Utopias Module Week 4: We (1924), Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)

* by Mr Andy Sawyer

Orwell reviewed We in Tribune, 4 Jan 1946, having finally found a copy "[s]everal years after hearing of its existence". He suggests that it may have been a source for Brave New World. He also notes the totalitarian, regimented society, Leader-worship, rebellion through love and the narrator's betrayal of his lover, watching her being tortured. (Orwell, Penguin Collected Essays vol 4, pp. 95-99)

Yevgeny Zamyatin (1884-1937)
We was written in 1920-21, published in USA, 1924. French translation, 1929. Czech translation, 1927, used as a cover for a Russian translation in an emigre journal. Zamyatin was exiled in 1931.

Dissatisfied narrator, D-503, and revolutionary/sexual woman I-330.

All inhabitants of OneState on view, through glass walls (except for personal hours), and under the watch of Guardians.

Future setting (26th century) after a "200 Years War": is there a local feel to OneState? Compare Orwell, and the smell of boiled cabbage and general ambiance of post-war Britain and its shoddiness and poverty in Nineteen Eighty-Four. Zamyatin's post-Symbolic, surreal style compared to Orwell's more naturalist prose.

In a society based upon rational, mathematical planning, human beings are irrational: v-1 (the irrational number) [Record 8] and the gradual realisation of D-503 that he is growing a soul. But see Suvin, p. 257: "After the physician and philosopher Bogdanov and the mathematician Tsiolkovsky, Zamyatin was the first practising scientist and engineer among significant Russian sf writers. The scientific method provided the paradigm for his thinking, and he could not seriously blame it for the deformations of life."

Record 3: "to the hall for the Taylor exercises" (Clarence Brown, 1993 Penguin translation, suggests a reference to Frederick W. Taylor, the time-and-motion specialist: see also his introduction, p. xx. And Suvin, p. 256) Further references to Taylor:
"No doubt about it, that Taylor was the genius of antiquity. True, it never finally occurred to him to extend his method over the whole of life, over every step you take right round the clock ... But still, how could they write whole libraries about someone like Kant and hardly even notice Taylor -- that prophet who could see centuries ahead?" (Record 7) "In Taylor and in math [R-13] was always bottom of the class" (Record 8)

Darko Suvin again: "Extrapolating the repressive potentials of every strong and technocratic setup, including the socialist ones, Zamyatin describes a United or Unique State 12 centuries hence ..." Suvin concludes that "Zamyatin brought to Rissian SF the realisation that the new utopian world cannot be a static changeless paradise of a new religion, albeit a religion of steel, mathematics and interplanetary flights. Refusing all canonisation, the materialist utopia must subject itself to a constant scrutiny by the light of its own principles." (p. 259)

* Suvin declares Zamyatin as a utopian, despite the strictures of Soviet literary critics, not an anti-Soviet author (p. 256): to some extent backed by Orwell: "It may well be, however, that Zamyatin did not intend the Soviet regime to be the special target of his satire ... What Zamyatin seems to be aiming at is not any particular country but the implied aims of industrial civilisation." But see O'Brien's justification of the Party in Nineteen Eighty-Four.

* D-503's imagistic, sometimes incoherent narrative reflects his agitation. "As readers, we are kept active by having to fill in the narrative's ellipses." (Csicsery-Ronay) Record 3: the narrator's realisation that it is difficult to give a realistic picture of a world to an audience who may not be familiar with it becomes his realisation that he can't imagine that audience. OneState is "the most perfect form of life". "I can't imagine a life that isn't clad in the numerical robes of the Table."

* And on "implied audiences": Who is being addressed in the appendix on Newspeak in Nineteen Eighty-Four?

How far is the world of We a dystopia? Planned and regimented, but is the ethos a benevolent totalitarianism? Record 30: I-330: "They [the founders of OneState] were right, they were a thousand times right. They make only one mistake. Afterward, they got the notion that they were the final number -- something that doesn't exist in nature." Revolution is not something that ends. Although the narrator has his imagination removed and observes his lover's death, "in the western quarters there is still chaos ... quite a lot of Numbers who have betrayed Reason." (Record 39) -- unlike Nineteen Eighty-Four which ends with the apparently complete victory of the Party.

Is D-503 actually loved by I-330 or is he being used by her as a way for the revolutionary movement to reach the Integral? Csicsery-Ronay: "We is a brilliantly ironic title: -- for D-503 can never be an "I". His identity is a function either of the State, or of I-330 ... 'energy' and 'entropy' refer to power, not to ethical values." Of the two women who love him, he betrays O-90 for I-330 and the other betrays him to the Guardians.

"Any Number has the right of access to any other Number as sexual product" (Record 5) -- "Everybody belongs to everybody else" (Brave New World)

George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)
Anthony Burgess: "What is this novel Nineteen Eighty-Four? Is it a piece of cacatopian fiction, in other words a piece of utopian fiction, or is it both? I think we have to use fairly rigid definitions here and proclaim this is not at all science fiction. This is a work not at all based on a scientific hypothesis. It is a work based on a historical hypothesis which does not lie in the future as so many scientific hypotheses do in science fiction, yet to be discovered, yet to be brought about." ("Utopia and science fiction" in Essays from Oceania and Eurasia.

Patrick Parrinder: "it is science fiction not because of the future setting but because of the "estranged" and yet cognitive status of the Thought Police, the two-way telescreen, newspeak and Oligarchical Collectivism."

The voter in the British Science Fiction Association poll for best science fiction novel of the past 50 years:
#1 -- Nineteen Eighty-Four

"It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen."

* Dislocation in time:
Clock time (the first sentence) and crystallised future time (O'Brien's image of "a boot stamping on a human face -- forever.) Winston's memories and the question of history. Can people "remember" being at war with Eastasia one minute and Eurasia the next. Rewriting history -- also leads to:
* Dislocation in language and meaning: Newspeak. The contradictions in the slogans "Freedom is Slavery", etc.

Extrapolation of reality -- the Party's rewriting of history reflects actual practice in Stalinist Russia.

A Dystopia and an attack on the very idea of utopia? The Party is not ruling for the good of humanity -- Smith is punished when he suggests that. O'Brien: "We are not interested in the good of others: we are interested solely in power ... We are different from all the oligarchies of the past, in that we know what we are doing." (Part 3: 3)

* See Orwell on James Burnham: "Burnham ... maintains that politics consists of the struggle for power and nothing else. All historical changes finally boil down to the replacement of one ruling class by another. All talk about democracy, liberty, equality, fraternity, all revolutionary movements, all visions of Utopia, or 'the classless society', or 'the kingdom of heaven on earth', or humbug ... covering the ambitions of some new class which is elbowing its way into power." ("James Burnham and the Managerial Revolution" from Polemic 3, May 1946)

Umberto Eco (in an essay written in 1984): "there is very little about the book ... that is prophetic. At least three-quarters of what Orwell narrates is not negative utopia, but history." (p. 83) Eco also stresses:
* the idea of surveillance as social control in Orwell: see the rise of closed circuit tv systems to guard public places.
* "A situation in which the ruling class is summoned to a rigid control of its morality on the basis of a criterion of efficiency, while the underclass, the proles, are accorded a wide margin of liberty for unruly behaviour, including not only the free expression of sexuality but even its programmed titillation through industrialised pornography."
* the language of modern mass media and advertising as Newspeak.
* the constant state of permanent war: "war is not something that will at some point break out, but something that breaks out every day in certain areas."
* the increasing irrelevance of who is nominally the leader "in charge": "Big Brother is useful because you still need to have a love-object but a television image will do."

If Winston Smith is "the last man" (interrogation scene with O'Brien, and original title of the novel, how is he? Nb how he and Julia come to rebel against the Party from different motives. His rebellion is ideological: hers is hedonistic. Julia has rebelled sexually "scores of times". Is this a seed of collective rebellion in the future or, like the license given the proles, a way of managing rebellion? (See Noam Chomsky on the repressive tolerance of American capitalism.)

* Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four." (Winston Smith in his diary) But OneState in We is based on the very concept that two plus two make four. "the wise, permanent happiness of the multiplication table" (Record 12)

See also:
Istvan Csicsery-Ronay Jr, "Zamyatin and the Strugaskys: the representation of freedom in We and The Snail on the Slope" in Gary Kern, Zamyatin's We: a collection of critical essays.
Umberto Eco, "Orwell, or concerning visionary power" in Apocalypse Postponed.
L. J. Hurst, "Remembrance of things to come? Nineteen Eighty-Four and The Day of the Triffids Again" in Vector 201 (Sep/Oct 1998), pp. 15-17.
Jonathan Rose, The Revised Orwell.
Benoit J. Sukerbuyk, Essays from Oceania and Eurasia: George Orwell and 1984.
Darko Suvin, "Russian sf and its utopian tradition" in Metamorphoses of Science Fiction.

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