Critical Theory A
11 Aug 2007
Immortality or Eternity?
“What is the meaning of life?” And “Why are we here?” Whether William S. Burroughs sought to confront these age-old questions in his essay Immortality it isn’t clear, or particularly relevant to my goal of converging his essay with Valerie Solanas’ S.C.U.M. Manifesto, but we do wind up there because they confront the great mystery of life in terms of the human quest for immortality––which inevitably leads us to render these everlasting questions. But Burroughs’ strategy lends your attention to this location undeniably through swift navigation in philosophical fields of study that relate to his objective to pin human mortality by contrast to its immortal desires. Valerie Solanas, the author of S.C.U.M. Manifesto, is another visionary of contemporary culture who shares her take on what it’s all about by identifying what she sees as the flaw of humanity (the human male) and what can be done to rectify the situation by offering her plan to relinquish society from its malignancy and acquire eternity. They both suggest a change in society by defining their objectives to lead toward a better existence for humanity. They both have remedies for the sustenance of humanity and interests to preserve longevity for that existence. However, one wants to solve the world’s problems through a radical feminist approach that eradicates the male to attain a utopian society that can live for all eternity. While the other wants to suggest that mastering dream exploration and space travel is the answer for humans attaining immortality.
“True immortality can be found only in space. Space exploration is the only goal worth striving for.” Burroughs’ stipulation concerning space travel and dream exploration provides viable avenues for researching the quest for immortality through science, but what I find so immensely obvious in his proposition is his avoidance of meriting the spiritual aspect. I’m sure the world who first encountered Burroughs’ essay would form resistance toward this void as well for the very same reason. When he says, “I postulate that the human artifact is biologically designed for space travel. So human dreams can be seen as training for space conditions. Deprived of this vital link with our future in space, with no reason for living, we die.” Burroughs states that we die because we cannot connect our link with space travel but he’s skipping a very important point. The cells in our bodies stop generating and all organs and tissues begin to break down causing death. The cause for why this happens is the real question. The reason for why we die begins whether or not we are traveling in space. Besides, even if we were able to travel by the speed of light to another galaxy and discover a planet containing the elements we need to survive, who’s to say that we could live there indefinitely?
Exchanging body parts is not the answer either as Burroughs quite amusingly parodies, “Folks, we’re here to sell the only thing worth selling or worth buying and that’s immortality. Now here is the simplest solution and well on the way. Just replace the worn-out parts and keep the old heap on the road indefinitely.” He understands and anticipates the possible grotesque outcome for this scenario through vampirism, “But all vampiric blueprints for immortality are wrong not only from the ethical standpoint. They are ultimately unworkable.” An honorable point Burroughs makes, whether one is living unnaturally for three hundred years with transplanted body parts or a transplanted ego into a host being, cheating the natural course of things will have horrific consequences. Even the fictitious story of Frankenstein in our culture’s history, we get a sense for this kind of abomination in unnatural tampering. Burroughs is right when he says, “Personal immortality in a physical body is impossible, since a physical body exists in time and time is that which ends.” As far as we know, this is the case but even Burroughs himself wants us to believe that space travel will either alleviate this issue or time itself will stretch so far, that it will have an immortalizing effect.
Similarly, Valerie Solanas’ S.C.U.M. Manifesto winds up offering her solution to how we can get to that eternal place. She presents a vicious argument of declaration to mobilize the female species in their goal to eradicate, eliminate and exterminate the essence of what stands in the way of this––the human male species. According to Solanas, men manage oppression over women. But when a power shift to women occurs by followers of Solanas’ manifesto, and a selective gene-birthing process is implemented, the SCUM objective will be met. The removing of all males from humanity will leave a clear path to eternity and utopia realized––which will be achieved for all of the women on earth. Bugger! I’m a man and although I can empathize with much of Solanas’ distaste of the male species, I believe she’s consciously responding from her pain. Bringing forth a manifesto to outline the slow annihilation of men is pretty hard to digest for anyone. But its absurdity is what’s most appealing and when delving deeper into her psychoanalysis of male behavior––though extremely biased, it really makes you step back and think. “Hey, are we really like this?”
Firstly, Solanas explains how the male gene (Y) is an incomplete (X) and therefore, an “incomplete female, a walking abortion, aborted at the gene stage.” Furthering her chastising she says, “The male is completely egocentric, trapped inside himself, incapable of empathizing or identifying with others, or love, friendship, affection of tenderness.” She goes on to say, “He is a half-dead, unresponsive lump, incapable of giving or receiving pleasure or happiness.” Making the case to justify her cause through countless derogatory labels and demeaning exaggerations, the male is responsible for war, prostitution, suppression, animalism (of which he cannot escape), prejudice, censorship, distrust, hatred, violence, disease and death. Death being the root cause for keeping his control over humanity. She says, “All diseases are curable, and the aging process and death are due to disease; it is possible, therefore, never to age and to live forever. In fact the problems of aging and death could be solved within a few years, if an all-out, massive scientific assault were made upon the problem. This, however, will not occur with the male establishment because: (in summary) scientists prefer war and death programs, the father system discourages girls from becoming scientists, the cure for cancer and other diseases are stored in machines that men are in horror of being replaced by, males like death and want to die, etc.” Solana’s reasoning is pretty far-fetched but resolves to offer her utopia, an automated society and the elimination of money which will strip men of “the only power they have over psychologically independent females.” Men will just naturally die off and the rest of women “will be busy solving the few remaining unsolved problems before planning their agenda for eternity and Utopia.” Here we have Solanas’ final mission. She wants freedom, a freedom from the human male oppression and to live forever.
“Forever”, Burroughs says, “When someone says he wants to live forever, he forgets that forever is a time word.” But Solanas doesn’t actually use that word here. She uses “eternity” which Burroughs doesn’t even touch for it reveals a link to faith and the Christian belief system that he seems to scathe. “The way to immortality is in space, and Christianity is buried under slag heaps of dead dogma, sniveling prayers; and empty prayers must oppose immortality in space as the counterfeit always fears and hates the real thing.” What if God, the supernatural being, supreme consciousness of the universe gave us the universe as a playing field beyond our earth to grow and when we die, our spirit enters an entirely different plane. How would space travel fair then? It won’t really matter if we can put our ships into hyper-drive to get from one end of the galaxy to the other, because it is most probable that we will encounter something the human mind could never comprehend. I don’t think Burroughs is willing to even consider immortality in this manner by way that so many people have been turned off by religion. Yet he says, “Too many scientists seem to be ignorant of the most rudimentary spiritual concepts.” But I would stand my ground and purport that the spirit is eternal and we were not meant to carry our bodies throughout eternity. The spirit is the true immortality.
Burroughs and Solanas, two entirely different texts by two very different authors tied together by the avant-garde, both striving for utopia, both want a paradise of eternity with ultimate freedom; to leave their mark, their contribution to society, for creating a conceivable pathway for the human race to evolve infinitely––if only hypothetically. Yet, as radical and extreme as they can be, their passionate texts are not widely accepted, which is most often the case with the avant-garde. Their works are unconventional and subject to scrutiny. For Burroughs, presenting accounts which falsely appropriate means for attaining immortality (e.g. vampires, clones, space travelers), he discovers through influences of pop culture, space and science, the truth as best as he can approve. Politically, he may be regarded as a charlatan because his essay writing style is cynical but clever and outright humorous; but also, because his personal life of opium addiction, homosexuality, and unorthodox practices may have limited his influence on the mainstream literary world. Solanas who offers a detailed declaration to the injustices incurred upon women by men through a patriarchal system of oppression, believes this system can be eradicated for the better, but would be better realized if perhaps she proposed her plan with much less hatred. For not only does fire fight fire, but her personal life would play a role in the reception of her work too. Having shot the famous artist Andy Warhol and being institutionalized, it’s hard to even begin to understand a woman abused by the system she voices so furiously against, unless you are a feminist.