Despair is the neutral state of the literate Jew. So it seems from Gary Shteyngart.
His Super Sad True Love Story is a strange treat, set in a near-future where Youth rules, China dominates the world, the US has descended into illiteracy and post-empire, and the data stream dominates. Everyone is a producer-consumer, no-one reads, it pays to be a Media person,and the sexualisation of society – or more specifically, Women – is no longer debated because we all just are objects. All of us are complicit right now, all of us are shamed by this book.
Yet, Love remains. In this post-physical dystopia, there’s hope in falling in Love. Gary Shteyngart seems like a man who has been in love, lost love, and written some great unpublished confessionals about it. Always wise-cracking, always with a silly riposte, he’s your classic broken Jewish author. We love them like that. Arms embracing the present/near-future dystopia of endless data streams and the rejection of books, Shteyngart is a man with one foot in the present in shifting sands, and one foot being dragged into a violent/apathetic time-to-come.
When David Schneider let him have his say, Shteyngart shrugged his shoulders, lit a cheeky smile, and welcomed the coming time of impotence. It’s alright the audience Tsking at the mention of a Kindle, but a Tsk and a wry comment is as good as it gets for us, for Shteyngart, for Eunice and Lenny in the book, and for a present-near future society of masses who ignore dictatorship as long as there’s entertainment and a superficial social connection.
From one repressive religion (Faux-Communism in Leningrad) to another in the USA (though not in his beloved NYC of course), Shteyngart is most energised by remembrance of cuddling a Lenin statue – his Paddington Bear, he quips. It could be Paddington, could be The Otter (see SSTLS), could be Lenin, it’s all the same, we reach out for what we can grasp. All is equal, all is irony.
Someone asks whether Shteyngart used to be fat, and he was, and there’s an irony that this is a book all about physical obsession in a non-physical space. Ironic questions, ironic answers, what a muddle. Except that Shteyngart is great because despite his hiding behind the ‘Quipping Jew’ persona, he’s utterly For Real – he believes in Love, Literature and Thought despite his best intentions to act dumb. If we all do that, then we resist the coming of the Bipartisan Bombers, the Credit Poles and the Onionskin Jeans.
Gary, you can’t fool me – you’re a romantic not a dystopian, more Super than Sad.
Charlie Phillips is the Marketplace Director for Sheffield Doc/Fest, co-ordinating the MeetMarket, a unique opportunity for filmmakers and producers to present their most innovative and passionate ideas to commissioners, buyers, funders and distributors. He also runs all other marketplace activities at Sheffield Doc/Fest, including public pitches, industry meetings, matchmaking and mentoring sessions, and year-round workshops. Before that, he was the Editor of FourDocs, Channel 4’s BAFTA-winning online documentary channel, and he continues to bring an interactive and cross-platform perspective to Sheffield’s marketplace activities.