Loads of Learned Lumber

Monday, June 13, 2016

Don DeLillo, _Zero K_ (2 of 2)

ROSS LOCKHART, WE learn, is self-named--he was born Nicholas Satterswaite. If this act suggests some degree of alienation from his father, we can find something similar in Jeffrey Lockhart, who for a time dissuades Ross from being frozen by declaring by saying he, Jeffrey, would be "reduced" by Ross's doing so, but who later declines an offer to join Ross's firm.

We are getting ever more Hamlet-like here, not only in Jeffrey's introspective lassitude, but also in that Hamlet's father, being a ghost, is not exactly alive yet not exactly dead, posing insoluble conundrums about the nature of his authority, and Ross, being frozen, would similarly be not exactly alive, not exactly dead. He would be a figure ("What would your gracious figure?") that one could not simply get past…which may be exactly what he (and King Hamlet) want.

Not to mention young Stak (adoptive son of Jeff;s girlfriend Emma) dashing off, Fortinbras-like, to reclaim the land his fathers lost. Ukraine in this instance.

This failure of fathers to hand things off cleanly to the sons makes me wonder whether another idea loose in Zero K is that men have had their turn, that the baton of our civilization has passed to the women, that they will run the next leg of history's relay.

Hillary Clinton's becoming our next president (Lord help us if she does not) is part of this, but that's just the tip of the iceberg.  I have been seeing it every day in my classes for years: the women generally knowing what they are about, the men generally hardly having a clue. By the time I die, I expect, women will be minding the store.

Emma,, Jeff's girlfriend, is as focused, purposeful, and attentive as he is anomic, drifting, and obtuse. Even Jeff notices this:

   Here we are, the woman smart, determined, not detached so much as measuring every occasion, including this omen, brown hair swept back, a face that is not interested in being pretty, and this gives her a quality I can't quite name, a kind of undecidedness. We are seeing each other as never before, two sets of eyes, the meandering man, taller, bushy-haired, narrow face, slightly recessed chin, faded jeans and so on.

Women in mysteriously serene, hieratic postures appear throughout the novel, most compellingly Ross's second wife Artis, frozen as a gift to the future. But does the future need Ross?

It [the frozen Artis] was a beautiful sight. It was the human body as a model of creation. I believed this. It was body in this instance that would not age. And it was Artis, here, alone, who carried  the themes of the entire complex into some measure of respect. […] Artis belonged here. Ross did not.

Those seeking a leading male American novelist with something interesting to say about feminism should put Purity aside and look this way.

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