"[Zamyatin's] intuitive grasp of the irrational side of totalitarianism- human sacrifice, cruelty as an end in itself-makes [We] superior to Huxley's [Brave New World]."
An inspiration for George Orwell's 1984 and a precursor to the work of Philip K. Dick and Stanislaw Lem, We is a classic of dystopian science fiction ripe for rediscovery. Written in 1921 by the Russian revolutionary Yevgeny Zamyatin, this story of the thirtieth century is set in the One State, a society where all live for the collective good and individual freedom does not exist. The novel takes the form of the diary of state mathematician D-503, who, to his shock, experiences the most disruptive emotion imaginable: love for another human being.
At once satirical and sobering-and now available in a powerful new modern translation-We speaks to all who have suffered under repression of their personal and artistic freedom.
"One of the greatest novels of the twentieth century."
First published in the Soviet 1920s, Zamyatin's dystopic novel left an indelible watermark on 20th-century culture, from Orwell's 1984 to Terry Gilliam's movie Brazil. Randall's exciting new translation strips away the Cold War connotations and makes us conscious of Zamyatin's other influences, from Dostoyevski to German expressionism. D-503 is a loyal "cipher" of the totalitarian One State, literally walled in by glass; he is a mathematician happily building the world's first rocket, but his life is changed by meeting I-330, a woman with "sharp teeth" who keeps emerging out of a sudden vampirish dusk to smile wickedly on the poor narrator and drive him wild with desire. (When she first forces him to drink alcohol, the mind leaps to Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angel.) In becoming a slave to love, D-503 becomes, briefly, a free man. In Randall's hands, Zamyatin's modernist idiom crackles ("I only remember his fingers: they flew out of his sleeve, like bundles of beams"), though the novel sometimes seems prophetic of the onset of Stalinism, particularly in the bleak ending. Modern Library's reintroduction of Zamyatin's novel is a literary event sure to bring this neglected classic to the attention of a new readership. (On sale July 11)
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July 10, 2006
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Excerpt from We by Yevgeny Zamyatin
A Declaration. The Wisest of Lines. A Poem.
I am merely copying, word for word, what was printed in the State Gazette today:
In 120 days, the construction of the Integral will be complete. The great, historic hour when the Integral will soar through the Earth's atmosphere is nigh. Some thousand years ago, your heroic ancestors subjugated the Earth to the power of the One State. Today, you are confronting an even greater conquest: the integration of the infinite equation of the universe with the crystalline, electrified, and fire-breathing Integral. You are confronting unknown creatures on alien planets, who may still be living in the savage state of freedom, and subjugating them to the beneficial yoke of reason. If they won't understand that we bring them mathematically infallible happiness, it will be our duty to force them to be happy. But before resorting to arms, we will employ words.
In the name of the Benefactor, let it be known to all ciphers of the One State:
All those who are able are required to create treatises, poems, manifestos, odes, or any other composition addressing the beauty and majesty of the One State.
These works will compose the first cargo of the Integral.
All hail the One State, all hail ciphers, all hail the Benefactor!
As I write this, I feel something: my cheeks are burning. Integrating the grand equation of the universe: yes. Taming a wild zigzag along a tangent, toward the asymptote, into a straight line: yes. You see, the line of the One State--it is a straight line. A great, divine, precise, wise, straight line--the wisest of lines.
I am D-503. I am the Builder of the Integral. I am only one of the mathematicians of the One State. My pen, more accustomed to mathematical figures, is not up to the task of creating the music of unison and rhyme. But I might as well attempt to record what I see, what I think--or, more exactly, what we think. (Yes, that's right: we. And let that also be the title of these records: We.) So these records will be manufactured from the stuff of our life, from the mathematically perfect life of the One State, and, as such, might they become, inadvertently, regardless of my intentions, a poem? Yes--I believe so and I know so.
As I write this: I feel my cheeks burn. I suppose this resembles what a woman experiences when she first hears a new pulse within her--the pulse of a tiny, unseeing, mini-being. These records are me; and simultaneously not me. And they will feed for many months on my sap, my blood, and then, in anguish, they will be ripped from my self and placed at the foot of the One State.
But I am ready and willing, just as every one--or almost every one of us. I am ready.
Ballet. Quadratic Harmony. X.
Spring. From beyond the Green Wall, from the wild, invisible plains, the wind brings the yellow honey-dust from a flower of some kind. This sweet dust parches the lips--you skim your tongue across them every minute--and you presume that there are sweet lips on every woman you encounter (and man, of course). This somewhat interferes with logical reasoning.
But then, the sky! Blue, untainted by a single cloud (the Ancients had such barbarous tastes given that their poets could have been inspired by such stupid, sloppy, silly-lingering clumps of vapor). I love--and I'm certain that I'm not mistaken if I say we love--skies like this, sterile and flawless!
On days like these, the whole world is blown from the same shatterproof, everlasting glass as the glass of the Green Wall and of all our structures. On days like these, you can see to the very blue depths of things, to their unknown surfaces, those marvelous expressions of mathematical equality--which exist in even the most usual and everyday objects.
For instance, this morning I was at the hangar, where the Integral is being built, and suddenly: I noticed the machines. Eyes shut, oblivious, the spheres of the regulators were spinning; the cranks were twinkling, dipping to the right and to the left; the shoulders of the balance wheel were rocking proudly; and the cutting head of the perforating machine curtsied, keeping time with some inaudible music. Instantly I saw the greater beauty of this grand mechanized ballet, suffused with nimble pale-blue sunbeams.
And then I thought to myself: why? Is this beautiful? Why is this dance beautiful? The answer: because it is non-free movement, because the whole profound point of this dance lies precisely in its absolute, aesthetic subordination, its perfect non-freedom. If indeed our ancestors were prone to dancing at the most inspired moments of their lives (religious mysteries, military parades), then all this can only mean one thing: the instinct for non-freedom, from the earliest of times, is inherently characteristic of humankind, and we, in our very contemporary life, are simply more conscious . . .