Why are we obsessed with death? Why are we so fascinated with immortality? Maybe because death is a true mystery. We can study causes of death and the toll it takes on a body, but we cannot know the details of death. Science, philosophy, religion, they can all disagree. And even if science does manage to define death, officially say that it’s the end of consciousness, there will always be people who don’t quite trust it. Who fear it. We, or many of us, fear death because it is an unknown. Unknowns are scary, and we fixate on what we fear. If you are afraid of something, you want to reassure yourself, solve the problem, but you cannot solve the problem of death. It is an inevitability and it is coming for us all. You can find a better relationship with it, find a way to lose the fear, which many people do, but still the mystery remains. Death is not mars or the ocean or a cave. We cannot explore it with humans or robots. So, we have to explore it through fiction.
There are countless pieces of art and literature focusing on the idea of living forever, including Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire’s, A.D. After Death. It’s a set of three fascinating comic books that I just finished reading. They’re written partially as the journals of the main character, Jonah Cooke, and partially as what he is doing in present day. It is set in a future where they have “cured” death. The story is very good, and rather confusing, but not in a bad way. It seems like it’s meant to be that way, because Jonah’s memories are a little untrustworthy. One of the side effects of immortality is that you lose your memories every 100 years, the span of a natural life (in this future), so Jonah keeps these notes. But how reliable is a journal really?
So much of the story is centered around fear of death, and the fragility of human life. Of course, this inevitability is what is what prompted and usually prompts the search for immortality. In the story Jonah is a thief, and works for a man named Errant to help finalize the cure for death. Almost as though he is stealing life for the human race. But, is immortality a good thing? A lot of the times it’s written as curse. In your eternal life, you must watch everyone you have and will ever love grow old and die, while you live on. But, in A.D. After Death, everyone has access to immortality, they don’t have to be alone. But still, the story puts eternal life in a negative light, through Jonah’s quest. It seems like we, as a species, are obsessed with living forever. This fixation driven by the fear of death, of what is unknown, drives the writers among us to explore immortality. But it never works out. It’s as though somewhere in the back of our brains we know that eternal life in not the right choice. That it would be flawed. Or, perhaps, it’s just that we, as transient creatures, cannot wrap our minds around what it would be to never die.
Immortality might not work just for the practical reason that the human race probably wouldn’t be able to sustain itself that long. Eventually we would make the environment too toxic for our survival, or destroy ourselves with our petty fights. On the other hand, perhaps with eternal life we would have time to colonize other planets, or repair the environment, be brought together by the amazing things we can achieve instead of tear ourselves apart. In the book, Errant compares the human race to a person who is getting older. Would we grow more mature as our species aged? Finally understand how unimportant we are? Or would the fact that we have achieved immortality just build up our ego forever, turn us into gods in our own eyes? There are millions of questions, almost as many as there are about what happens after death, but they can all be summed up to “what would happen?”. The comics answers both questions. Immortality is what happens after death, and immortality is kind of just a forever life. Physically, you feel fully energized, but mentally…it’s just life.