Can Writing Make You Immortal?

Why do you write? Do you plan to become immortal through your writing?

It all depends on what “immortality” means to you. Some years ago, science fiction writer Michael P. Kube-McDowell posted the following observation on an Internet forum:

“I have serious doubts that there’s anything more to my personality and ‘selfness’ than a synergy between genetics, neurochemistry, and the environments and experiences to which I’ve been exposed. And my expectation concerning death is that it will be both corporeal- and ego-death—which is part of the reason I write, to be honest. Like everyone who finds existence interesting and occasionally enjoyable, I want to live forever. And I’m pretty sure that ‘I’ won’t. The best I can do is to see that my genes live on through my children, and that my thoughts live on through my writing.”
[Michael P. Kube-McDowell, reply to Brian Marasca, CompuServe Science Fiction & Fantasy Forum, May 31, 1991.]

To Kube-McDowell, “immortality” (or the closest he can come to immortality) consists of (1) creation and (2) procreation—that is, writing and having children. I can empathize with him—but I can’t agree with him.

I love my children and I wouldn’t trade being a father for anything in the world. I hope I have helped to shape the values and character of my children. I have tried to launch them bravely and confidently into the world.

But from the time they were born, they have been living their own individual lives. To my mind, there is no meaningful sense in which I will “live on” through my children.

Well, what about books? Can writing make us immortal? It’s true that you can extend the shelf-life of your thoughts for decades, or even centuries, through books. Today, we can read the 2,700-year-old thoughts of Homer and the 400-year old thoughts of Shakespeare. But what are a few centuries compared to the timespan of the universe? Paper deteriorates, bindings rot, and even ebooks cannot outlive the medium in which they are stored.

No, I don’t believe you can achieve immortality by writing books. That is certainly not the motivation that compels me to write.

Before this day is over, a nuclear war or an asteroid from space could wipe away every recorded thought of Homer and Shakespeare and Jim Denney. In the natural course of things, a few billion years hence, our Sun will expand, engulfing and destroying our Earth. Even if the human race escapes to a new and younger world, the universe itself will eventually die. Where will our genes and our thoughts be then?

Immortality, to me, does not consist of “making my mark on the world.” Achievements and fame, my name in the history books—what kind of immortality is that?

The only kind of immortality that interests me is the kind where I don’t have to die. Anything less, anything else, is not immortality at all.

I write because I have been given something to say, and I have to get it said before I die, that’s all.

And that’s enough.

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