Loads of Learned Lumber

Friday, June 10, 2016

Don DeLillo, _Zero K_ (1 of 2)

RIGHT OFF THE bat, we are told, "Everyone wants to own the end of the world," and in italics, no less. Is that simply because of the marketing possibilities, the end of the world being something that everyone alive has some kind of interest in? Something that everyone wants to know about? Something that everyone wants?

The third possibility seems the least likely, but it is the one that kept crossing my mind most frequently as I read the new DeLillo.

I remember visiting my old high school a few years after I had graduated, noticing that its activities had gone on apparently uninterruptedly in the intervening years, and feeling vaguely scandalized. Something seemed wrong, even slightly insulting, in the place having continued to operate as it had while I was there even without my being there, as if I was utterly unnecessary to its functioning...which, of course, I was. But there was a subtle effrontery in demonstrating my superfluousness right in my face, as it were.

I expect to have a comparable feeling should I revisit my workplace a few years after I retire, re-learning the lesson of my dispensability.

Is that why there is (apparently, given how common the phenomenon is) some satisfaction in contemplating the end of the world? That if the world disappears in the same instant that we do, no proof positive of our ultimate dispensability will ever be offered?

All the above is my best guess of why the elite cryogenic facility that figures in DeLillo's novel markets itself with images of apocalyptic destruction. "Zero K" is the lab where the actual freezing occurs (although DeLillo mentions that it does not actually get as cold as zero degrees Kelvin), but the outfit operating the facility calls itself The Convergence--because they are at some meeting point between religion and science in using biotech to achieve immortality of the soul? Because their clients are neither exactly alive nor exactly dead?

Ross Lockhart, the extremely wealthy father of the novel's narrator, is a "herald"; that is, he is going to be frozen not because he is close to death (to be resuscitated when the cure for his illness is available, the classic cryogenic scenario), but just because he can, giving the Grim Reaper the slip even before he comes knocking.

This refusal to die is going to mean that the worl will never know for certain whether it can manage without Ross Lockhart--but it is also going to complicate matters for the next generation, i.e., Jeffrey Lockhart, who is already sufficiently at sea in a Hamlet-like perpetual-post-grad-hood. But this kink in the ordinary father-to-son handoff has a further twist. More to follow.

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