (progress and decline; the physico/medico/commercial/specular focus that drives our current mind– body split), by social relations, poverty and its sequelae, and other historical factors, maturational processes, or timing (e.g., financial status in relation to age expectations). The histories of stages and aging in America are also full of gaps. Until we acquire and learn how to interrelate all this age-related material, no one can tell fully. To make this inquiry more fruitful, many fields must pool their contributions to age discourses: literature, cultural studies, psychoanalysis, gerontology, religion, ethics, critical sociology, developmental psychology, communications, economics, politics, biology, medicine, legal studies. They must critique one another’s age biases and blindnesses. Scholars in the social and humanistic disciplines might consider how they could best foreground age culture in their classrooms—not only by studying later life, of course, but all ages of life and their representations, and without neglecting gender, race, class, sexuality, nationality, disability, etc. Some might choose to do age studies heuristically, to teach age the way we teach other social constructions and sources of subjectivity; for its psychological benefits, to strengthen younger people against the cultural forces colonizing their minds; or for political motives, to break down the differences that divide generations, the body politic, potential collectives. Most of all, we need textual sensitivity, training in applying narrative theory. Admitting we start with ready-made stories, how does our aging narrative work for or against us? Ruth Ray’s book shows that adult development can come through narrative challenge (Ray, 2000). Progress is a grand narrative with a difference: it supports hope, development, the family, respect for aging, work-force seniority and political agendas that produce more job security and higher and later age–wage curves for those discriminated against. How could we make


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progress narrative strengthen our claims on behalf of the life course? These are high, new, persistent questions. Telling age autobiography can bolster our own realities against the sucking undertow of nonbeing. Women may experience the tidal wave of contemporary middle ageism earlier than same-age men, but men face it too. For both, the process could be as flush with excitement as any self-query that we turn into illumination. And then, if enough of us, starting young, were to point our conscientious egoism to a collective end, we could enrich our common understanding of narrativized development and generalize beyond the self. It would really be more exact to call our goal cultural criticism through age autobiography or age autobiography for cultural critique. We might permit many alternative later-life stories and weaken middle-ageism, the cult of youth, and gerontophobia, thus putting decline ideology out in the open and on the defensive. We would be acting on behalf of justice for the life course. Age autobiographies in sufficient quantity, with their better understanding of the embodied psyche-in-culture over time, are going to be more valuable than existing self-reflective life writing in developing age consciousness. Those who write beautiful and interesting age autobiography will be waking up a culture that ignores being aged by culture at the very time when age is becoming the next invisible form of difference. Ultimately, our goal is to transform ordinary life storytelling, because that is a powerful way to understand culture and the most direct way to change it profoundly.

4. Notes This essay is derived from a chapter in The New Time Machines (in press). It includes some material from my essay, ‘‘The American Dream as Life Narrative,’’ published in Profession 2001, with acknowledgments to the Modern Language Association. I began to define the term age identity in Declining to Decline (1997, Chap. 10); for a more complete analysis, see The New Time Machines (in press, Chap. 7, ‘‘Age Identity, Revisited’’).

Acknowledgements The Obermann Seminar on Later Life at the University of Iowa in the summer of 1999 critiqued an early version of this essay; my warmest thanks to Ruth Ray and Teresa Mangum.

Bloom, L. Z. (1987, Fall). Single-experience autobiographies. Auto/Biography Studies, 3.3, 36 – 45. Gregory, R. F. (2001). Age discrimination in the American workplace: old at a young age. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

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Gullette, M. M. (1988). Safe at last in the middle years: the invention of the midlife progress novel. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Gullette, M. M. (1997). Declining to decline: cultural combat and the politics of the midlife. Age Studies Series. Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Virginia. Gullette, M. M. (1998). Midlife discourse in twentieth-century North America: an essay on the sexuality, ideology and politics of midlife aging. In R. K. Shweder (Ed.), Welcome to middle age! And other cultural fictions (pp. 3 – 44). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Gullette, M. M. (1999). Age studies, and gender. In L. Code (Ed.), Encyclopedia of feminist theories (pp. 12 – 14). London: Routledge. Gullette, M. M. (2003). The new time machines: practicing critical age studies. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press (in press). Kenyon, G. M., & Randall, W. L. (1997). Restorying our lives: personal growth through autobiographical reflection. Westport, CT: Praeger. Lentricchia, F. (1990). In place of an afterword—someone reading. In F. Lentricchia, & T. McLaughlin (Eds.), Critical terms for literary study (pp. 321 – 338). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Meyer, J. W. (1985). The self and the life course: institutionalization and its effects. In A. B. Sorensen (Ed.), Human development and the life course: multidisciplinary perspectives (pp. 199 – 216). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum. Miller, N. K. (1991). Getting personal: feminist occasions and other autobiographical acts. New York: Routledge. Mills, C. W. (1959). The sociological imagination. New York: Oxford University Press. Nabokov, V. (1951). (Reprinted in 1966). Speak, memory, a memoir. New York: Grosset and Dunlap. Ray, R. E. (2000). Against nostalgia: aging and life-story writing. Age Studies Series. Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Virginia. Roy, G. (1987). Enchantment and sorrow: the autobiography of Gabrielle Roy (P. Claxton, Trans.). Toronto: Lester & Orpen Dennys Limited. Runyon, W. McK. (1984). Life histories and psychobiography: explorations in theory and method. New York: Oxford University Press. Shweder, R. A. (1998). Introduction: welcome to middle age! In R. A. Shweder (Ed.), Welcome to middle age! And other cultural fictions (pp. ix – xvii). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Weisner, T. (1996). Why ethnography should be the most important method in the study of human development. In R. Jessor, A. Colby, & R. A. Shweder (Eds.), Ethnography and human development (pp. 305 – 324). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Margaret Morganroth Gullette, age critic, feminist, essayist, memoirist, and activist, is the author of The New Time Machines: Practicing Age Studies (University of Chicago Press, forthcoming), Declining to Decline: Cultural Combat and the Politics of the Midlife (University of Virginia Press, 1997, winner of the 1998 Emily Toth Award for the best feminist book on American popular culture), and of Safe At Last in the Middle Years: The Invention of the Midlife Progress Novel (paperback from She is a scholar at the Women’s Studies Research Center at Brandeis and a member of PEN America. Her essays have been published in Representations, Journal of the History of Sexuality, Feminist Studies, and American Scholar. She lectures frequently on the midlife and age-studies topics. Two of her essays have been cited as notable in Best American Essays.

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