The Algebra of Happiness: Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We
Yevgeny Zamyatin’s novel We is one of the most important “Utopian-Dystopian” novels of the first half of the 20th century and was originally considered a criticism of the Communism established in Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution, during the so-called War Communism, with the loss of revolutionary thrust and new stifling social rules. As a result, critics have seen We as a dystopian novel, in part inspired by Dostoevsky’s Poem of the Great Inquisitor.
Dostoevsky’s opposition between freedom and happiness is in fact deeply reflected in the mirror of Zamyatin’s We as the happiness of the Only State, which is really what people experiment in passively obeying the often unwritten laws issued by the Great Benefactor, is opposed to the burden of choice: the same freedom which the Great Inquisitor saves mankind from with the strict allegiance to the Church laws that, while betraying the message of the Gospel, frees mankind from sin, transferring it to the Church itself.
However, it is possible to find a different interpretation of the opposition happiness/freedom that hinges on the idea of beauty weaved into the fabric of Zamyatin’s novel. In Zamyatin’s novel, beauty takes on a redeeming role which, although totally unfree – like the dance the Author writes about at the beginning of the novel – is not subject to any kind of external constraints. This interpretation makes We no longer a dystopia, but a utopia of time, following the pattern about which Zamyatin had written in his essay Skythians? The model of a Scythian who rides along the steppe, who does not know where he comes from, nor where he is going to and whose happiness lies in the journey, in his horse, and in the endless steppe.
The idea of beauty as an endless ride therefore transforms a dystopia into a different model in which Utopia is “here and now” forever: a Utopia of time.
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