We (Yevgeny Zamyatin): Numbers, Entropy and the Infinite

1/1001 for the 2014 Bookathon!

You will subjugate the unknown beings on other planets, who may still be living in the primitive condition of freedom, to the beneficient yoke of reason. If they fail to understand that we bring them mathematically infallible happiness, it will be our duty to compel them to be happy.

D-503, First Entry


Classic to modern dystopian literature happens to be one of my favorite genres — in fact, my lit paper in fourth year was on social activism and the rise of contemporary young adult dystopian lit. And to that effect I’ve read some of the hallmarks: 1984, Brave New World, (my lit crush) Bergeron and Player Piano, and Omelas. The grandfather of this genre, We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, reflects much of the same themes and philosophical conundrums.

There is the existence of social engineering, but unlike most others, the engineering here relies less on eugenics and suppression of the already expressed genes, and is enforced more through intense social norms and culturalization. Tools like the Table of Hours, Personal Hour and Maternity Norms are upheld. Also interesting is the lack of censorship of the past — the ways of the ancestors are well-known, though badly perceived. Everyone knows about the Two Hundred Years’ War, and about the ridiculous cut down of the world population. In fact some ancient language is retained, even if there is no reason to do so (the represented object no longer exists within the Glass Wall) and an Ancient House stands as some sort of museum.

And unlike the soma and intense pleasure in BNW (used to placate citizens and ensure happiness), sex and relationships are regulated with pink coupons. Alcohol and nicotine are not a thing. No censorship and surveillance in the style of 1984 (though the fact that everything is made of glass makes surveillance a given), or calm inculcation and acceptance as in Omelas. In the novel, happiness stems from the feeling of obsessive, fanatic dedication to the One State and to that odd Benefactor. And there is dedication to order, reason and logic: math, music, dance. There is no room for uncertainty, no room for dreaming and actual feeling. There is the We and not much else.

But, like most other dystopian fic, D-503 meets a catalyst (or experiences one) in the form of I-330 –a revolution, the discovery of a soul, the bold streak of possibility– and it ends. Nowhere (for him).

(Let it be known that there’re lots of sexualization of lips and machismo in this novel.)

(There is no final number.) (Or is there?)

My principle in blogging about books: The author is very much dead, the reader very much alive.

I chose this book to be the first because it’s new, but entirely familiar. The reading experience itself was average: the story’s a bit slow to hook, but engaging in many parts later. Some sections gave me difficulty in understanding or following the descriptions. But it was only 200 or so pages in .epub format, so it can be read in one sitting (it took me very much longer).

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