‘The Mists, the ghosts, the adventures, the metamorphoses, they all had that stale, stagnant taste: the taste of my saliva, the taste of my thoughts.’ – Simone de Beauvoir, All Men Are Mortal
There is so much I want to say about this book, and so little I can without ruining what I promise would be a book that changes your life (and if not your life, at least your way of looking at it.)
Fosca has a gift and a disease. He is plagued with immortality. Regina, a young and beautiful, vain and self-loving actress is fascinated with the idea of her acting living on after her death, so when she meets Fosca she is determined to make him remember her. Fosca knows, from centuries of experience, that he is no good for her sanity and through the story of his life attempts to explain to Regina why.
It is not only Regina who gets engrossed in Fosca’s story, but also the reader. For the hundreds of years that he lived Fosca goes from war to war, from love to love, through the years and decades he sees the world, he sees war and famine, he sees the loves of his life die and whole cities turn to dust.
Every person Fosca encounters eventually dies.
I’m finding it difficult to explain how this book made me feel, so try to imagine this. Yourself, alone, sitting on a burned out Earth. There are no buildings, no trees, no grass, no animals, a dying Sun, nothing to eat and nothing to do but sit, with your thoughts. You cannot die, you may sleep but you’ll always wake up. There is no food and no one to interact with. There is nothing left to learn because the end of civilisation has passed you by and you saw it happen. You will live forever.
The concept of immortality is simply too much for a finite human mind to understand, the idea of ‘forever’ is something that we can only imagine, humans are perfectly capable of thinking a far way into the future, but to think about something existing forever is simply something that we think impossible.
The text that really jumped into my mind when I finished All Men Are Mortal is (perhaps not surprisingly,) Satre’s No Exit. The play, published a few years previously to de Beauvoir’s work, depicts three people in Hell who must spend eternity together, in one room. Again, this play had a profound effect on me, it makes the idea of death somehow more welcoming; death no longer becomes something to be feared but something to welcome because without it we would be forced to live forever.
The title of de Beauvoir’s work: All Men Are Mortal also made me think of the famous logical premise: All men are mortal, Socrates is mortal, therefore Socrates is a man. (Or, to get technical about it, All P are Q, S is Q therefore S is a P.) To put this into context of de Beauvoir’s work, All men are mortal, Fosca is NOT mortal, therefore Fosca is not a man.
Is this what de Beauvoir is driving at? Is she implying that Fosca is not a man? There are various references to Fosca being a man and how he should ‘be a man among men.’ What does de Beauvoir mean by this? If Fosca is immortal can he still be a man? Does a man have to be able to die to be a man? There are also references to death being something positive, to it being needed to be alive. Of course death is the end of life, but without it one cannot distinguish what life actually is, because everything needs an opposite.
Those of you who either know me personally or have read back in my blog know that Simone de Beauvoir has been really important in my life, she helped me discover feminism, philosophy, existentialism, atheism…and now she has opened a door into the idea of immortality.
This post was written with a friend in mind who also read this book recently, they are about to embark on a journey that may change their life forever, good luck, you wont need it.
NB: This post was originally published in 9monthsofwomen.com