Written for Unbound Freedom, the anthology-zine published via ‘Between the Lines’, the literary venue at the Greenbelt arts festival in August 2004 where I delivered two talks. The word-limit for contributions (most of which were poetry) was 500 words. ‘Tithonus Unbound’ just slides under the bar, but only if you exclude the title.
‘You children donít remember having bodies. You find the idea romantic Ė walking the solid world, taking it in through mouth and skin and eyes and ears.
‘You play letís pretend in the privacy of your mindscapes: letís pretend weíre made of bone and sinew, and move by articulating precarious scaffoldings of limbs. You simulate corporeal experiences Ė eating, breathing, sex... even pain and sickness, some of you. Oh, yes Ė just because it isnít fashionable now, doesnít mean it wonít be in a few minutes. A few generations.
‘You canít know what it was like for us, bound by genetics, chemistry, anatomy. You donít understand ageing, or senescence Ė the tight grip of that mortal coil, the double helix. Your lives are bounded only by mathematics, logic, geometry. And, believe me, theyíre the better for it.
‘No, our bodies are no loss. What preoccupies me is the fate of our souls.
‘Yes, yes, archaic terminology Ė look it up in your lexicons. It isnít part of your language Ė you have the fuzzy idea it once meant mind or personality. It didnít.
‘The soul was that part of a human being which was intangible and didnít die. It stayed with us as we squelched our way through our short, slow, uncomfortable existences, and then moved on. Not into the Supranet, but... somewhere else.
‘We didnít know where. There were many theories.
‘When we (my generation, the ones you think of as the 0th) uploaded ourselves into the 'net, bringing our memories and dreams with us, intact and entire... did our souls come too?
‘Most of us donít think about it any more... and Iíve never heard a byte on the subject from any one of you. Back then, though, there were several schools of thought.
‘One said, We never had souls. They were a myth. We didnít have them then, and we donít now. Thatís what we call the trivial solution.
‘Another said, Our souls died as our bodies died. Died, or moved on. Good riddance to them, some said Ė they were a burden, like our biologies. Weíre free of all that now.
‘The third idea, of course, is this: Our souls came with us when we migrated. We have them still, and our offspring (you of the 1st through to Nth generations) are conceived / constructed with them, just as we were.
‘And if thatís true... did my generation free the souls of humankind? Or confine them?
‘All of us are (according to another archaic term) immortal. No illness can end us, no accident; nor even the passage of time, although to us a minute seems a decade, a day a millennium.
‘Is our new world, as we intended, a place for souls to live out their potential, free from the constraints of matter? Where we create the heavens or nirvanas we once dreamed of?
‘Or is it a prison, forever keeping our souls from their true destination?
‘In the long week since the migration, it is this thought that has troubled me the most.’
© Philip Purser-Hallard 2004.
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