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)
The 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