Literature has always been a means to explore the depths of the human condition. Two stories in particular, “The Last Answer” (1980) by Isaac Asimov and “The Immortal” (1947) by Jorge Luis Borges, delve into the complex notion of immortality, presenting it not as a divine gift, but as a burden. existential. Although written in different contexts and with different styles, both stories converge on the idea that eternity can be more of a curse than a blessing.
Isaac Asimov and the last answer to eternity
“The Last Answer” by Isaac Asimov immerses us in the post-mortem experience of Murray Templeton, a forty-five-year-old physicist who, after his sudden death, finds himself in an indefinite space, conversing with an omnipotent Voice. This Voice, which does not identify itself as a divine being in the traditional sense, reveals to Murray that he has been selected to continue existing in this post-mortem state due to his intellectual capacity. Unlike other beings who have gone through the experience of existing and eventually fade away, Murray has been chosen to think and discover knowledge for all eternity. However, the prospect of an eternity without clear purpose or defined finality does not satisfy Murray. He decides, then, that if he must exist eternally, his goal will be to find a way to end his own existence or, if possible, destroy the Voice. This idea becomes an obsession for him, and the Voice, far from feeling threatened, sees this challenge as an expected game. In this sense, as the story develops, it is hinted that the Voice, despite its omnipotence and eternity, could also be wishing for an end to its own existence.
Jorge Luis Borges and the mythical eternity of the immortals
“The Immortal” by Jorge Luis Borges transports us to a mythical and ancient world. The protagonist, a Roman soldier, embarks on a search for the City of the Immortals, moved by stories and legends that speak of his existence. After a journey full of adversity, he finds the city, but it is not the paradise he expected. Instead of being a place of wisdom and grace, the city lies in ruins and is inhabited by beings who have lost all passion and desire due to their immortality. The protagonist discovers that immortality is a monotonous and tedious existence. Immortals, having no end in sight, lose the meaning of life and plunge into a state of apathy and hopelessness. Death, paradoxically, becomes something desirable, as it provides an end and purpose to existence.
Eternity as a Reflection of the Human Condition
In both Isaac Asimov’s “The Last Answer” and Jorge Luis Borges’ “The Immortal,” immortality is presented not as a state of perpetual grace, but as an existence plagued by monotony and purposelessness. This perspective challenges the conventional notion that living eternally would be a desirable gift.
The monotony of eternal existence is evident in both stories. In “The Immortal”, the inhabitants of the City of the Immortals have lost all passion and desire. Eternity has stripped their lives of any urgency or purpose, plunging them into a state of apathy and hopelessness. Without the threat of death, without an end to mark a limit, the days become an endless repetition, where each action loses its meaning.
On the other hand, in “The Last Answer”, the Voice, despite its omnipotence, seems to be trapped in a similarly monotonous existence. Although she has the power and knowledge to discover anything, the fact that she is constantly seeking out intelligent beings to do her thinking and discovering for her suggests a kind of eternal ennui. The Voice, like Borges’s immortals, seems to have lost a sense of purpose in its infinite existence.
Immortality, in this context, strips existence of the purposes that accompany a finite life. In a time-limited existence, human beings are driven to search for meaning, to set goals, to appreciate every moment. However, in infinity, these purposes fade away. There is no need to set goals and no incentive to rush to achieve it, since all of eternity is available to do so. This lack of urgency and purpose makes immortality a source of eternal tedium. Without death as a limit, the urgency to live, learn and love is diluted in the vastness of infinite time, leading to an existence lacking meaning and purpose.
Even a powerful figure, such as the Voice in Asimov’s story might represent, is not exempt from this tedium. Despite its omnipotence, the Voice seems to yearn for something that she cannot achieve on her own, something that breaks the monotony of her eternal existence. This suggests that even the most powerful beings can feel trapped by the curse of eternity.
Although not explicitly, both authors touch on the philosophical concept of the absurdity and anguish of existence, popularized by philosophers such as Albert Camus and Søren Kierkegaard. In an infinite and eternal universe, the search for meaning can seem inherently absurd and distressing. This notion is reflected in how characters who have achieved immortality find themselves trapped in an endless cycle of repetition, where actions lose their meaning and purpose.
Additionally, “The Last Answer” raises questions about the nature of God and the relationship between the creator and creation. The Voice, which could be seen as a representation of a divine being, is not omniscient in the traditional sense. Despite her power, she seeks out beings like Murray to think and discover for her, suggesting a vision of God not as a perfect and complete being, but as an entity in search of meaning, trapped in the anguish of his own infinite existence. .
In conclusion, both Asimov and Borges, through their stories, offer us a deep and thoughtful vision of immortality. Far from being an ideal state, eternity is presented as an existence devoid of purpose, an infinite state of tedium and monotony. These stories invite us to reflect on the true nature of the human being and the intrinsic value of a finite life.