A Brief Glossary for Super Sad True Love Story
August 18, 2012 § 2 Comments
Finished: Super Sad True Love Story, by Gary Shteyngart.
Shteyngart’s book is full of fascinating names and terminology, so I thought I’d pick a few that especially interested me and look at them a bit more closely:
äppärät: The devices which control social interaction in society, broadcasting information about their owners (all subjective rankings, potentially humiliating and cause for constant anxiety) and also serving as the main entertainment and communication devices. So, yes: iPhone/iPads. Everyone is constantly ranking and evaluating everyone else, and monitoring their own rankings, and the rankings as well as the categories of ranking themselves (Credit, Hotness, Sustainabilit¥, Fuckability, Personality) revealing the coarse, striving superficiality dominating American discourse. As now, the devices themselves are also status symbols, the smaller and sleeker the better.
dachshunds: Kind of the Shteyngart equivalent of Nabokov’s butterflies, they pop up here and there in the narrative. Mostly, however, this is an excuse to show the inscription to and drawing of our dachshund Bruno by Shteyngart in my copy:
GlobalTeens: The Facebookian social media site that dominates communication, especially for our protagonist Lenny Abramov’s beloved, Eunice Park. Her side of the story is told through the semi-literate messages, called “teens,” that she sends to her friends and family through her GlobalTeens account. The emphasis here on an arrested, adolescent-level emotional development and communication is a recurring theme in the work: that the basic messages themselves through which most of society now communicates are called “teens,” to the point that physically speaking is called “verballing” to differentiate it from teening, is both plausible and kind of horrifying.
Media: Both a noun and adjective, as in “He’s so Media,” the ultimate sign of approval. One of the main Media outlets for news information is called CrisisNet; others are FoxLiberty-Prime and FoxLiberty-Ultra. But many people have their own streaming entertainment/commentary shows, and ratings for these shows are monitored in real time to react to what people do and do not want to hear about.
People’s Literature Publishing House: The publisher of an edition of Lenny’s diaries and Eunice’s GlobalTeens messages — in other words, Super Sad True Love Story. As Lenny says, “it never occurred to me that any text would ever find a new generation of readers,” and did not write his diary entries with publication in mind. However, the People’s Capitalist Party of China issued, as the last of its “Fifty-One Represents,” the message, “To write text is glorious!”, leading to resurgence of the printed word. This is one of the few hopeful notes in the book. Lenny is one of the few buyers and readers of “bound, printed, non-streaming Media artifacts” left in the world, and is something of a freak because of it: his friends and Eunice find the books smelly and somewhat disgusting, and he sprays them with air freshener to get rid of the smell of old paper. The representation of how reading functions in a society that places no value on introspection or empathy, and what might come to be valued in it again, is a fascinating subtext in the work.
Post-Human Services: The division of the Staatling-Wapachung Corporation which employs Lenny Abramov. It is dedicated to achieving eternal youth for its High Net Worth Individual clients through a variety of nutritional, cosmetic, and high-tech medical procedures (“smart blood” being one of the key elements). The process does seem to work, at least to some degree: Lenny’s boss, Joshie, seems to be in his seventies even though he appears a twenty-something. But Shteyngart leaves the exact nature of Post-Human Services ambiguous. It could be seen as a scam for separating the desperate, aging wealthy from their money along these lines. Lenny clearly believes; Joshie, a smooth operator, may be playing at belief. Whatever the case, the inclusion of this thread of life-extension technology exclusively for the superwealthy by a giant, foreign-owned multinational is a smart inclusion in a day-after-tomorrow dystopia.
Rubenstein: The shadowy Secretary of Defense who seems to be the true man in charge of the entire American government — or what remains of it, in the form of the American Restoration Authority, a turbo-charged Homeland Security-like apparatus, run by the Bipartisan Party, given to equal parts paranoid security measures and absurd sloganeering (a digital spy/mascot in the form of an otter, cartoonish anti-immigration posters, a PR campaign based on Mellancamp’s “Pink Houses”). The names are interesting here: in Shteyngart’s dystopia, Israel is SecurityStateIsrael, still a lynchpin of US foreign policy, and our political parties have blended into one “Bipartisan” non-choice, even as the US is eaten from within by its debt, its military misadventures, and its economic inequalities. So, yes: as with all satire, this is not so much bleak vision of the future as slight exaggeration of the current state of affairs. I’m curious about the Zionist angle, here, and what kinds of reaction Shteyngart has received to it.
Suk, Reverend: Leader of a Korean Christian crusade, the description of his Madison Square Garden revival is one of the fascinating set pieces of the book, tying together the themes of immigrant families’ assimilation, religion, spectacle, and evolving/devolving language in an astounding display of guilt, shame, and community. It also calls to mind other famous sermons in American literature, from Father Mapple in Moby-Dick to Reverend Barbee in Invisible Man, but as with so much else in this dystopia of America on the verge of collapse, the rhetoric and the presentation are wildly different: flattened, religious experience debased. And yet, even though Lenny’s friend Grace believes Korean Christianity to be a matter of assimilation, gone in one more generation, haven’t we been saying the same thing for generations now? Aren’t we always thinking the next generation will be the one to abandon religion altogether, and aren’t we always surprised to find it still alive and well?
TIMATOV: One of the hilarious GlobalTeens-based acronyms in the book, standing for Think I’m About to Openly Vomit.
Venezuela: Site of the current American military intervention, leading to the veteran-led revolt and credit crisis that finally brings down the US. As with a number of glancing references to corporations here, oil is the subtext: nationalized corporations in oil-rich countries are running the show, and the US attempt to take over Venezuela is obviously about that.