Stuff and Nonsense: We



Our gods are here below, with us, in the Bureau, in the kitchen, in the toilet. The gods have become like us -- ergo, we've become like gods. And we're headed your way, my unknown planetary readers, we're coming to make your life divinely rational and precise, like ours.

Imagine OneState, a city-state made of glass isolated from the disorderly and primitive natural world by the Green Wall. The happy (but never free) inhabitants of OneState, named by number, live and work in utter transparency according to the strict schedule laid out by The Table of Hours. Other than the masses of numbers, the citizenry consists of the Guardians who police and the Benefactor who rules. Unless the are sick, every member of OneState is a happy and productive -- "one body with a million hands."

Imagine D-503, builder of the spaceship the Integral, designed to spread the "mathematically infallible happiness" of OneState throughout the universe. He's no dreamer, no revolutionary. Just an utterly orthodox cog in OneState's machine ... until he meets his very own manic pixie dream girl revolutionary, I-330, and develops a soul.

I spent most of my time reading We feeling vaguely annoyed by D-503. The novel is told entirely from his point-of-view and his orthodoxy becomes frustrating as the story progresses -- he seems like a child clinging to a fairy story -- and his abrupt love/obsession with I-330 seems so out of character as to be unbelievable.

But, really, I wanted to know more about I-330 and O-90. What do the women do away from D-503? Outside of sexual encounters during Personal Hours, D-503 doesn't seem to interact with women so I, the reader, don't know where the female citizens of OneState fit. I-330 is a mystery and what she does when she isn't being mysterious or sexually manipulative isn't shown. Aside from (probably) being in love with D-503 and illegally conceiving his child, I know nothing of 0-90.

My feelings of annoyance toward D-503 weren't improved any when he said things like this:

All women are lips, nothing but lips. Some are pink, supple, round -- a ring, a tender shield against the whole world. And then these: A second ago they didn't exist, and now suddenly, made by a knife, the sweet blood still dripping ...

Listen, D-503, both your sex partners -- Pink Supple Lips and Lips Like A Knife -- are revolutionaries willing to die for their particular causes and writing this kind of stuff about them just makes you sound completely unworthy of them.

Also, why did D-503 have to constantly mention R-13's African lips? It feels grossly offensive, but the book was written in 1921 so, yay, for casual racism? I actually thought, in the beginning, that Zamyatin's intention was to keep referencing the bestial in D-503 and R-13 because the bestial people on the other side of the Green Wall represented the utopia the revolutionaries strove for. So, maybe, African lips were a good thing? But then R-13 doesn't survive the revolution. And there's this:

R-13 had suddenly jumped on the bench that was above me, to the left; he was red, spitting with rage. He was carrying I-330 in his arms. She was pale, her yuny ripped open from her shoulders to her breast, blood showing on the white part. She had her arms round his neck and he was jumping from bench to bench in huge leaps, repulsive and agile as a gorilla, and carrying her toward the top.

Product of its time, blah, blah, blah. Ugh.

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin w/ trans. by Clarence Brown (Penguin Books, 1993)

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