The Cure For Fancy

The spears of her eyelashes moved apart to let me in and…How can I describe what effect that ancient, absurd, and wonderful rite has upon me when her lips touch mine?  –  Yevgeny Zamyatin , We (142)

IMG_1012The 1921 novel We by Yevgeny Zamyatin is a tale of dystopia as only a Russian reeling from the Russian Revolution could imagine. Set some thousand years into the future, the protagonist, D-503 is so earnestly committed to the United State, and to understanding and curing his irrepressible proclivity for imagination and love, that the effect is one of some serious dark humor- at least to my eyes.

A sharp physical pain in my heart. I remember my thought: “If non-physical causes produce physical pain, then it is clear that…”
I regret that I did not come to any conclusion. (133)

Told in the form of a diary, this story is particularly compelling for its focus on the impossible utopia of happiness and equality. The humor of the irony left dangling at the end of many of Zamyatin’s sentences is a difference of ardent belief and deadpan reality which seems to me a sort of Russian sensibility- a poetically negative equation. Zamyatin intelligently follows the road of fundamentalist idealism to its logical and terrifying conclusion.

Our revolution was the last one. No other revolutions may occur. Everybody knows that. (162)

D-503 is so tormented by his “fancies,” he craves clarity “unclouded by the insanity of thoughts,” but there is such sweetness to his philosophical angst, I was deeply charmed. Of course that he equates his tortured mind with irrational numbers and the square root of minus one makes me love him all the more.

This irrational root grew into me as something strange, foreign, terrible; it tortured me; it could not be thought out. It could not be defeated because it was beyond reason. (37)

I have noticed this mathematical problem as a reoccurring vexation for literary characters, but it is one that I very much appreciate. Not least of all because, for me, the beauty of math is its elegant logic, its perfect fit. Unknowns are uncomfortable.

Our hearts are nothing more than an ideal pump: a compression, i.e. a shrinking at the moment of pumping, is a technical absurdity. Hence it is clear how essentially absurd, unnatural, and pathological are all these “loves” and “pities,” etc., etc., which create that compression…(159)

A technical absurdity. And yet, and yet…why do we associate our hearts with love- because that is what hurts, that is what is broken when love is lost. And yet, Love too can be a perfect fit; and even if, as D-503 figures, L = f(D) [ love is the function of death] it cannot be suppressed, crazy as it is: “Yes, yes precisely. All must become insane; we must become insane as soon as possible! We must: I know it.” (147) We are human, and to take away our capacity for love or pain is to take away our very souls, flawed as they are. Nevertheless, to fall in love is an astonishing thing, and poor D-503, bless his number,  is simply flummoxed and quashed.

He longed for the day when someone would tell him what happiness is, and then would chain him to it. (200)

Our hearts, are the eyes into our souls. And Love, with all of its messy absurdity, is the only thing that reaches into the divinity of our shared infinity.

But, dear reader, you must think, at least a little. It helps. (11)

* translated by Gregory Zilboorg

**Thank you to catherinewillis.tumblr.com for the wonderful recommendation

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11 responses to “The Cure For Fancy

  1. Another great ost and another book to add to my reading list. I find it impossible to imagine what life would be like in 1,000 years time – tomorrow is far enough away for most of us. Will humans still exist? will literature, or even language, and if so, which one?

    On Mon, Oct 21, 2013 at 11:46 AM, so very very

  2. Oh you do tickle me with your words! “Our hearts, are the eyes into our souls. And Love, with all of its messy absurdity, is the only thing that reaches into the divinity of our shared infinity.” Somehow this strikes me as a pleasing tangent to “Celastrus Scandens” !

  3. My curiosity is piqued. (I think that is the word) Being of a certain age and a natural optimistic skeptic, I find myself wondering if the love of things like one’s children isn’t perhaps the happiest and most secure of loves…. Zamyatin’s description of the pumping heart may help me develop this line of thinking further.

  4. The premise reminds me of a cross between Orwell’s 1984 (a personal favourite; Winston 6079 Smith struggled very hard to maintain the love he found, partly due to his growing desire to defiantly be a “society of one”) and more so Huxley’s Brave New World. Who was inspired by whom?

    1000 years into the future is very difficult to envision. A fundamental issue with it is trying to imagine future economics. That will drive what manifests by then. It’s still; nevertheless, fun to try.

    In the time line for my SF art projects, I envision the following slice Circa 3000AD:

    2403
    • Hyper-Heuristic Artificial General Intelligence (HAGI) computer; personality based in Edinburgh, Scotland, woken up.

    2511
    • HAGI achieves +13 self-awareness and choses a female identity and the name Gail.

    2575
    • Intense international outcries of alleged government conspiracies to keep mankind from making contact with extraterrestrial life–as yet to be identified, prompt the Terran Confederacy (TC) to decide to pursue induction ring propulsion development.
    • China does same, and teams up with the TC.

    2590
    • Church of Pentecostal Science congregates increased to 100 000 worldwide.

    2628
    • Church of Pentecostal Science congregates increase to 300 500 worldwide.
    • Interstellar exploration remains focussed in researching Alpha Centauri for the next 827 years.

    2880
    • March 16, predicted potential impact date for asteroid (29075) 1950 DA (this is a real asteroid currently being tracked by NASA), the near Earth object with the highest known probability of crashing into Earth, with 1/300 chance, misses Earth (this is a currently known posibility, not sci-fi).

    • Wonderful stuff! That last bit reminds of reading the book by Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything, in which one gets the distinct feeling that we are imminently due for something cataclysmic. It’s so overwhelming (our impending doom) that accepting it as de facto is very nearly a complete relief. haha (might as well laugh as not!)

  5. Very surprised to see this about ‘We’ – I’d posted something on Facebook about it a month or more ago, and never hear anyone speaking of it – but he predated Orwell and another, and they liberally copied from his work – thanks

    • It was recommend to me because of an even earlier dystopia tale written, incredibly, by E.M. Forster which I wrote about in my post The Future Is Then- another blogger thought I might like the Zamyatin. The similarities are fascinating, but the differences, especially- at least to me – that seem to stem from the writer’s own country of origin are equally interesting, and make them all excellent reading.

  6. Pingback: Simple and Elegant Do Not Mean Easy | so very very

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