Yevgeny Ivanovich Zamyatin [Евге́ний Ива́нович Замя́тин — also romanized as Eugene Zamiatin, as well as Evgeny, Evgenij; Ivenovitch, Evenovitch, and Zamjatin] (February 1, 1884 – March 10, 1937) was a Russian author famous for his dystopian novel, We, which influenced and inspired later dystopian works such as Aldous Huxley's Brave New World and George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four.
- Every today is at the same time both a cradle and a shroud: a shroud for yesterday, a cradle for tomorrow. Today, yesterday, and tomorrow are equally near to one another, and equally far. They are generations, they are grandfathers, fathers, and grandsons. And grandsons invariably love and hate the fathers; the fathers invariably hate and love the grandfathers.
Today is doomed to die — because yesterday died, and because tomorrow will be born. Such is the wise and cruel law. Cruel, because it condemns to eternal dissatisfaction those who already today see the distant peaks of tomorrow; wise, because eternal dissatisfaction is the only pledge of eternal movement forward, eternal creation. He who has found his ideal today is, like Lot's wife, already turned to a pillar of salt, has already sunk into the earth and does not move ahead. The world is kept alive only by heretics: the heretic Christ, the heretic Copernicus, the heretic Tolstoy. Our symbol of faith is heresy: tomorrow is an inevitable heresy of today, which has turned into a pillar of salt, and to yesterday, which has scattered to dust. Today denies yesterday, but is a denial of denial tomorrow. This is the constant dialectic path which in a grandiose parabola sweeps the world into infinity. Yesterday, the thesis; today, the antithesis, and tomorrow, the synthesis.
- "Tomorrow" (1919), as translated in A Soviet Heretic : Essays by Yevgeny Zamyatin (1970) edited and translated by Mirra Ginsburg
- Yesterday, there was a tsar, and there were slaves; today there is no tsar, but the slaves remain; tomorrow there will be only tsars. We march in the name of tomorrow's free man — the royal man. We have lived through the epoch of suppression of the masses; we are living in an epoch of suppression of the individual in the name of the masses; tomorrow will bring the liberation of the individual — in the name of man. Wars, imperialist and civil, have turned man into material for warfare, into a number, a cipher. Man is forgotten, for the sake of the sabbath. We want to recall something else to mind: that the sabbath is for man.
The only weapon worthy of man — of tomorrows's man — is the word.
- "Tomorrow" (1919), as translated in A Soviet Heretic : Essays by Yevgeny Zamyatin (1970) edited and translated by Mirra Ginsburg
- I turned. She was in a light, saffron-yellow dress of the ancient model. This was a thousand times more cruel than if she had worn nothing.
- It has never occurred to me before, but this is truly how it is: all of us on earth walk constantly over a seething, scarlet sea of flame, hidden below, in the belly of the earth. We never think of it. But what if the thin crust under our feet should turn into glass and we should suddenly see.
I became glass. I saw — within myself.
- At night numbers must sleep; it is their duty, just as it is their duty to work in the daytime. Not sleeping at night is a criminal offense.
- Knowledge, absolutely sure of its infallibility, is faith.
- Those two, in paradise, were given a choice: happiness without freedom, or freedom without happiness. There was no third alternative.
- The ancient God created the old man, capable of erring — thus he erred himself.
- She moved nearer, leaned her shoulder against me- and we were one, and something flowed from her into me, and I knew: this is how it must be. I knew it with every nerve, and every hair, and every heartbeat, so sweet it verged on pain. And what joy to submit to this "must." A piece of iron must feel such joy as it submits to the precise, inevitable law that draws it to a magnet. Or a stone, thrown up, hesitating for a moment, then plunging headlong back to earth. Or a man, after the final agony, taking a last deep breath — and dying.
- "Fog.. So very.."
"Do you like fog"
She used the ancient, long-forgotten "thou" — the "thou" of the master to the slave. It entered into me slowly, sharply. Yes, I was a slave, and this, too, was necessary, was good.
"Yes, good.." I said aloud to myself. And then to her," I hate fog. I am afraid of it."
"That means you love it. You are afraid of it because it is stronger than you; you hate it because you are afraid of it: you love it because you cannot subdue it to your will. Only the unsubduable can be loved."
- D-503 and I-330
On Literature, Revolution, Entropy and Other Matters (1923)
- As translated by Mirra Ginsburg, in A Soviet Heretic : Essays by Yevgeny Zamyatin (1970) edited and translated by Mirra Ginsburg
- Ask point blank: What is revolution?
Some people will answer, paraphrasing Louis XIV: We are the revolution. Others will answer by the calendar, naming the month and the day. Still others will give you an ABC answer. But if we are to go on from the ABC to syllables, the answer will be this:
Two dead, dark stars collide with an inaudible, deafening crash and light a new star: this is revolution. A molecule breaks away from its orbit and, bursting into a neighboring atomic universe, gives birth to a new chemical element: this is revolution. Lobachevsky cracks the walls of the millennia old Euclidean world with a single book, opening a path to innumerable non-Euclidean spaces: this is revolution.
Revolution is everywhere, in everything. It is infinite. There is no final revolution, no final number. The social revolution is only one of an infinite number of numbers: the law of revolution is not a social law, but an immeasurably greater one. It is a cosmic, universal law — like the laws of the conservation of energy and of the dissipation of energy (entropy).
- The law of revolution is red, fiery, deadly; but this death means the birth of new life, a new star. And the law of entropy is cold, ice blue, like the icy interplanetary infinities. The flame turns from red to an even, warm pink, no longer deadly, but comfortable. The sun ages into a planet, convenient for highways, stores, beds, prostitutes, prisons: this is the law. And if the planet is to be kindled into youth again, it must be set on fire, it must be thrown off the smooth highway of evolution: this is the law.
The flame will cool tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow (in the Book of Genesis days are equal to years, ages). But someone must see this already today, and speak heretically today about tomorrow. Heretics are the only (bitter) remedy against the entropy of human thought.
- When the flaming, seething sphere (in science, religion, social life, art) cools, the fiery magma becomes coated with dogma—a rigid, ossified, motionless crust. Dogmatization in science, religion, social life, or art is the entropy of thought. What has become dogma no longer burns; it only gives off warmth — it is tepid, it is cool. Instead of the Sermon on the Mount, under the scorching sun, to up-raised arms and sobbing people, there is drowsy prayer in a magnificent abbey. Instead of Galileo's "But still, it turns!" there are dispassionate computations in a well-heated room in an observatory. On the Galileos, the epigones build their own structures, slowly, bit by bit, like corals. This is the path of evolution — until a new heresy explodes the crush of dogma and all the edifices of the most enduring stone which have been raised upon it.
Explosions are not very comfortable. And therefore the exploders, the heretics, are justly exterminated by fire, by axes, by words. To every today, to every evolution, to the laborious, slow, useful, most useful, creative, coral-building work, heretics are a threat. Stupidly, recklessly, they burst into today from tomorrow; they are romantics.
- A literature that is alive does not live by yesterday's clock, nor by today's but by tomorrow's. It is a sailor sent aloft: from the masthead he can see foundering ships, icebergs, and maelstroms still invisible from the deck. He can be dragged down from the mast and put to tending the boilers or working the capstan, but that will not change anything: the mast will remain, and the next man on the masthead will see what the first has seen.
In a storm, you must have a man aloft. We are in the midst of storm today, and SOS signals come from every side.
- What we need in literature today are vast philosophic horizons — horizons seen from mastheads, from airplanes; we need the most ultimate, the most fearsome, the most fearless "Why?" and "What next?"
This is what children ask. But then children are the boldest philosophers. They enter life naked, not covered by the smallest fig leaf of dogma, absolutes, creeds. This is why every question they ask is so absurdly naive and so frighteningly complex. The new men entering life today are as naked and fearless as children; and they, too, like children, like Schopenhauer, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, ask "Why?" and "What next?" Philosophers of genius, children, and the people are equally wise — because they ask equally foolish questions. Foolish to a civilized man who has a well-furnished European apartment with an excellent toilet and a well-furnished dogma.
- It is an error to divide people into the living and the dead: there are people who are dead-alive, and people who are alive-alive. The dead-alive also write, walk, speak, act. But they make no mistakes; only machines make no mistakes, and they produce only dead things. The alive-alive are constantly in error, in search, in questions, in torment.
The same is true of what we write: it walks and it talks, but it can be dead-alive or alive-alive. What is truly alive stops before nothing and ceaselessly seeks answers to absurd, "childish" questions. Let the answers be wrong, let the philosophy be mistaken — errors are more valuable than truths: truth is of the machine, error is alive; truth reassures, error disturbs. And if answers be impossible of attainment, all the better! Dealing with answered questions is the privilege of brains constructed like a cow's stomach, which, as we know, is built to digest cud.
- If there were anything fixed in nature, if there were truths, all of this would, of course, be wrong. But fortunately, all truths are erroneous. This is the very essence of the dialectical process: today's truths become errors tomorrow; there is no final number.
This truth (the only one) is for the strong alone. Weak-nerved minds insist on a finite universe, a last number; they need, in Nietzsche's words, "the crutches of certainty." The weak-nerved lack the strength to include themselves in the dialectic syllogism.
- The formal character of a living literature is the same as its inner character: it denies verities; it denies what everyone knows and what I have known until this moment. It departs from the canonical tracks, from the broad highway. … To literature today the plane surface of daily life is what the earth is to an airplane — a mere runway from which to take off, in order to rise aloft, from daily life to the realities of being, to philosophy, to the fantastic. Let yesterday's cart creak along the well-paved highways. The living have strength enough to cut away their yesterday.
- The old, slow, creaking descriptions are a thing of the past; today the rule is brevity — but every word must be supercharged, high-voltage. We must compress into a single second what was held before in a sixty-second minute.
- Science and art both project the world along certain coordinates. Differences in form are due only to differences in the coordinates. All realistic forms are projections along the fixed, plane coordinates of Euclid's world. These coordinates do not exist in nature. Nor does the finite, fixed world; this world is a convention, an abstraction, an unreality. And therefore Realism — be it "socialist" or "bourgeois" — is unreal. Far closer to reality is projection along speeding, curved surfaces — as in the new mathematics and the new art. Realism that is not primitive, not realia but realiora, consists in displacement, distortion, curvature, non-objectivity. Only the camera lens is objective.
- Zamyatin here references a statement in Latin created by the poet Vyacheslav Ivanov: a realibus ad realiora ["from the real to the more real" or “from reality toward a higher reality"]
- A new form is not intelligible to everyone; many find it difficult. Perhaps. The ordinary, the banal is, of course, simpler, more pleasant, more comfortable. Euclid's world is very simple, and Einstein's world is very difficult — but it is no longer possible to return to Euclid. No revolution, no heresy is comfortable or easy. For it is a leap, it is a break in the smooth evolutionary curve, and a break is a wound, a pain. But the wound is necessary: most of mankind suffers from hereditary sleeping sickness, and victims of this sickness (entropy) must not be allowed to sleep, or it will be their final sleep, death.
The same disease often afflicts artists and writers: they sink into satiated slumber in forms once invented and twice perfected. And they lack the strength to wound themselves, to cease loving what they once loved, to leave their old, familiar apartments filled with the scent of laurel leaves and walk away into the open field, to start anew.
Of course, to wound oneself is difficult, even dangerous. But for those who are alive, living today as yesterday and yesterday as today is still more difficult.
Quotes about Zamyatin
- There were a lot of utopias in the nineteenth century, wonderful societies that we might possibly construct. Those went pretty much out of fashion after World War I. And almost immediately one of the utopias that people were trying to construct, namely the Soviet Union, threw out a writer called Zamyatin who wrote a seminal book called We, which contains the seeds of Orwell and Huxley. Writers started doing dystopias after we saw the effects of trying to build utopias that required, unfortunately, the elimination of a lot of people before you could get to the perfect point, which never arrived.
- Zamyatin adds to our understanding of the form for forcing contradiction into outright paradox. We is clearly anti-utopian, but it is also very different from Wells's work in the way it generates and negotiates conflict. However intricate the Wellsian logical system may become, it is not confusing; Zamyatin's, even at its most simple, baffles complacent understanding.
We is a novel whose ironic ambiguity is relentless. The reader is made aware of powerful and significant symbols, but every major symbol, besides its primary signification, retains the potential for representing its exact opposite.
- John Huntington, in The Logic of Fantasy : H.G. Wells and Science Fiction (1982), Ch. 7 : Utopian and Anti-Utopian Logic, § Zamyatin's Anti-Utopia, p. 150
- Profile by John Simkin at Spartacus Educational website
- Profile at Encyclopedia of Soviet Writers
- Yevgeny Zamyatin at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database
- A Godforsaken Hole (1914) translated by Walker Foard
- Mamai (1920) as translated by Neil Cornwell
- We (1921) as translated by Gregory Zilboorg (1924)
- The Lion (1935) as translated by Eric Konkol
- Pictures as translated by Andrew Glikin-Gusinsky
- The "twists and turns" of Yevgeny Zamyatin's Life, a brief, illustrated biography by Tatyana Kukushkina
- "Yevgeny Zamyatin: Libertarian Novelist " by Jeff Riggenbach