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Digital dystopia: Surveillance, Autonomy and Social Justice in Gary Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story

Willmetts, Simon

Authors

Simon Willmetts



Abstract

This essay proposes Gary Shteyngart's dystopian satire, Super Sad True Love Story, as an appropriate heuristic model for understanding surveillance and society in the twenty-first century. While George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four remains influential, many of his observations now seem anachronistic. Shteyngart, it is argued, offers a more appropriate vision for our world of decentralized digital "surveillant assemblages" that maintain a "control society" with little need for a Big Brother–like state. Unlike Orwell, who predicted the "proles" would be relatively free from surveillance, Shteyngart also emphasizes the disproportionate impact of surveillance on different sections of society. Finally, this essay turns to the thorny question of personal liberty and autonomy as a justification for the right to privacy and as a central theme within the dystopian genre. Many critics argue that dystopian literature is inherently reactionary because of its anti-utopianism and individualism. This essay, however, argues that the kind of autonomy that privacy activists and dystopian novelists most often wish to defend should be understood not as a self-sufficiency but as personhood that is socially embedded and politically engaged, and, crucially, a necessary but insufficient precondition for the resistance and refusal of digital mass surveillance.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date 2018-06
Print ISSN 0003-0678
Publisher Johns Hopkins University Press
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 70
Issue 2
Pages 267-289
Series ISSN 0003-0678
APA6 Citation Willmetts, S. (2018). Digital dystopia: Surveillance, Autonomy and Social Justice in Gary Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story. American Quarterly, 70(2), 267-289
Publisher URL https://muse.jhu.edu/article/698012
Copyright Statement ©2017 University of Hull

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