The Body in Question   /   Summer 2015   /    The Body In Question

The New Immortalists

David Bosworth

“In two hundred years, doctors will rule the world. Science reigns already. It reigns in the shade, maybe—but it reigns. And all science must culminate at last in the science of healing. Mankind wants to live—to live.”
—Comrade Ossipon, in Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent

Tattoos drilled into every curving surface from neck to feet to advertise our latest beliefs and heartfelt allegiances; rings and studs protruding from every possible appendage; Botox shots whose neurotoxin, paralyzing facial muscles, temporarily removes the history of our moods by erasing laugh and frown lines; scalpel-sculpting surgeries that suck away ungainly fat from sides and thighs or nip-and-tuck to iron out the shriveling caused by too much sun and gravity; various and sometimes severe diets based on intricate theories of human development (paleo, Viking, very low calorie); fanatical physical training pursued either to hone a seductive appearance (the actor’s six-pack abs) or to win the laurels of extreme achievement (the Ironman Triathlon); pharmaceutical fixes broadly advertised and promiscuously prescribed for all manner of ailments, a new drug pitched, it sometimes seems, for every age-old pain and psychic misery: To borrow the title from a recent group of so-called reality TV shows, ours has been an age of the “extreme makeover.” And increasingly here in the land of opportunity, this radical remaking of the American self is being pursued through the perfection of the flesh—through beautifying, fortifying, and (just now commencing) digitizing the human body.

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