Through the pages of Shteyngart’s dystopian novel we enter a world where people’s reality is not just perceived through the judgmental lenses of their äppärät – it is a possible future in which a swipe at someone conveys the information that IS literally reality itself. This world, where the inhabitants from flesh and blood are reduced to an unnoticed medium for conveying information in constant engagement with the disembodied content of digital networks, marks a posthuman existence where surveillance, control and greed for profit are extended into infinity itself.
The posthuman culture whose goal is to escape materiality for the eternal digital realm starts with the human body. The physical regeneration of older men through younger women does not point to the sexual habits naturalised by media forms. It points to “the ways in which technological limitations in a given medium become the frameworks for the aesthetic judgments” (Malewitz 113). The immortal posthuman realm requires nano-sized bodies, training in one of the “Zero Mass” or “No Body” gyms, which can easily become disembodied computer simulations, leaving behind their unnecessary shell of a human body. Celebrated are physical features Eunice has, such as lack of hair and scent which “exist as easily on an äppärät screen as on the street” (112).
But what of those bodies whose form and substance are not as easily translated into technological interfaces of the posthuman age, the ones whose traits differ too greatly from the norm? “The people whose personal information cannot be broadcast digitally are rendered aesthetically illegible” (Malewitz 114). By possessing a body of too much substance and untranslatable features (or by refusing to own an äppärät), they are unrepresented, invisible, unable to participate in “a culture founded upon digital frameworks of subjectivity” (114). Thus they become an undermining threat to the symbolic system of the posthuman fantasy.
Being rendered unhuman, their biological and computational data resist the applications of concepts such as FACing. They cannot partake in human capacities of love and friendship, whose values are recognised only for their ability to be converted into digital data. Since the äppärät’s technologies (such as RateMe) with their influence on who may speak to whom, their calculations whether the relationship is worth pursuing by taking into account everything from sexual preferences to pH levels, form the reality of the posthuman world, such individuals cannot move on the social ladder of the digital world. The only reality being the digital one is proved by Eunice’s friend Jenny’s conclusion that her boyfriend is cheating on her. Although she sees him cheating in real life, the real proof of his infidelity is his electronic “illiterate love notes” on GlobalTeens.
These ideas might make the reader feel “so TIMATOV”, but there is more to it than “JBF”. The posthuman society’s view on bodies, the encouragement to use web-speech instead of “verballing”, and the desire of improvement of the digital profiles to perfection, have serious political consequences. This posthuman realism possesses absolute power through the controlling system of meanings and values which offer the individuals as a controllable mass that aides the economy and its profiteers more than any other system before.
Shteyngart’s society is one where the fear of “corporate dictatorship in various guises, with the privatization, marketization, and monetization of all available resources, to the benefit of the wealthy” (Willmetts 270) has been realised. It is a world marked by the concept of Zuboff’s “surveillance capitalism” where “the most valuable resource is no longer oil, but data” (Zuboff in Willmetts 271). Enough for maximum surveillance of the people is an all-controlling system which threatens the individual with “a sense of permanent social precariousness” (272) subjecting them to the need for perpetual transformation to achieve perfection. Achieving it is impossible since “under the conditions of surveillance capitalism, identity is always an unfulfilled project” in a permanent state of becoming (Bauman in Willmetts 272).
Becoming towards what? Immortality – the established final desire. This is the most desired product of the market and is obtainable only by the ultimate preservable citizens. The lowly LNWI masses with their low credit and fuckability scores are unworthy of preserving. Their lack of ability to spend and their bodies mutilated by the lack of privilege make them but vermin subjected to “harm reduction”. Immortality is targeted towards the HNWIs which must prove their worthiness by keeping their ratings high enough to deserve to be immortalised. Proof of the existence of a higher-ranking profiting class is Lenny’s notion that “the truly powerful did not need to be ranked” (Shteyngart in Willmetts 276).
Zuboff’s surveillance capitalism translates human experience into behavioural data (14). It can thus predict future possible markets where consumers can be herded to in the future (14). Immortality as a future market leads people to offer exactly what its price is – their data. The resulting instrumentarian species of power rightfully predicts that people will be willing to do anything to remain top class citizens, the only group considered for the ultimate product of immortalisation, agreeing with everything to the point where their consent need nothing but to be implied. Would anyone really dare to disobey the otter who controls all their yuan-pegged dollars in a world where losing credit literally equals the death sentence?
Shteyngart; Gary. Super Sad True Love Story. New York: Random House, 2020. E-book.
Malewitz, Raymond. “Some new dimension devoid of hip and bone”: Remediated Bodies and Digital Posthumanism in Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story.” Arizona Quarterly: A Journal of American Literature, Culture, and Theory, Volume 71, Number 4 (2015): 107-127. Project Muse. Web. Accessed on 21 Nov 2020.
Willmetts, Simon. “Digital Dystopia: Surveillance, Autonomy, and Social Justice in Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story.” American Quarterly, Volume 70, Number 2 (2018): 267-289. Project Muse. Web. Accessed on 21 Nov 2020.
Zuboff, Shoshana. The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power. New York: Public Affairs, 2019. E-book.