Books

Mortal Coil by David Boyd Haycock

The profuse wringing of hands about whether or not we are doing violence to humanity in our tech-objectives only serves to hinder social progress.


Mortal Coil

Publisher: Yale University Press
Subtitle: A Short History of Living Longer
Author: David Boyd Haycock
Price: $30.00
Length: 320
Formats: Hardcover
ISBN: 9780300117783
US publication date: 2008-06
Amazon

Every year, Duquesne University hosts a phenomenology symposium where luminaries in philosophy, psychology, anthropology, and other humanities disciplines present some of the more exciting lectures in modern academia. This year’s conference was structured around the problem of post-humanism or how, in our quest to prolong our lives and enhance them with technology, we change or stray from what it is to be human.

During one of the lectures, John Caputo, a University of Syracuse philosophy professor, noted that we should not bear anxiety towards the proliferation of technology because artifaction is an essential character of humanness; to modify our lives with tools and inventions does not defy what it is to be human, such modifications are what it is to be human. Our tools and devices set us apart from other animals.

Such an argument is one that should be more often taken to heart. The profuse wringing of hands about whether or not we are doing violence to humanity in our tech-objectives only serves to hinder social progress. Furthermore, advocates of the “anti-technology” position are truthfully just trying to preserve another social order in which their inventions, equally artificial although perhaps older, take precedence. It is a sly manipulation of social order under the guise of luddite-ism.

I can give David Boyd Haycock’s Mortal Coil, a book about the history of prolonging our life spans, no greater compliment than to affirm that it falls in line with John Caputo. In the volume’s 300-some pages, Haycock never falters or qualifies his history in fear that our drive to live longer is a move away from what it is to be human. Although he does entertain the debate, such a move is only to flesh out his history.

Furthermore, for a book that eschews sensationalism to the sublime extent that Mortal Coil does, it is a fascinating and engaging read. Haycock’s enthusiasm for his topic spills into his recounting of subject matter which, otherwise, could easily be construed as mundane. Instead of a dry commentary, Haycock’s tome playfully and rigorously charts a narrative from Francis Bacon to Aubrey De Grey. From its first anecdote, an account (full of David Sedaris-esque incredulousness) of Bacon’s contracting of a fatal illness when trying to stuff a rabbit with snow, Mortal Coil never misses a beat.

If hard pressed for an objection, I would have to admit that Haycock’s optimism, at times, becomes oppressive. Haycock’s is unwilling to countenance anything more than a nominal suggestion that we may not be able to eclipse our current life spans and that, if we do, it may not be a positive development. Although such progress would do nothing to endanger our humanity and, presumably, could be carried out in such a way that we stay relatively young, issues such as over population and the generational stagnation imposed by longer lives are not given adequate attention.

However, I am reminded that Haycock is not writing his treatise on living longer. He is composing a summa of other intellectuals progress towards such an end. The divine grand design of his book is that it couches the quest for longer life as an important and consistent undercurrent to human history. To wit: Haycock shows convincingly that the quest for long living is not some fragment of the story of man, it is woven throughout.

Haycock’s broad history shows how this one end touches all disciplines. Although such a unity may be overly charitable it does compose a fascinating tale. Mortal Coil is fully successful in managing to drum up excitement for the future of human development while steering clear of propaganda.

7


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Books

A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Prof. Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.

Music

The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.

Music

Jaye Jayle's 'Prisyn' Is a Dark Ride Into Electric Night

Jaye Jayle salvage the best materials from Iggy Pop and David Bowie's Berlin-era on Prisyn to construct a powerful and impressive engine all their own.

Music

Kathleen Edwards Finds 'Total Freedom'

Kathleen Edwards is back making music after a five-year break, and it was worth the wait. The songs on Total Freedom are lyrically delightful and melodically charming.

Television

HBO's 'Lovecraft Country' Is Heady, Poetic, and Mangled

Laying the everyday experience of Black life in 1950s America against Cthulhuian nightmares, Misha Green and Jordan Peele's Lovecraft Country suggests intriguing parallels that are often lost in its narrative dead-ends.

Music

Jaga Jazzist's 'Pyramid' Is an Earthy, Complex, Jazz-Fusion Throwback

On their first album in five years, Norway's Jaga Jazzist create a smooth but intricate pastiche of styles with Pyramid.

Music

Finding the Light: An Interview with Kathy Sledge

With a timeless voice that's made her the "Queen of Club Quarantine", Grammy-nominated vocalist Kathy Sledge opens up her "Family Room" and delivers new grooves with Horse Meat Disco.

Books

'Bigger Than History: Why Archaeology Matters'

On everything from climate change to gender identity, archaeologists offer vital insight into contemporary issues.

Film

'Avengers: Endgame' Culminates 2010's Pop Culture Phenomenon

Avengers: Endgame features all the expected trappings of a superhero blockbuster alongside surprisingly rich character resolutions to become the most crowd-pleasing finalés to a long-running pop culture series ever made.

Music

Max Richter's 'VOICES' Is an Awe-Inspiring and Heartfelt Soundscape

Choral singing, piano, synths, and an "upside-down" orchestra complement crowd-sourced voices from across the globe on Max Richter's VOICES. It rewards deep listening, and acts as a global rebuke against bigotry, extremism and authoritarianism.

Music

DYLYN Dares to "Find Myself" by Facing Fears and Life's Dark Forces (premiere + interview)

Shifting gears from aspiring electropop princess to rock 'n' rule dream queen, Toronto's DYLYN is re-examining her life while searching for truth with a new song and a very scary-good music video.

Music

JOBS Make Bizarre and Exhilarating Noise with 'endless birthdays'

Brooklyn experimental quartet JOBS don't have a conventional musical bone in their body, resulting in a thrilling, typically off-kilter new album, endless birthdays.

Music

​Nnamdï' Creates a Lively Home for Himself in His Mind on 'BRAT'

Nnamdï's BRAT is a labyrinth detailing the insular journey of a young, eclectic DIY artist who takes on the weighty responsibility of reaching a point where he can do what he loves for a living.

Music

Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few Play It Cool​

Austin's Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few perform sophisticatedly unsophisticated jazz/Americana that's perfect for these times

Music

Eleanor Underhill Takes Us to the 'Land of the Living' (album stream)

Eleanor Underhill's Land of the Living is a diverse album drawing on folk, pop, R&B, and Americana. It's an emotionally powerful collection that inspires repeated listens.

Music

How Hawkwind's First Voyage Helped Spearhead Space Rock 50 Years Ago

Hawkwind's 1970 debut opened the door to rock's collective sonic possibilities, something that connected them tenuously to punk, dance, metal, and noise.

Books

Graphic Novel 'Cuisine Chinoise' Is a Feast for the Eyes and the Mind

Lush art and dark, cryptic fables permeate Zao Dao's stunning graphic novel, Cuisine Chinoise.

Music

Alanis Morissette's 'Such Pretty Forks in the Road' Is a Quest for Validation

Alanis Morissette's Such Pretty Forks in the Road is an exposition of dolorous truths, revelatory in its unmasking of imperfection.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.