Is immortality really the ultimate conquest in life? Perhaps. But then what exactly is immortality? Common understanding would have us believe immortality is the physical existence or being of a person throughout the limitless abyss of time. However, William S. Burroughs asserts merely existing is not enough to be considered immortal; evolution, transformation, and advancement are required as well. To achieve this, Burroughs writes in Immortality that space exploration is an example of advancement and that the human subconscious state can be utilized to inspire creative, revolutionary ideas.
In the words of Burroughs, “space exploration is the only goal worth striving for. Over the hills and far away.” Space exploration can fundamentally be viewed as a way to discover what’s beyond human capability and human reach. Even though space is the ultimate frontier, there are many other smaller frontiers to surpass in the effort of achieving immortality. In terms of human kind as a whole, immortality is only achievable if we continue to advance in our social institutions and schools of thought. These societal changes and transformations throughout history can trace human society’s attempts at achieving immortality, peaking with the advent of space exploration as the highest form of immortality. We rely on the unknown—the undiscovered—for our essence of immortality.
In addition to his example of space exploration, Burroughs also explains how the act of dreaming can serve as a channel of creativity and innovation. In Immortality, he states “the function of dreams is to train the being for future conditions… Deprived of this vital link with our future in space, with no reason for living, we die.” Dreaming is a means to prepare for space travel, just as dreaming can be a means to imagine transformative institutions and inventions for human advancement. Immortality thrives off of the radical, innovative ideas that are more likely to come in the relaxed state of mind that is the human subconscious. Equipped with the ingenuity dreams offer us, there are fewer limitations in imagining a kind of futuristic society where space travel is possible and more potential for advancement.
William Burroughs asserts that true immortality actually requires an ever-evolving future, as opposed to merely existing within the confines of one’s body. For example, space exploration in Immortality is a symbol of future innovation, whereas Mr. Hart symbolizes the brutal, perpetual stagnation that would occur if humans were to attempt immortality in the physical sense. Stagnation is the constant state of existence at one point in time and place, which in effect, becomes so meaningless it actually acts just as immediate death. Fortunately for human kind, there will always be more to discover, more to advance, and more to explore in the world. If this potential for exploration were to fade from existence and if the last reaches of the universe were discovered, then society would fail to be immortal.