│Felix Haase is a student of American literature in the MA-program Anglistik /Amerikanistik of the Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena. He is currently staying at the Surveillance Studies Centre in Kingston, Ontario, to research his upcoming thesis on the representation of surveillance in the American novels The Circle by Dave Eggers and Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart. After an internship at the German center of PEN, he will begin his PhD at the FSU Jena.
2009-2013 Bachelor of Arts in Anglistik/Amerikanistik and Political Science at the FSU Jena
Publications “’Within the Circle’: Surveillance and Space in Frederick Douglass’ Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, American Slave.” Aspeers 8 (2015): 71-88.
Data = Language? Sorting out the relation between surveillance and identity formation in Super Sad True Love Story
Discourses about surveillance in Western post-industrialized societies lead us deep into the realm of algorithms, clouds, and databases. Piled and sorted here are not just masses of data, but actual identities, which, removed from their embodied owners, become classifiable and quantifiable. The image of individuals as grids of digital categories conveys and perpetuates a specific notion of the self. The protagonist of Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story, Lenny Abramov, is repeatedly confronted with this categorical reproduction of his identity and records his experience in the form of a diary. In my paper, I argue that the medium of the epistolary novel is used to portray the interaction of two different sorts of identification, namely categorical identification and narrative identification. Both simultaneously converge and compete in Shteyngart’s dystopian America, raising questions about individual agency and the distribution of life chances. I further suggest that the notion of quantifiable and classifiable identities does not intrude the characters’ world through brute oppression, but seeps into their society through the seductive forces of corporate capitalism, which eventually replaces the nation state in the novel. Surveillance is used and complied with because it caters to desires of love and control (of the Other or the body), among others. Hence, Super Sad True Love Story underlines the importance of fictional dystopias for re-describing what it means to be under surveillance today, rather than predicting the development of surveillance societies in the future. In order to support my argument, I refer to sociological and philosophical theorizations of surveillance, from Mark Poster’s work on databases to John McGrath’s observations on surveillance and culture. In defining the different modes of identification, I mainly draw on Benjamin Goold and Paul Ricoeur.