An immortal quest by Patrick Gyger

Immortality is an important motif in conjectural fiction, since the Epic of Gilgamesh. The exilir of life or the fountain of youth are recurring elements in literary quests, like the Holy Grail. To immortality it is obviously necessary to associate the notion of eternal youth: otherwise, the immortal would undergo inexorable and endless aging (see the myth of Tithonus).

However, the figure of the immortal being (Melmoth or Wandering Jew) is often associated with vanity, and the desire to replace God. This quest is not only illusory, but impious, and thereby doomed to failure. In the case it should succeed, it would be at the expense of one's humanity, which, in essence, is intended to last for a time (see The Immortal by JL Borges). It is also an inherently selfish quest, since it seems obvious that the population can not continue to reproduce if nobody dies: thus immortality is acquired at the expense of the majority of mankind. Science fiction has often described worlds where a privileged few ever lived in the midst of a crowd of mortals, until there is rebellion against this injustice (see To Live Forever by Jack Vance, as one of many examples) . And the fear of a new breed artificially created by us and easily "fixable", which would overtake us in longevity, is a corollary to this situation (in Blade Runner, among others).

Immortality as a sign of unlimited possibilities or of stagnation and degeneration: SF thoroughly explores these issues during the second half of the Twentieth Century. The strength of the desire for immortality is always highlighted, as the void that will eventually follow the completed quest. How to find motivation to live when we know that nothing can ultimately endanger us and time is never counted?

Today, the opportunities for new bio-technologies and the ideas of the transhumanists revive once again the question of the extension of life and the rejuvenation of the body, an existence so extended that history itself would be transformed.

What kind of world awaits a society, in which people live longer than ever? Paradises or environments of eternal boredom? What systems (commercial, educational, cultural) would keep us alive? What links would these new societies maintain with the metaphysical quests promised by reigions or philosophy?

In any case what seems immortal is the fascination for the theme of eternal life, and the many questions that this possibility raises ...