13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
An Original Dystopian Classic,
This review is from: We (Paperback)
'We' is rightly regarded as a classic of 20th century literature. It may be classified as SF but, as with all great works within that genre, it is not merely a tale of future possibilities but a critique of contemporary social conditions. Naturally this work has been seen as a satire of early Soviet society; Zamyatin well understood the connection between the utopian scientism of Leninist ideology and the mechanisation of the individual implied in the practice of authoritarian collectivism.
But there is more to 'We' than a lampooning of totalitarian communism. Zamyatin wittily and chillingly takes apart the notion of utilitarianism as a viable social philosophy. Surely his OneState city of glass, where everyone can be seen by the sinister Guardians, is inspired by the Panoptican, that giveaway of the authoritarian threat underlying classic liberalism. 'We' demonstrates that rationalist faith in progress and its concomitant fetishisation of technology can lead to dictatorship, cultural stasis and the suppression of the individual. The worship of order and a putative happiness can create an oppressive metaphysics of system-over-individuals as damaging as any suprahuman utopian vision based on emotion and myth.
This is also a story of obsessive love, of the imagination irrupting into a world flattened out into a lifelessness born of the apotheosis of order and reason. Zamyatin writes powerfully of the insistence of the self that it should live, breathe, invest its being with meaning, that it should be open to creativity, to Possibility.
I would have given this book 5 stars if not for some obtrusive flaws in the translation, but these are not nearly annoying enough to spoil one's enjoyment of the story.