Friday, February 1, 2008

Understanding Zamyatin

I would like to propose a theory based on Thursday’s discussion. I have yet to read the introduction by Mirra Gingsburg and only vaguely grasp the prominent issues in 1920’s Russia. That said, it seems to me that Zamyatin’s sociopolitical position in We is based on a belief that dictating governments cannot flourish while denying the nature of the people they govern. An argument, which when tangled with We’s plot, seems to suggest the dissenting statement: “you’ll have to lobotomize everyone if you want this type of society.”

Now perhaps it’s not everyone, but surely Zamyatin himself could be interpreted as dangerous in the One State… and in Russia (where his books were banned, following the first publication of We).

Straight from Wiki to you: "True literature can only exist when it is created, not by diligent and reliable officials, but by madmen, hermits, heretics, dreamers, rebels and skeptics" -- Zamyatin

So Zamyatin unabashedly values dissent and rebellion. But when applying this knowledge to We it is unclear whether Zamyatin’s personality and approach to these values more closely identifies with D-503, I-330, or even R-13. It would be my guess that Zamyatin indentifies with all the characters in We, from the protagonist to the indistinct antagonists (at least in their intent and emotion, if not action); the conflict, miscommunication, and confusion between the characters likely reflects his own lack of answers. I think Zamyatin would humbly agree he did not have the answers, but neither did Russian leaders, or the One State.


kdl63 said...

I had sort of the same feeling after finding out that it took We many years to be published. It seems that Russia didn't want Zamyatin's ideas floating around and having an effect on people much like I-330's.

Ellen M said...

I think Zamyatin is most similar to I-330 as well. When he was forced to leave Russia, I'm sure he felt some distain for the country similar to I-330's attitude towards the One State.

christo said...

I agree... if Zamyatin identifies with any of the characters in the book it would be I-330. Zamyatin maybe didn't have all of the answers but he knew that what Russia was becoming was not good. Throughout the entire book he makes the whole idea of communism and those who agree with it look ridiculous. The One State is almost identical to a communist/fascist society. The benefactor has all the power and makes all of the rules. He decides what is and isn't good for the society, people are given jobs based on the aptitudes they are born with or tested with, the assemblies resemble communist functions, the benefactor is seen almost as a deity -- just as communist leaders often are, aspects of the old world are criticized and laughed at -- just as aspects of the outside world are in communist societies (one example being this very book). Also, there seems to be an exaggerated form of patriotism and the belief that the good of the one state is far more important that the welfare of the individual -- also found in communist societies. One example I remember (I don't have my book on me) where Zamyatin makes such beliefs look stupid is when a few of the numbers are killed when the Integral is being tested and no one really cares -- they just keep going on like nothing happened because it was such a small portion of the population that it didn't really matter. Also, the way he portrays all of the common people of the One State as mindless idiots believing everything they hear is an obvious bash on communism. I don't really think Zamyatin added the lobotomy part to say that it was necessary for the society to work, but rather used it as another tool to make communism look retarded or tell people "look, if you keep letting the government control everything in this society and we continue on this path, eventually we're going to lose everything we once loved about life and perhaps be so far out of reality that we are tricked into doing something stupid like getting lobotomized simply because the government said it was good for us."