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About the Author
Yevgeny Zamyatin was born in Russia in 1884. Arrested during the abortive 1905 revolution, he was exiled twice from St. Petersburg, then given amnesty in 1913. We, composed in 1920 and 1921, elicited attacks from party-line critics and writers. In 1929, the Russian Association of Proletarian Writers launched an all-out attack against him. Denied the right to publish his work, he requested permission to leave Russia, which Stalin granted in 1931. Zamyatin went to Paris, where he died in 1937.
Mirra Ginsburg is a distinguished translator of Russian and Yiddish works by such well-known authors as Mikhail Bulgakov, Isaac Babel, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and Fyodor Dostoevsky. Editor and translator of three anthologies of Soviet science fiction, she has also edited and translated A Soviet Heretic: Essays by Yevgeny Zamyatin, and History of Soviet Literature by Vera Alexandrova.
Read an Excerpt
The Wisest of Lines
I shall simply copy, word for word, the proclamation that appeared today in the One State Gazette:
The building of the Integral will be completed in one hundred and twenty days. The great historic hour when the first Integral will soar into cosmic space is drawing near. One thousand years ago your heroic ancestors subdued the entire terrestrial globe to the power of the One State. Yours will be a still more glorious feat: you will integrate the infinite equation of the universe with the aid of the fire-breathing, electric glass Integral. You will subjugate the unknown beings on other planets, who may still be living in the primitive condition of freedom, to the beneficent 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. But before resorting to arms, we shall try the power of words.
In the name of the Benefactor, therefore, we proclaim to all the numbers of the One State:
Everyone who feels capable of doing so must compose tracts, odes, manifestoes, Poems, or other works extolling the beauty and the grandeur of the One
This will be the first cargo to be carried by the In
Long live the One State, long live the numbers,
long live the Benefactor!
I write this, and I feel: my cheeks are burning. Yes, to integrate the grandiose cosmic equation. Yes, to unbend the wild, primitive curve and straighten it to a tangent-an asymptote a straight line. For the line of the One State is thestraight line. The great, divine, exact, wise straight linethe wisest of all lines.
1, D-503, Builder of the Integral, am only one of the mathematicians of the One State. My pen, accustomed to figures, does not know how to create the music of assonances and rhymes. I shall merely attempt to record what I see and think, Or, to be more exact, what we think (precisely so-we, and let this We be the title of MY record) . But since this record will be a derivative of our life, of the mathematically Perfect life of the One State, will it not be, of itself, and regardless of my will or skill, a poem? it will. I believe, I know it
I write this, and my cheeks are burning- This must be similar to what a woman feels when she first senses within herself the pulse of a new, still tiny, still blind little human being. It is 1, and at the same time, not 1. And for many long months it will be necessary to nourish it with my own life, my own blood, then tear it painfully from myself and lay it at the feet of the One State.
But I am ready, like every one, or almost every one, of us. I am ready.
Spring. From beyond the Green Wall, from the wild, invisible plains, the wind brings yellow honey pollen of some unknown flowers. The sweet pollen dries your lips, and every minute you pass your tongue over them. The Ups of all the women you see must be sweet (of the men, too, of course). This interferes to some extent with the flow of logical thought.
But the sky! Blue, unblemished by a single cloud. (How wild the tastes of the ancients, whose poets could be inspired by those absurd, disorderly, stupidly tumbling piles of vapor!) I Iove I am certain I can safely say, we love-only such a sterile, immaculate sky. On days like this the whole world is cast of the same impregnable, eternal glass as the Green Wall, as all our buildings. On days like this you see the bluest depth of things, their hitherto unknown, astonishing equations-you see them even in the most familiar everyday objects.
Take, for instance, this. In the morning I was at the dock where the Integral is being built, and suddenly I saw: the lathes; the regulator spheres rotating with dosed eyes, utterly oblivious of all; the cranks flashing, swinging left and right; the balance beam proudly swaying its shoulders; the bit of the slotting machine dancing up and down in time to unheard music. Suddenly I saw the whole beauty of this grandiose mechanical ballet, flooded with pale blue sunlight.
And then, to myself: Why is this beautiful? Why is dance beautiful? Answer: because it is unfree motion, because the whole profound meaning of dance lies precisely in absolute, esthetic subordination, in ideal unfreedom. And if it is true that our forebears abandoned themselves to dance at the most exalted moments of their lives (religious mysteries, military parades), it means only one thing: the instinct of unfreedom is organically inherent in man from time immemorial, and we, in our present life, are only consciously....
I will have to finish later: the annunciator clicked. I looked up: 0-90, of course. In half a minute she'll be here, for our daily walk.
Dear O! It always seems to me that she looks exactly like her name: about ten centimeters shorter than the Maternal Norm, and therefore carved in the round, all of her, with that pink O, her mouth, open to meet every word I say. And also, that round, plump fold on her wrist, like a baby's.
When she came in, the flywheel of logic was still humming at full swing within me, and I began, by sheer force of inertia, to speak to her about the formula I had just established, which encompassed everything dance, machines, and all of us.
"Marvelous, isn't it?" I asked.
"Yes, marvelous." O-90 smiled rosily at me. "It's spring."
Well, wouldn't you know: spring ... She talks ,about spring. Women ... I fell silent.
Downstairs, the avenue was full. In such weathers the...