Zamyatin Analysis

Topics: Utopia, Dystopia, Human nature Pages: 12 (4704 words) Published: September 26, 2013

Zamyatin Analysis

Sacrifice the Self

The concept of a perfect society, or utopia, has inspired thought and philosophical supposition for millennia. With the hope of one day attaining the social perfection of utopia, humanity has explored countless possible methods for achieving it. The resulting intellectual labors have produced such optimistic works as Plato’s Republic and Thomas Moore’s Utopia, claiming that logic and reason, as the distinguishing traits of humanity, are the conduits through which mankind may achieve a perfect society; however, the same pursuit of utopia has also more recently yielded modern literary works that claim that logic and reason are the very creators of societies that are infernal in nature, as illustrated by the inhuman communities of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and George Orwell’s 1984. The similarity shared between all of the imaginary societies in these works is the fact that each society claims “perfection” through their governance under the standard that the attitudes, actions, emotions, and wishes of humanity are all uniformly measureable and predictable. Reacting to this idea, Krishan Kumar, author of Utopia and Anti-Utopia in Modern Times, postulates that “the utilitarian and materialist cast of [logical and mathematical] ideologies [deny] any place and meaning to the ‘soul’ or to any other human attribute that [can] not be scientifically analyzed and empirically observed” (123). In other words, logical societies look upon mankind through the lens of mathematical constructs, completely without regard for the personal wants of the individual or the impulsive and irregular human elements that compose “the soul.” The arithmetically perfect society of the One State in Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We exemplifies a social engine that attaches itself so blindly to the securities of logic and science as the saving graces of its human populace that its citizenry is left with little choice but to deny their individualistic qualities and become nothing more but the mass-produced, uniform components of the State’s “mathematically perfect” communal machine. Written in the 1920s, Zamyatin’s One State reflects the early 20th century’s anxiety of technological advancement, yet the pervasive and ancient echo of Plato’s Republic is also present in abundance. On the surface, several comparisons can be drawn between Socrates’ concept of a perfect city in Republic and the One State of We. Both societies assign their citizens jobs and occupations based on their fitness for those jobs as well as share children communally (meaning that no single “mother” or “father” may be attributed to any single “son” or “daughter”); they entrust their governance to a single leader whom the public considers “enlightened” and absolutely fit to rule through his superior intellect and judgment, and the two societies also both enlist certain citizens as “Guardians” to defend the interests of the government.

Though these ideas may superficially appear to be beneficial to a human society and seem to have the makings of a utopia, it must be recognized that all utopian ideals have the potential to become perverted and turn what would be a perfect and proper society into a twisted dystopia, or what Kumar calls “anti-Utopia,” the very “shadow of utopia”:

[U]topia and anti-utopia are antithetical yet interdependent. […] The anti-utopia is formed by utopia, and feeds parasitically on it. […] It is utopia that provides the positive content to which anti-utopia makes the negative response. Anti-utopia draws its material from utopia and reassembles it in a manner that denies the affirmation of utopia. (100)

Dystopia is, therefore, present wherever utopia has the potential to arise. In fact, according to Jean-Paul Sartre’s existentialist interpretation of ideas that come into being in his essay Being and Nothingness, any “[utopian ideal], if it is suddenly placed outside the subjective, can only affirm itself as distinct...
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