Thoughts on Literary Visions

I just finished reading Dan Simmons' "The Ilium," at the behest of friends who were so enamoured with it that they named their band The Firmary. In this sci-fi novel, death no longer exists: humans in this future world are "faxed" to the firmary to repair any injury, and every 20 years for a re-conditioning. At the Fifth, or Final, Fax, they are sent up to live among the post-humans in presumed Eden-like bliss.

Without fear of death, these humans are a somewhat pathetic lot: soft and decadent, waited on hand and foot by robotic servants, unable to read and lacking in any curiosity or enterprise. Even their relationships seem superficial and lightly felt.

In contrast, I also just finished "The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break," a novel by poet Steven Sherrill. The ageless immortal in this case is the Minotaur, millenia removed from his Labyrinth and now a short line cook in a rib joint in the Deep South, where he lives in a trailer park. His lengthened experience and lack of fear for death have, rather than trivializing his sense of humanity, instead sharpened it. He remains wholly concerned with the same human longings: love, companionship, friendship, and a sense of belonging.

I bring these two books up because much of the debate around anti-aging focuses on how the removing the specter of decline and death may fundamentally change what it means to be human. For Simmons, humanity is lessened by its absence. This is the fear of those such as Leon Kass and Francis Fukuyama. For Sherrill, its absence exposes the true human blights: loneliness and human isolation. Those surrounding the Minotaur, who do still fear death and aging, are no happier because of it: they too suffer from unwanted solitude and disjunction. I'm sure Steven Sherrill did not intend his book to make a statement about anti-aging, but his book, as has Simmons', serves to provoke my thoughts about it.


I think it also points out that these arguments are founded in inexperience. Response to a longer live will no doubt be just as individual and varied as response to life as it is now. Proposing that people exist who will not like longer, healthier lives, and then using that as a justification to deny the opportunity for such lives to everyone is not a good position to be taking. It is the elitists (like Kass) speaking, pushing their opinions on everyone...

Posted by: Reason at April 27th, 2004 11:44 AM
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