Usbek & Rica – Will technology one day allow us to speak with our dead?

After the astonishment effect provided by this project, I couldn’t help but – an oh so human reflex – to think of the person who has now disappeared with whom I would have dreamed of being able to exchange thanks to Somnium Space. And then I thought of that terrible episode of The Odyssey of Homer where Ulysses, having arrived in the Kingdom of Hades – far beyond the ocean – finds his adored mother and tries to hold her in his arms. Three times Odysseus tries to kiss his dear mother, Anticleia, and three times, Homer tells us, she escapes him. like a shadow or a vanished dream”. Because, if her appearance and her voice remain intact, Anticlea already exists only in the state of a disembodied silhouette, a mirage always on the point of evaporating.

What does the meeting of Odysseus and Anticleia tell us? That even the most staggering avatar of reality cannot compensate for the loss of a loved one. Even the most sophisticated VR, the most elaborate AI will only make us kiss shadows. I jump a few centuries after theOdyssey to switch into the universe closest to the metaverse ever built in literature: that of the Divine Comedyimagined by the Tuscan poet Dante Alighieri.

In the middle of his life’s journey, Dante, in exile, devoured by the pain following the loss of his great love, Beatrice, is lost. Literally and metaphorically lost. He thought it was all mapped out, but the line of his life has deviated. Like Ulysses before him, he is offered the opportunity to fall into the Kingdom of the Dead. At this point in his journey, like the hero of The Odyssey, he can still change course and choose to live. He can also decide to lose himself for eternity in the grandiose metaverse imagined by the poet. Him, this living body moving among dead bodies », as Jacqueline Risset notes in her preface to The Divine Comedy (GC Flammarion), could, once overcome all the obstacles of Purgatory and Hell, contemplate for eternity his beloved, Beatrice, who sits alongside noble souls, in Paradise.

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