Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Irrational World

by Yevgeny Zamyatin

"And here in this cleanest sharp air, I see my rationale about my "rights" burst with a slight pop, like a pneumatic tire.  And I can see clearly that theses ideas about "rights" were merely a throwback from a ridiculous superstition of the Ancients." (p 102)

D-503 lives in a perfect world, the One State, where everyone lives for the whole collective and there is no individual freedom. We by Yevgeny Zamyatin is a record of the diary of D-503, a mathematician who is living and working in this apparent Utopia. However the cracks appear and it becomes clear that this is really a Dystopia. Dystopia is utopia's polarized mirror image. While using many of the same concepts as utopia—for example, social stability created by authoritarian regimentation—dystopia presents these ideas pessimistically. Dystopia angrily challenges Utopia's fundamental assumption of human perfectibility, arguing that humanity's inherent flaws negate the possibility of constructing perfect societies, except for those that are perfectly hellish. Fictional Dystopias like the one in We present grim, oppressive societies.
Zamyatin skillfully has his protagonist slowly discover the true nature of his world and his own being. The changes begin with discoveries like that of irrational numbers: "This irrational root had sunk into me, like something foreign, alien, frightening, it devoured me--it couldn't be comprehended or defused because it was beyond ratios." (p 36)  The world of D-503 is two centuries in the future and much of the thinking of the "Ancients" has been lost but all is not forgotten, unfortunately what is remembered is treated mainly with disdain as superstitious nonsense.  It does not belong in the perfect world of the One State.
D-503 realizes he is more than a mathematician, he is a poet, and "Every genuine poet is necessarily a Columbus. America existed for centuries before Columbus, but it was only Columbus who was able to track it down. " (p 59). But he has his doubts. He meets I-330, a temptress who defies the rules, and he finds her appealing. Their relationship reminded me of the myth of Adam and Eve in the Garden. The story told by D-503 in his diary is a tragedy for him, but not necessarily for the state in which he exists. This reader found the logic of his journey appealing even while the symbols and references of the author were often mysterious and elusive. The novel was most effective in its portrayal of the atmosphere, the feeling of what it was like to live in the collective world of the One State. In this Zamyatin showed the way for Huxley , Orwell, Bradbury and others who followed him in establishing the twentieth-century Dystopian literary tradition.

View all my reviews

No comments: