EGMT 1510: Immortality - A User's Guide

Shall we live forever?  Why not?  While ours is the species that knows it must die – or because of that brute fact – humankind has a long, broad tradition of indulging immortal longings by imagining a life beyond this one.  The gods live forever, we say, or the soul does, or the durable productions of culture and art do.  The return of our mortal remains to the planet’s biomass may represent a mode of ecological life after death; so may the survival into posterity of our selfish genes.  The recent proliferation of photographic and phonographic modes, and the contemporary possibility of perennial cryogenic storage, have in modern times afforded new versions of technological afterlife.  Meanwhile, religion and art continue to rehearse what might be called the eternity of the now, through ritual and aesthetic patterns that step not outside mortal time but right inside it.  After comparing imaginations of immortality that are found in cultural practices both secular and devout, we’ll focus on a set of aesthetic versions drawn from poetry, painting, science-fiction, and cinema.  Our survey will dwell on the challenge of describing immortality in mortal human terms.  Our abiding questions will be on one hand whether immortality is something we really want after all, and on the other hand whether it’s something we can ever quite live without.