Friday, October 07, 2011

Humid City Supplemental

I attended the Occupy New Orleans march yesterday and had all this to say about it. I also have the pictures to show for it.

One of the things I've been thinking about this whole time, though, is Gary Shteyngart's reaction to the prescience of his most recent novel, Super Sad True Love Story, in which people are judged by their credit ratings, the United States is in many wars over oil - the latest being with Venezuela - and the financial state of the country is beholden to China. One particular series of scenes revolves around people who have camped out in Central Park and Tompkins Square Park in Manhattan, in part out of protest at being made homeless by the government, and, ultimately, because the majority of the campers are "Low Net Worth" and have no other place to go. Sounds a tad familiar...
...his prophetic tendencies started to crop up as early as 2006. "When I started writing 'Super Sad,' the research took me to the idea that the real estate market, because of all the sub-prime mortgages, was going to burst, and that it would take along with it all the hedge funds and investment banks, provoking an economic meltdown," he said. "Well that happened in 2008."  
 He was forced to make his satire more and more extreme. He shifted focus from the real estate bubble to China.  
 "Flying from the stunningly modern Beijing airport to the Newark airport now is like flying from Paris to Burkina Faso," he said. "There's a different spirit in China. They have a market of a billion people who are so extraordinarily energized, in the way we haven't been since the fifties."  
 The currency of choice in "Super Sad" is the yuan-pegged dollar, and luxury Manhattan apartments are priced in yuan and "Northern Euros." China's rise culminates in a Washington summit between the ruling "bipartisan party" and a group of Chinese dignitaries, which leads to the announcement of the U.S. default. It's a chain of events specific to the satiric world of the novel -- which Shteyngart noted makes the current standstill in Washington seem even more absurd. We don't yet have other central banks breathing down our necks. So why trigger such a potentially catastrophic event?  
 "The debt talk is just complete nonsense," he said. "It's all calculated to appeal narrowly to a political base. No one really thinks that it'll help anyone if our debt rating gets downgraded."  
 Shteyngart said that he's depressed by how many of the parodic, extreme predictions he's made have come true. So with his next book, which he's in the midst of writing, he's getting out of the futurist game. Instead, he's looking back, in a memoir, to his experience growing up in the Soviet Union.  
 "I'm going to write about my childhood," he said. "It's about time."

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