Thursday, 10 November 2011

Ink in Dystopia



Under the clear blue skies of Yevgeny Zamyatin’s One State there is no place for ink. Ink with its unpredictability and propensity to stain is contrary to uniformity and productive efficiency. In Zamyatin’s We the One State is surrounded by a glass wall which shields it from the feral nature without. The One State’s citizens are uniformed and numbered, marching in step and following precisely their hourly tasks as set by The Table and under the eye of The Benefactor and The Guardians. How ink is even allowed to exist, let alone being used in this benevolent brave new One State?

D-503, State mathematician and chief engineer of The Integral, the spaceship that will carry the One State’s teachings to the rest of the universe, is having second thoughts. Dreams are invading his structured world, disrupting his state-prescribed sleep, clouding his judgement and adoration for the One State. Falling in love with I-330 he is inadvertently embroiled into the Mephi, the One State’s enemies. “An ink droplet had clouded [his] transparent solution.”

The permanently blue skies of the One State are no more. “Then another wound: a blurred smudge on the bottom right-hand corner of the page where a drop had fallen... I can’t stand smudges – whether it was the ink or from...” The Day of the One Vote when all ciphers vote unanimously in favour of The Benefactor – a cause for pride and celebration – is ruined. The unif that symbol of equality, efficiency and uniformity is ruined by a spot of ink. The revolt gathers pace and “it’s like having the rug pulled out from under you – and you, along with everything that is here on the table – the paper, the ink... The ink spills and everything is smudged.”

Was it ink that D-503 used to keep the record of his thoughts and doubts? The inside of his mouth is dry “as though coated with blotting paper.” He relents. He denounces. He has the Great Operation to remove his imagination. He recognises his handwriting but none of the feelings. He is healthy, smudge-free and able to watch I-330, his lover, tortured and put to death. Ink has no place in dystopia.



Yevgeny Zamyatin, We, first published 1924 in English with a translation by Gregory Zilboorg 

7 comments:

  1. What's "unif" (3rd para.)? Anyway, "We" is a novel I've promised myself to read for a zillion years. Jack/Ohio USA

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  2. Hi, Jack, thanks for dropping by. A unif is short for uniform. All ciphers (that's how citizens of the One State are called) were identical unifs.

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  3. I ordered "We", Lito--just needed a nudge, I guess. We may have something like Huxley's soma in the States, if you count sufficient discretionary income spread widely enough. Bread-and-circuses money inducing people to shrug their shoulders at suffocating bureaucracies in business and academia, "corporatist" government unhinged from Constitutionality and commonsense norms of decency, etc.

    Jack/Ohio USA

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  4. Picked up "We" Friday. Two quick thoughts: a once voracious reader, I have a hard time diving into a book these days; as youngsters (back in the '60s and '70s), some of us believed in Progress through Science. I for one don't believe that any more. I suspect I have company, too. Jack/Ohio USA

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  5. You mean you find it difficult to read?

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  6. My eyeglasses work fine, Lito. (Sorry for not being clear.) I meant cognitively, or psychologically---whatever the right term is---I sometimes sort of "resist" plowing into books. I'm not sure I have any great explanation, either. Jack/Ohio USA

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  7. Finally started reading "We"--and it's jarring. I have to remind myself that rationalist schemes of perfectability look pretty good if you're an overworked factory laborer or landless peasant. Jack/USA

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