Book Review: Zero K by Don DeLillo

“Do we see ourselves living outside time, outside history?”

Cerebral, pensive and deeply philosophical Zero K examines our struggle with time and mortality. We meet three characters- Ross, the father, Artis the second wife and Jeffery, the son. Ross and Artis have joined the Convergence-  a group of people attempted to break the chains of mortality and challange death. Jeffery joins as a witness. The setting for this experience is within a bunker in a remote area deep in the barren desert of Eastern Europe. Isolated from the world and with limited interaction with other beings, Jeffery employs various ways of relating to this new world. Through his experiences we begin to see deeper into the conciousness of Jeffery particularly his repeated urgeto define words and to name objects and people. These actions resonate with the use of hermeneutics in Heideggerian philosophy, the essence of which is that to be means to exist, in time, between birth and death and to understand our true nature as humans we must accept death as an ever-present end.

“She spoke, with pauses, about the nature of time. What happens to the idea of continuum- past, present, future- in the cryonic chamber? Will you understand days, years and minute? Will this faculty diminish and die? How human are you without your sense of time? More human than ever? Or do you become fetal, an unborn thing?”

The group, The Convergence- elusive and vague, believe that death is superfluous and conquerable. Better to wait out an unknown period of time in a frozen crypt than succumb to death.

“Death is a cutural artifact, not a strict determination of what is humanly inevitable.”

Jeffery joins Ross and Artis in the final prepitory stages before her journey. Here we begin to see the philosophy emerge further as Jeffery listens to an explaination of the methods and goals of the Convergence.

“Solidtude, yes. Think of being alone, frozen in the crypt, the capsule. Will new technologies allow the brain to function at the level of identity? This is what you may have to confront. The conscious mind. Solitude in extremis. Alone. Think of the word itself. Middle English. All One. You cast off the person. The person is the mask, the created character in the medley of dramas that constitute your life. The mask drops away and the person becomes you in the truest meaning. All one. The self. What is the self? Everything you are, without others, without friends or strangers or lovers or children or streets to walk or food to eat or mirrors in which to see yourself. But are you anyone without others?”

Artis accepts the solitude of the capsule abandoning Ross. He quickly learns that he is nothing without others, mainly her, and chooses to join her despite leaving his son behind. Ross and Jeffery have a troubled relationship that is made no better by this decision. Jeffery chooses to accompany his father on his journey again as a witness. Watching two people he knows, and one could say loves, chose to die, Jeffery is forever changed. The story finishs with him attempting to return to normal life though this proves difficult. Unlike anything I have read, Zero K is a treatise on Heideggerian philosophy and what happens when the obstinate forces of time and mortality are tested.

“It is only human to want to know more, and then more, and then more,” I said. “But it’s also true that what we don’tknow is what makes us human. And there’s no end to no knowing” “Go on.” “And no end to not living forever.” “Go on,” he said. “If someone or something has no beginning, then I can believe that he, she or it has no end. But if you’re born or hatched or sprouted, then your days are already numbered.

Intrigued? Buy the book here:

Zero K
by Don DelilloHardcover
Powells.com

Read voraciously,

Thoughts?

A review copy of this title was provided via Netgalley.

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