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Don DeLillo - Zero K

„Everybody wants to own the end of the world.“

Zero KIn Don DeLillos novel Zero K, we meet Ross Lockharts son, who is travelling to a far away place to meet his father and his fathers second wife Artis. The place is more then remote. It is in the former Soviet Union, maybe close to China, far away from any city, far enough not to be found. It is a place in the middle of basically nowhere, where, upon entering the compound, you get a wristband, so that those, securing the place, can always tell, where you are. Certain areas are not for you in this Utopia, which was built with the money and help of people, who want to own the end of the world, or maybe rather, who want to own their own end.

Ross is there, because his younger wife Artis‘ health is deteriorating. She and he decided, that she would die, be frozen, and reawakened at some point in the future. That is, what is happening there: people go there to die, some fatally ill, some just ready to go, and they get stored in icehouses to await their future, which is characterized by deeper and more knowledge in many scientific fields. So, it will be possible, to be reawakened, even, if our planet should be destroyed, by climate catastrophes or a nuclear war. The awaited future is characterized by the fact, that human life, the lifes of those, frozen in the desert, will never ever depend on this earth and its conditions anymore. They can live forever, in this institute, no matter, what the world around them looks like. They bought themselves a neverending future.
Preparation for a time,  when death will not be a necessity anymore. At least not for those, who can afford to live forever. So it makes sense, that there is also a monk to counsel the candidates, to give some spiritual depth to the whole matter, even though, he does not seem to agree with it.  
„What do you do here?“
„I talk to the dying.“
„You reassure them.“
„What do I reassure them of?“
„The continuation. The reawakening.“
„Do you believe that?“
„Don’t you“, I said.
„I don’t think I want to. I just talk about the end. Calmly, quietly.
…..What’s the point of living if we don’t die at the end of it?“

Ross left the sons mother Madeline many years ago. The marriage was not happy at all. The son never called Ross „dad“, and never had any real relationship with this workaholic, super rich father, who treated his mother with contempt. But he still is his only heir. They are not close. If there are feelings, they are not tangible, just a hint on the sons side, the insight,  that his fathers destiny, his choice (not just to leave his mother and him, but also to die and be reawakened) „A man of his resources choosing to be a frozen specimen in a capsule in a storage facility twenty years before his natural time.“ will forever shape, who he, his son, is. Something beyond words.

Ross is very rich. He is a global player. Afraid to loose Artis, love of his life. Maybe also afraid to live a small life. „I’m ending one version of my life to enter another and far more permanent  version.“ He decides to accompany Artis, even though, his health is good. Than he changes his mind again. He continues to live. But nothing makes sense for him anymore. He is already in the future, In the face of this father, not much makes sense for the son. And yet, in contrast to his father: he keeps struggling for the beauty of life, here and now, to find it, to see it, to feel it. The beauty, in the light of which the idea of an end of the world looses all meaning, because there is only the here and the now.

A difficult book. Death is a depressing consequence of life. This book confronts us with this deep down, really simple, fact: we all will eventually die. On top of it, many of us will not die peacefully, in old age, but probably in war, in climate catastrophes, in a terrorist attack, as refugees. Life is not beautiful. Or is life beautiful? After all? Can it be beautiful?
The project in the desert seems to be founded by a sort of sect. The members are learning a new language, which is supposed to be better than all languages so far, and it will be capable of communicating things beyond words, our words, today, that is. It will be a complex new language, for a complex and new humankind, not longer humbled by death, and all it involves.
The members believe in their right to live forever, in the future. They believe, that life today is not good enough. They also fear death. They fear pain. They try to controll, what is not controllable. They are willing to sacrifice their lives and their fortune for the hope, that one day, they will be reawakened, maybe to a destroyed planet, but in this spaceship in the desert, safe from everything, even nature. There is a garden, but its not real plants, it is like an engineered garden. Plastic trees. Plastic flowers.

„…Whats the point of living, if we don’t die at the end of it?“
This book is deeply spiritual. It asks all the big human questions. It leaves the reader, as any great book should, to find her own answers, deep inside herself, in that space, in which we all reside.


 The german translation of this book is called Null K and has been publised by Kiepenheuer&Witsch Verlag, Köln. 

(c) Susanne Becker

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