White Light/ White Heat

0508-bks-ferriscvr-master768-v2The latest novel by DeLillo may be about the fear of life and the fear of death and about the role that technology plays in activating and/or defusing both. In a previous novel, a character opined that

This is the whole point of technology. It creates an appetite for immortality on the one hand. It threatens universal extinction on the other.

The key mechanism behind the disruption and distress caused by technology in “Zero K” appears to be virtualization:

Haven’t you felt it? The loss of autonomy. The sense of being virtualized. The devices you use, the ones you carry everywhere, room to room, minute to minute, inescapably.

Virtualization refers to the realization of something — typically an operating system, a server or a network — on a different physical substrate, so that the virtual copy retains the main features (virtues) of the original and is indistinguishable from it. In (my interpretation of) DeLillo’s vision, the virtual copies of our selves stored on digital devices have become more real and relevant than the original.

In “Zero K”, escape, at least for the wealthy, is found in a cryogenically induced isolated state of pure thought after death. This state may be just another form of virtualization, but one that is out of time rather than ticking at the speed of Twitter updates. Waiting for the end of the world to bring better times.


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