What is common sense affected by?

Health dictatorship as a future vision

The opening move in Juli Zeh's new novel is not without its delicacy. The book begins with a fictitious quote, allegedly it comes from a 25th edition of the work "Health as a Principle of State Legitimation", the author is given as a certain Heinrich Kramer, who later appears as a character in the novel. "The healthy person feels fresh and productive," it says. "He has an optimistic confidence in armaments, spiritual strength and a stable soul." There is little objection to this, and even the tightened last sentence of the quote is not out of the question: "A person who does not strive for health does not get sick, but already is." Presumably that should sound seductive, because Zeh's novel "Corpus Delicti" is about a health dictatorship in the middle of the 21st century. The point of the prologue, however, lies in the fact that there was a Heinrich Kramer: It is a Dominican monk of the 15th century, author of the infamous "Witch's Hammer", in which it is explained in minute detail how one can recognize witches. In other words: the dictatorship that Zeh paints in her novel is a projection that ideally connects the Middle Ages with the near future. Only this time both sexes are affected by the furor of a rigid elite. What started relatively harmlessly in the present day: with a legal ban on smoking in public places, ends in a terrorist state that threatens the health grump with apparent death, i.e. with freezing for an indefinite period of time.
The "Corpus Delicti", which the trained lawyer Juli Zeh deals with in her novel, subtitled as "Trial", is the human body - and indirectly the soul associated with it. The protagonist Mia Holl - her name is as short as that of the author - is brought to trial for "anti-methodological activities": the utopian state and its organs in which the story takes place are called the "method". Of course, Mia Holl is also accused of handling toxic substances: after all, the current smoking ban is something like the ideal nucleus of this science fiction novel. Heinrich Kramer - not the author of the witch's hammer, but its namesake and successor in the novel - is a smart journalist and contemporary witness, an ideologically flawless advocate of the "method", to whom Mia Holl feels attracted in a sublime way. In a central conversation between the two characters, Kramer says:

"50 years ago, children proudly showed their bruised knees. Everyone complained of hay fever, back pain and digestive problems and still wanted only one thing: undeserved attention."

Such a return to history, which always contains a grain of truth, is nevertheless not quite on the level of the crystal-clear argumentation of the prologue quoted. You can clearly feel the author's intention to critically evaluate the speaking figures and convict them of their totalitarian thinking. In other words: Juli Zeh also makes things a little easy here.
The author develops a great ingenuity in the invention and naming of the health fanatic symptoms that characterize the "method". What used to be called "love" is now only "a synonym for the tolerance of certain immune systems". People don't drink tea or coffee during work breaks, they drink "hot water". A central organ is called: "Common Sense". Citizens have to submit sleep and nutrition reports and adjust the bacterial concentration in their homes according to guidelines. In short:

"The body is to us temple and altar, idol and sacrifice. Canonized and enslaved."

This is how Mia Holl sums it up. The "method", on the other hand, states:

"Anyone who combats the method is a reactionary."

This term is always used to refer to those who, rightly or not, cling to the status quo. In terms of content, this can of course mean very different things. And on the occasion of this novel, one could even argue about whether there isn't anything worse than a health utopia: whether it isn't just as questionable, for example, to prevent general health insurance for economic reasons. For Juli Zeh, however, things are pretty clear. It is putting a dictatorship on trial whose future emergence is not very likely. The verdict is of course clear: such a dictatorship would be reprehensible. As far as the literary output is concerned, there is no avoiding the realization that, measured against prominent role models in the science fiction genre such as Ray Bradbury or Stanislaw Lem, it is rather thin.

Juli Zeh, "Corpus Delicti. A Process", Schöffling & Co., 263 pp., 19.90 euros.