The Divinely Rational

518NyrtPIkL._SX306_BO1,204,203,200_

In 1917, Nicholas II, Emperor of All Russia, was toppled, leaving in his wake a slew of provisional governments which could be likened to anarchy. In the midst of a bloody three year civil war, Yevgeny Zamyatin wrote his dystopian novel We. The work presented a futuristic society in which people were identified by letter and numbers and worked mindlessly for the betterment of the “One State.”1 The main character, D-503 recounted his descent from a respected mathematician of good standing within the state, to the accomplice of a revolutionary looking to return society to its natural state. Zamyatin sharply satirized the utopian ideals of many of his contemporaries, specifically those pertaining to the glorification of machinery. Zamyatin often likened D-503 to a machine, at one point his hero explicitly stated “I am like a machine being driven to excessive rotations: the bearings are incandescing and, in a minute, melted metal will begin to drip and everything will turn to nothing. Quick: get cold water, logic.”2

The concept of man as machine alludes to those in 1920 Russia who feverishly purported that mechanization was a savior; if the proletariat could be made into machines, Russia would infinitely prosper. After D-503’s revolutionary lover I-333 hatched a plot to steal the Integral space ship, the State Gazette, the newspaper of the “One State,” announced a forced procedure to remove all citizens’ imaginations. In this announcement, the benefits were described as “you will be perfect, you will be machine-equal.”3 This desire for the automation of humanity, for a “divinely rational”4 life culminated in the loss of all mortal values and joys; happiness became the absence of thought and arithmetic replaced all emotion. Zamyatin criticized both the ideas behind and the very revolution that had occurred in front of his eyes. D-503, in attempting to confine the world to the finite, spoke for a Bolshevik blinded by utopian ideals: “our revolution was the last. And there cannot be any more revolutions…everyone knows that…”5

Picture from: http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/518NyrtPIkL._SX306_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

  1. Yevgeny Zamyatin. We . Translated by Natasha S. Randall. New York: Random House, 2006. []
  2. Zamyatin, 119 []
  3. Zamyatin, 158 []
  4. Zamyatin, 61 []
  5. Zamyatin, 153 []

One thought on “The Divinely Rational

  1. This was a rather keen analysis of the novel, especially in its placing the writing into its context. A quick note since it is your first sentence, you use the passive voice: “Nicholas II […] was toppled.” Who toppled him?

    I also agree with your notions of the furthering of the “rational,” in the novel, and its emphasis throughout. Perhaps, it could be stated then, that this is an critique of Enlightenment ideals as well? The Romantic period, which “unofficially” ended about a quarter-century before the Zamyatin published the novel, also critiqued the removal of emotion and the extreme championing of science. (Perhaps the greatest critique of this was the novel, Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley.)

    Do you think that, along with the Russian Civil War, World War I had an impact on Zamyatin’s writing? In class, we discussed the idea of converting massive populations into a resource, an idea which led to the slaughter of millions in World War I.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *