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Human life as digitised data assemblage: health, wealth and biopower in Gary Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story
  1. Luna Dolezal
  1. Correspondence to Dr Luna Dolezal, Department of Philosophy, Durham University, 50 Old Elvet, Durham City DH1 3HN, UK; luna.dolezal{at}

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With recent and emerging developments in technology, we are witnessing a process of cultural and social redefinition where the foundations of how we understand the body, the human and the parameters of health are being radically transmuted. These changes resonate both across global political discourses and within individuals’ personal lives; they are both intimate and remote affecting broad sociopolitical understandings, and the minutiae of everyday lived experience. At the core of these redefinitions is a scientific and, primarily, biological discourse that reduces all forms of life to the molecular level and that uses a technological metaphorical landscape as its medium.1 Under this techno-biological logic, which has become a dominant discursive frame, the human body, and human life, is increasingly conceived of as an assemblage of data and information flows, genetic and otherwise.2 ,3

The emergence of the conception of life as information over recent decades has coincided with an explosion in information technology. Technologisation has been coupled with a correlative commercialisation, which have both taken place against the backdrop of increased privatisation and the dismantling of the welfare state as a result of the spread of neoliberal doctrines and practices. Commercial tech companies have developed many novel social technologies, based on the paradigm of life as data, which are increasingly available on the free market. For instance, self-tracking technologies, such as the simple iPhone, or fitness gadgets such as FitBit, Bellabeat's LEAF and Nike Fuelband, among others that are worn on the body, quantify physiological states producing biometric data on one's everyday exercise, rest, mood, diet, heart rate and other health information. This fusion of information technology and biomedicine, with a neoliberal market agenda, has transformed the landscape of health, medicine and daily life.i 4 ,5 As the discourses of movements such as the Quantified …

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  • Funding Irish Research Council and Marie Curie Actions.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • i I discuss the convergence of neoliberal doctrines with medical technologies elsewhere.5

  • ii I also discuss these anxieties and the speculative genre with respect to Jeanette Winterson's The Stone Gods.8

  • iii Subsequent page references will be cited parenthetically in the text and the title will be abbreviated to SSTLS. SSTLS won the Salon Book Award (2010) and the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize (2011). It was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year (2010) and a New York Times Bestseller.

  • iv See Shteyngart's comments in the “Acknowledgements” of SSTLS, page 333.11

  • v For instance, the Quantified Self (QS) Movement, started in 2007 by WIRED magazine journalists Gary Wolf and Kevin Kelly, takes an active approach to self-tracking. Its members are part of online communities where they share and compare data. QS participants monitor and measure a range of health and personal analytics such as weight, energy levels, mood, time usage, sleep patterns, cognitive performance and athletic performance, among others. See reference 6.

  • vi For a full discussion of the biogerontological discourses in SSTLS and their relation to contemporary anti-aging and longevity movements see reference 32.

  • vii Raymond Malewitz's discussion of SSTLS explores at length the theme of the increasingly effaced human subject, focusing on the idea that human bodies are erased and remediated as a result of their engagement with information technologies in the story. See reference 34.