Thursday, May 30, 2013

Zamyatin's "We"

I re-read this classic, in Polish translation, after 20 or more years. I think I first read it still in my Yugoslavian time, in the 1980-ies. How different the world is now! Then I was living in one of more successful societies which tried to build some kind of utopia, fueled by authoritarian thirst for power. It was not the worst one, oh no, compared to some more gruesome places! Later I lived in ruins of Soviet Reich, early 1990-ies Poland, and I started the new Millenium in more direct descendent of chillingly cold East Germany, just nearby the former Wall-I strolled daily with my kids along the former line of death which was running between the wall and minefields. I also lived in Greece with its endless strikes and Che Guevara-like angry youth on the streets, throwing Molotow's. Currently I am living at the aim of 1100 missiles of Big Red Brother (mainland China), in KMT safe haven, Taiwan, or, how they want to call it, Republic of China. I am writing this list that you would know I am not exactly a virgin when it goes about totalitarian regimes and its aftermats. I know what it is all about.

This novel is least known of the three which marked the 20-th century writing on dystopia ("Brave New World" by Huxley and "1984" by Orwell being the other two). It was also the first, as written in 1920 (!). And I must say, it seems it has some qualities which will make it frighteningly more realistic in times to come. At the beginning it seems a bit naive, but as we go deeper into the story, this illusion dissolves in real, painful struggle of a main hero for...sanity. Sanity without imagination, which is an illness, atavism from some remote, savage, hairy ancestors. It has to be shaved off, like an excess of body hair. This is the only, and last, prerequisite of Happiness. It will be incurred on you, if you happen not to be healthy enough to see it's benefits for you, if you are so hopelessly ill. They, the government, just and mighty, your benefactors, will help you with this minor trouble.

Description of a society which imploded successfully, to thrive in perfect order, for centuries, reminds me of North Korea nowadays. It must be that it's Great Leader loved "We". Is it the only society which I can identify, today, with this novel? China The Great departed from that path, even if The Party (let the Party leaders and their descendants and their pets and their litter live a long and happy life, they are the real Benefactors of their people, working so hard for the country...) claims to follow some old principles, no no, they broke the wall. Soviet heaven collapsed, and the new Oligarhs of Russia are still in the process of building the towers of power... Surprisingly, they are far too humane for it to happen. How about West, is there some hidden gem, which would, like in Orwell's Anglsoc, hint the possible cuckoo's egg? Except for European bureaucracy, which, fortunately, does not yet have arms to impose their vision of happiness on their subjects, I do not see such power. But we should take note, there is something to beware of in that bastard of European Union and Anglo-American vision of Reality. It still has potential for Anglsoc, it always had. Not for nothing it can develop a blind spot in its vision on demand, like it was "not noticing" suffering of East Europe for decades, or failed to notice minor disturbances of common decency in Middle East or Asia, Africa, when millions of people happened to be killed, starved... Or when it was so charmingly enchanted by Mao the Great Pig Eater, and, in fact, still is.

What I learned from Zamyatin this time? I was reminded that there are basic human values which should be pursued whatever the cost. It might seem prosaic, but in this time of Great Globalization sweep, it is not so prosaic as you might think. Life of a Consumer of Goods is onto you, and can you, with clean conscience, say that you are still fully living your human life, when Media is selling you a Celebrity life as a model... Thinking your own thoughts, breathing non-polluted air, drinking clean water, eating natural food, seeing the twinkling stars? Can you, without blush on your cheeks because of a failure, recall real, deep love relationships, worth living through or longing for?

It might seem prosaic, but many, so many, could need Prozac to cope with it.

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