Don DeLillo’s Zero K poses a number of questions about human life, mortality, and the meaning of death in the contemporary world. The novel primarily takes place in location known as the “Convergence”, an area in the desert between Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. The convergence is a location at which ultra-rich members of society are able to pace themselves in cryogenic states with the hope of emerging out of them at a future in which technology will have advanced to such a degree that they will be able to achieve immortality. One of the key elements of the novel involves the way in which it treats this desire for immortality and the location in which it takes place. Particularly, the desert location provides the reader with a literal depiction of the abstract lack of meaning which informs the lives of DeLillo’s protagonists, and of much of contemporary capitalist society.
According to Laura Barrett, Zero K allows DeLillo’s “fascination with death and deserts to collide with a vengeance” (106). In making this observation, Barrett suggests that the environment in which the novel takes place, and the theme of death are inherently connected. Barret goes onto suggest that DeLillo’s fiction in general is concerned with the notion that “we are haunted […] by a yearning for something clearer, purer, truer behind the world we see everyday” (106). Importantly, this sense of a yearning for the beyond serves to foreclose the possibilities contained within the present: to assume that a better meaning lies beyond the world is to say that this world itself is finished or without meaning. One can see this immediately in the opening of the novel: “Everybody wants to own the end of the world” (DeLillo 1). This statement combines a clear belief in property ownership and in the capacity to possess even some as intangible as “the end of the world”, with a sense of this world’s finality.
Later in the novel, the narrator comments that the people who come to the Convergence are all seeking meaning from outside of their immediate lives and that they are “waiting for something to happen” (124). Importantly, DeLillo suggests that it is not just terminally sill people who seek treatment at the Convergence, but that it is also people who are relatively healthy, but who nonetheless “have chosen to surrender what is left of their current lives to discover a radical level of self-renewal” (125). This statement again connects the wealth of the clients who come to the Convergence with a sense that their lives are lacking in meaning. Indeed, this lack is so strong that the world has been reduced to the desert in which the Convergence exists, and into which they are willing to enter for the sake of an eschatological faith in an unknown distant future.
Within the novel, one reads that the self-identified purpose of the Convergence is “to stretch the boundaries of what it means to be human – stretch and then surpass” (71). The kind of immortality that the process of freezing promises is therefore evidently considered to be a transition beyond the everyday human life into something new. At the same time, however, the novel also suggests that this transcendence is based on a fundamental alienation. As Adele Nel argues, the clients of the Convergence “understand the body as an object for control and mastery rather than as an intrinsic part of the self” (4). These clients are fundamentally alienated from their own sense of self, and this alienation is informed by their wealth and by their relationship to property ownership.
In this sense, while Zero K suggests that its characters believe firmly in the potential for a profoundly different and better life in the future, their faith in this comes at the price of having abandoned any hope in the world as it is and of having become alienated even from their embodied self-hood
Barrett, Laura. “‘[R]adiance in Dailiness’: The Uncanny Ordinary in Don DeLillo’s Zero K.”
Journal of modern literature 42, no. 1 (2018): 106–123.
Delillo, Don. Zero K. New York: Scribner, 2016.
Nel, Adele. “‘Why Not Follow Our Words Bodily into the Future Tense?’: Life, Death and
Posthuman Bodies in Don DeLillo’s Zero K.” Literator, vol. 42, no. 1, African Online Scientific Information Systems (Pty) Ltd t/a AOSIS, 2021, pp. e1–e10, doi:10.4102/lit.v42i1.1748.
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