Zazen has been called a dystopian novel but I respectfully disagree. Dystopia is entwined with totalitarianism and depicts a future where individuality is pathologized. In Zazen, individuality is the drug. Personality preferences are given so much primacy that no one even knows what "real" is anymore because it's all just a matter of perspective. But then again, maybe that is my own sense of dystopia. Still, the great dystopic novels — 1984 or Brave New World or A Clockwork Orange — feel different because they are terrifying, elegant and sterile.
And what about the term "post-apocalyptic dystopian fiction?" Dystopic is different from apocalyptic, yet they are often treated interchangeably. Maybe we should dispense with the "post" part. When I envision a post-apocalyptic world, I see an anaerobic ocean soup, flat as a lake, with space wind rippling the surface waters unimpeded by the interference of ozone.
Sea currents slow to a stop. Cyanobacteria fight it out for a penthouse in a stromatolite.
Via Primal Science
Okay, so that's a little extreme. Which is really what I think people mean when they say Zazen is a dystopic, apocalyptic novel. They mean it is extreme. The world of the novel is a place where temp agencies are called "Brass Ring Employment Solutions" and vegan neo-hippy restaurants are called "Rise Up Singing." Some readers have asked me if that's really their names or just the narrator's language. My gut response is, who cares what they're called, that's what those places are. All along, I was looking for the language of essence.
Princess Mononoke, Hayao Miyazaki (via unrealitymag.com)
Over the years I have been deeply affected by the movies of Miyazaki as well as novels that came out of WWI and the novellas of Conrad approaching it. So what if I see Kurtz' compound while in the Denver Airport Starbucks — that's just my natural proclivity. But it doesn't mean it isn't true. In fact, I'm pretty sure the Denver tarmac is surrounded by shrunken heads on pikes.
Woodcut illustration by Hans Alexander Muller
The truth is, I imbued Zazen with my most fervent hopes. And hope is as dark as it gets. Della, the narrator, is not cynical as much as broken-hearted. I guess since the things others find funny, I often find depressing, it only makes sense that things some see as terrifying, hold for me incandescent possibilities.
Image credit: Steven Haddock
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Vanessa Veselka is a writer and musician living in Portland, Oregon. She has been, at various times, a teenage runaway, a sex-worker, a union organizer, a student of paleontology, an expatriate, an independent record label owner, a train-hopper, a waitress, and a mother. Her work has appeared in Bust, Bitch, Maxmum Rock 'n' Roll, Yeti magazine and Tin House. Zazen is her first novel.
Books mentioned in this post
Vanessa Veselka is the author of Zazen