Zamiatin, Yevgeny

Tagged: Author

(1884-1937) Russian writer who graduated in naval engineering from St Petersburg Polytechnical Institute; his studies were interrupted by participation in the 1905 Revolution as a Bolshevik, prison and deportation (a sentence which was renewed 1911-1913). He began writing in 1908, withdrew from active politics, lectured at the Polytechnic Institute until his emigration, ran foul of the Tsarist censor in 1914, and built icebreakers in the UK 1916-1917.

Zamiatin wrote about forty volumes of stories, fables, plays, excellent essays, and two novels. After the October Revolution he became a prominent figure in key literary groups, guru for a whole school of young writers, and editor of an ambitious publishing programme of books from the West; he wrote prefaces for works by Jack London, George Bernard Shaw, H G Wells, etc. From 1921 on he incurred much critical disfavour and some censorship which culminated in a campaign of vilification by the dominant literary faction, especially after My (see below) was published in Volya Rossil, a Prague-based émigré journal, in 1927. After writing a dignified letter to Stalin, Zamiatin was allowed to go to Paris (retaining his Soviet passport), where he died shunned by both Soviet officialdom and right-wing émigrés. My (written 1920, circulated in manuscript; trans Gregory Zilboorg as We 1924; first Russian-language book publication 1952) deals with the relation between the principles of Revolution (life) and Entropy (death). By incorporating elements of Ostrovityane (written 1917; 1922 chap; trans Sophie Fuller and Julian Sacchi as the title story in Islanders, and The Fisher of Men, coll 1984 chap), a Satirical novella he had written about UK philistinism (which features coupons for rationing sex, and the "Taylorite" regulation of every moment of the day), Zamiatin signalled his intention to extrapolate upon the repressive potentials of every centralized state. Committed to the scientific method even in his narrative form, which mimics lab notes, Zamiatin's explanation for why rationalism turns sour is mythical: every belief, when victorious, must turn repressive, as did Christianity. The only irrational elements remaining are the human beings who deviate: these include the narrator – a mathematician and designer of a rocket ship – and the woman who represents an underground resistance. The plot is modelled on an inevitable Fall (for the rebellion inevitably fails), ending in an ironic crucifixion. In Zamiatin's terms, My judges yesterday's Utopia, as it becomes an absolutism, in the name of tomorrow's utopia – for the principle of utopia itself is not repudiated; the book is thus not a Dystopia.

The expressionistic language of My, which imparts a sense of elegant but humanly charged economy to the text, helps to subsume the protagonist's defeat under the novel's concern for the integration of humanity's science and art (including love). Zamiatin demonstrates that utopia should not be a new religion (albeit of mathematics and space flights) but should represent the dynamic horizon of mankind's developing personality. My is the paradigmatic anti-utopia, prefiguring George Orwell and Aldous Huxley and superseding that tradition of utopianism, from Sir Thomas More on, which ignores technology and anthropology. By analysing the distortions of the utopia through the hyperbolic prism of sf, Zamiatin wrote an intensely practical text. It is both a masterpiece of sf and an indispensable book of our epoch. This sense of the book was finally confirmed by Zamiatin's rehabilitation in the USSR in the glasnost year 1988.

Another work of sf interest is "A Story about the Most Important Thing" (1927; trans Michael Glenny in Zamiatin's The Dragon, coll 1967). [DS]

see also: Crime and Punishment; History of SF; Linguistics; Music; Politics; Russia.

Yevgeny Ivanovich Zamiatin

born Lebedyan', Russia: 1 February 1884

died Paris: 10 March 1937

works

  • Ostrovityane (no publisher found: 1922) [chap: written 1917: binding unknown/]
    • Islanders, and The Fisher of Men (Edinburgh, Scotland: Salamander, 1984) [coll: chap: trans by Sophie Fuller and Julian Sacchi of the above and other material: hb/]
  • We (New York: E P Dutton and Company, 1924) [trans by Gregory Zilboorg from the Russian ms: hb/nonpictorial]
    • We (London: Jonathan Cape, 1970) [new trans by Bernard Guilbert Guerney of the above, with introduction and biographical note by Michael Glenny: hb/]
    • We (New York: Viking Press, 1972) [new trans by Mirra Ginsburg of the above: hb/]
  • The Dragon: Fifteen Stories (New York: Random House, 1967) [coll: trans from various sources by Mirra Ginsburg: hb/]

nonfiction

  • A Soviet Heretic (Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press, 1970) [nonfiction: essays edited and trans Mirra Ginsburg: hb/]

about the author

links

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