Zamyatin: We – 4


Daylight. Clear. Barometer at 760.

Can it be that I, D-503, really wrote all these hundreds of pages? Can it be that at one time I felt all this – or imagined that I had felt it?

The handwriting is mine. And what follows is in the very same handwriting – but, fortunately, only the handwriting is the same. There are no ravings whatsoever, no preposterous metaphors, no emotions whatsoever. Facts only. Because I am well; I am perfectly, absolutely well. I smile; I cannot help but smile: they have extracted some sort of a sliver out of my head; my head is light, empty. To be more exact: it is not empty, but there is nothing extraneous in it, nothing that would interfere with smiling (smiling is the normal state for a normal human).

Here are the facts. That evening my neighbour, who had discovered the finitude of the universe, and I, and all the others there with us, were seized for not having certifications of fantasiectomy and hauled off to the nearest auditorium (its number, 112, was for some reason familiar). There we were bound to the operating tables ands subjected to the Grand Operation.

The next day, I, D-503, appeared before The Benefactor and imparted to Him all I knew about the enemies of our happiness. Why could this possibly have seemed difficult to me? It is incomprehensible. The only explanation lies in my former malady, the soul sickness.

On the evening of the same day – seated with Him, The Benefactor, at the same table – I found myself for the first time in the famous Chamber of the Gas Bell Glass. That woman was brought in. She was to give her testimony in my presence. This woman remained contumaciously silent – and smiled. I noticed that her teeth were sharp and very white – and this created a beautiful effect.

Then she was led in under the Gas Bell Glass. Her face became very white and, since her eyes were dark and large, this created an extremely beautiful effect. When they started pumping the air out of the Gas Bell Glass she threw he head back, half closing here eyes and compressing her lips: this reminded me of something. She kept looking at me as she gripped the arms of her seat – kept looking until her eyes closed altogether. Thereupon she was dragged out, quickly brought back to consciousness with the aid of electrodes, and was again made to sit under the Gas Bell Glass. This was gone through three times – and she still had not uttered a word. Others, who had been brought in with this woman, proved more honest: many of them started talking after the first treatment. Tomorrow all of them will mount the steps leading to the Machine of The Benefactor.

There can be no postponement, because the western districts of the city are still full of chaos, roaring, corpses, and – regrettably – a considerable body of numbers who have betrayed rationality.

We have, however, succeeded in constructing a temporary wall of high voltage waves on the transversal 40th Prospect.

And I hope that we will conquer. More than that: I am certain that we shall. For rationality must conquer.

Yevgeny Zamyatin, We, (1920) Trans., Bernard Guilbert Guerney, Penguin, London, 1984, 220-221



6 thoughts on “Zamyatin: We – 4

    • Rachel, On the basis of having done 2 degrees in art I must ask if you have studied art – your confidence with colour and the pleasure you clearly take in it is truly amazing. Russian literature?…Tremendous! Pigeon’s eyes?… Until I had seen that little book (the man who showed it to me should have been given an art degree on the spot) I had never given them a second’s thought. Now I study them closely… Best wishes, Phil


  1. No, no, it’s just a hobby, perhaps it’s better that way anyway. 😉 I would like to do more drawing but I get so frustrated with myself and always give up! Which areas did you study for your degrees? Your posts seem so in depth and learned on so many subjects, almost as if you might have studied 10 degrees in one lifetime! I am always amazed how many things some people can learn in one short life while the rest of us know so little; my uncle is the same, he lectures on history but seems so knowledgeable on almost every subject (apart from pop culture maybe) & somehow managed to find the time to master foreign languages too – makes for interesting Christmas dinners. 🙂 Anyway, thank you for introducing me to Chernyshevsky, he is excellent. Also whilst on the subject of Russian literature quickly, my mum told me that Pushkin is a really wonderful writer, have you read anything by him? Do you have anything you might recommend per chance? Thank youuu anyway! Rachel


    • Hello Rachel, I did one degree in creating art (majoring in multi-media – I’m sure you would be excellent at that. Drawing might be too ‘limiting’ for you) and another in art theory. I have also studied Russian and philosophy academically. I can see from your blog (and I am not processing this ‘lightly’) an enormous creativity – not only in your ease but eagerness with colour (many people fear colour), your choice of images and how you size and order them – even your font size is indicative. Your blog has a great deal of vitality.

      Knowing another language enables one to think about the world in a different way, it gives access to another culture.

      I really appreciate that you like Chernyshevsky. He was a great man. He wrote ‘What is to be Done?’ (an important and very interesting novel). Lenin named one of his best known works after this.

      I could not praise Pushkin too highly. Russians (rightly) regard him as their greatest writer. One of his best known works is The Bronze Horseman. He wrote a short story (in Tales of the Late Ivan Petrovich Belkin) called ‘The Shot’. On the surface it is built around a man who lies on his bed practicing shooting by firing his revolver into the walls (who could think of that for a character depiction?!). Yet the depth, complexity and levels of meaning that Pushkin put into this short piece of writing are absolutely amazing. You would have to read it in the original (as with any translated text, no doubt) to fully appreciate this.

      Two simple lines from Pushkin encapsulate for me the difference between the cultures of Australia (where I live) and Russia. ‘Sunday, Sunday,/I wait for you with impatience’ (it sounds beautiful in Russian). For the Australian, this would mean an impatience to party, to go to the beach, to be with friends – to enjoy him/herself. But the word ‘Sunday’ in Russian is related to the word for ‘resurrection’ (of the spirit). It was for spirit that Pushkin lived and Russians hold this understanding at the heart of their culture. Best wishes, Phil


  2. Gosh, you have achieved so much it’s incredible, I’ve recently had this desperate desire to achieve something, anything, which is why I started the blog, but it is just photo editing, the computer does it all for me, I really do want to try to explore ‘real art’ someday soon, or at least something touchable so I can translate these images rattling in my mind into something tangible. I recently came across this blog, which is quite inspiring; her drawings are amazing and full of colour – I think you would like them.
    That sounds perfect, I will eagerly have a flitter through ‘What is to be Done?’ this weekend if I can find it in the library, I spoke to my mum again and she said I should try Pushkin’s fairy tales, perhaps that would be a little less intense than ‘The Shot’. Anyway, sorry for rambling so much and thank you for your kind words, I look forwarding to learning more from your blog – free further education. 🙂 Rachel


    • Hi Rachel, I agree that her artwork and blog are very creative (how different everyone’s blogs are and what those blogs say about them never fails to amaze me). Your comment on it: ‘your pictures are so full of imagination & colour!’ applies equally to your blog – computers do what you want them to do – so if you decide to pursue the creative pathway you will without doubt be successful and similarly contribute to the lives of others. I hope you enjoy your exploration of Russian literature. Best wishes, Phil


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