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Old 11-25-2012, 08:36 AM   #16
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Yes, you're right. I have mixed this, sorry.
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Old 11-25-2012, 10:08 AM   #17
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This is the problem with getting to the thread late; other posters have already commented much more congently and with more insight than I. I'll note especial points of agreement, not limited to these, in regard to the hard to believe lack of repercussions for D- earlier in the story and the difficulty in understanding the basis of D-'s mathematical and logical justification for United State. I also thought the action was a little jumpy. I wonder if later translations might tell a smoother story?

While I don't think the book is an entire success, I'm very glad to have read it and Orwell's fallen in my estimation. 1984 was never my favorite of his books (nor Animal Farm), but I didn’t know he had ripped off another work. I know there are only so many original plots, but the similarities are too great for me to credit Orwell with an original, much less seminal, work.

While it was hard to credit that a scientist would swallow the gobbledygook that passed for reason and mathematics, I suppose the point was both that it had an inherent appeal to him and that it was a concrete example of what Orwell would term doublethink.

One aspect I really liked was that while the original theory, as implied by D-‘s journal, was that resistance was limited and entirely aberrant, but once it became more widespread it was obvious that “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” The images of the hysterical crowd trying to escape being herded to the operation and the open and frenzied sexual couplings showed that the state based on logic had no solid grounding.

Riffing a bit, the operation makes me wonder what was the point? We see in today’s society that there’s no limit to greed (just how well does one have to live, how many toys does one need to own), but the driving force behind the United State is sheer power. Yet once you’ve turned the populace into lobotomized automatons, surely that’s the end of the raw exercise of power. What next?
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Old 11-25-2012, 04:35 PM   #18
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Riffing a bit, the operation makes me wonder what was the point? We see in today’s society that there’s no limit to greed (just how well does one have to live, how many toys does one need to own), but the driving force behind the United State is sheer power. Yet once you’ve turned the populace into lobotomized automatons, surely that’s the end of the raw exercise of power. What next?
See? And you thought you couldn't add anything to the discussion.
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Old 11-25-2012, 06:41 PM   #19
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The remarks so far are very insightful and I find that I have little to add other than my whole-hearted concurrence with them. I would make just a few points:

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Let me start by saying that I liked this book. The idea of reading a precursor to greats like 1984 and Brave New World had me excited and mostly, this did not disappoint.
I might be considered a bit paranoid, but I quite often look around me and see the work of those who let such happy ideals warp into a form of subtle or unsubtle oppression. The slogans designed to reprogram the way we think about things, that bring us bleating to order.
I think this is a telling comment. I intensely dislike the idea of a "Nanny" state functioning on the premise that an elite "knows" what is good for everyone else and attempts to legislate its specific views.

The attitude of the One State towards Art--specifically Literature is essentially a complete denial of the value of independent thinking:. D states:

"Today poetry is no longer the idle, imprudent whistling of a nightingale; poetry is civic service, poetry is useful."

and

"Our poets no longer soar in the empyrean; they have come down to earth; they stride beside us to the stern mechanical March of the Music Plant. Their lyre encommpasses the morning scraping of electric toothbrushes and the dread crackle of the sparks in the Benefactor's Machine."

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- I really liked the love story/triad between I and O and D and the opposition of sincere and, yes, boring love on the one side and sexual attraction and calculation on the other. Some things never change and happened in Russia in 1920 and in our days and most probably in a thousand years too.
I was impressed with this aspect as well. Somehow or other, I felt that D should have appreciated O's real and sincere love and seen that it was superior to the physical attraction of I--especially since I was essentially manipulative.

The "operation" carries horrifying overtones of the use of prefrontal lobotomy in 20th century United States to make people with "difficult" behavioral problems tractable--to the point of a vegetative existence.

Personally, while I found the central character, D, to be rather annoying, unlikable and unsympathetic, there's certainly little doubt but that the dystopia created by the author is a powerful assault on the concept of a societal ideal which implicitly amounts to a Hive-mind.
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Old 11-25-2012, 08:42 PM   #20
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I was impressed with this aspect as well. Somehow or other, I felt that D should have appreciated O's real and sincere love and seen that it was superior to the physical attraction of I--especially since I was essentially manipulative.
It's funny just how much I ignored this aspect of the story until we started discussing it. In fits in quite well and tells us quite a bit about D- and how much he really fits in with the ideals of the United State.

And let's face it - if D- doesn't fit in, who really would?

Oh OK - now it's opening up for me a bit.

Perhaps the affair itself is a demonstration of how ill-suited we really are to such a regimented and totalitarian society. When someone so devout and fervent about the ideals of the society can ignore the obvious benefits of a safe and loving and productive relationship and instead pursue a dangerous and manipulative affair....?

And the fact that pursuing the dangerous is often a behaviour mirrored in our own society, we start to fully appreciate just how ill-suited we are to our own version of the United State. And that's a quite important thing to understand - yes?
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Old 11-26-2012, 06:13 PM   #21
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And the fact that pursuing the dangerous is often a behaviour mirrored in our own society, we start to fully appreciate just how ill-suited we are to our own version of the United State. And that's a quite important thing to understand - yes?
Very Good point!

It ties in with the attitude of the United State about poetry. It is only "good" and valuable if it is also productive and supports the status quo. Of course, the greatest poetry is often that which interfaces with ideas that are uncomfortable, upsetting, even dangerous--in that they question an accepted convention

In addition D has a kind of split personality. On one hand there is the purely ideological intellectual side of his mentality. But he also has these atavistic ape-like hairy hands. Thus, a part of him is drawn to danger and change while another part embraces the unchanging stasis of the Unitary State. The two loves, O and I, reflect this dualism in his emotional life.

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Old 11-26-2012, 06:21 PM   #22
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It ties in with the attitude of the United State about poetry. It is only "good" and valuable if it is also productive and supports the status quo. Of course, the greatest poetry is often that which interfaces with ideas that are uncomfortable, upsetting, even dangerous--in that they question an accepted convention.
Absolutely. Great art is sometimes great because it teaches us something about ourselves - and not always what we wanted to know.

I'm glad I'm getting more out of this book through discussion. I might not have made some of the connections I'm now making. We are not an island.
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Old 11-27-2012, 03:50 AM   #23
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I'm glad I'm getting more out of this book through discussion. I might not have made some of the connections I'm now making. We are not an island.
couldn't agree more!
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Old 11-27-2012, 04:20 AM   #24
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couldn't agree more!
Ditto
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Old 11-29-2012, 08:06 PM   #25
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A trivial point that I forgot: what about women being only vowels? Does this mean that women are roughly only 20% of the population? It seems obvious that the women are sexually dominant--that they are the instigators/choosers and have multiple partners. We know that sex isn't for procreation, so what are the implications of these aspects of social engineering? Is it because in the 1920s, women were not assumed to be as productive, but that some women were deemed necessary to satisfy a vestigial sex drive? Or perhaps they wanted to keep some women as a fail-safe, in case of a widespread failure in the means of procreation?
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Old 11-30-2012, 05:09 PM   #26
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^I'm reminded of a scene from Dr. Strangelove where the good doctor is telling us about the ratio of men to women which is directrly opposite to what you are describing here. It's an interesting point, but hard to correlate given how few characters (people and letters) that are named.

I ejoyed the book. I had read Brave New World earlier this year and 1984 a couple of decades ago. I liked this more than BNW. While it's hard to completely buy the rational over the emotional I did like the struggle put forth here within the mind. I was disappointed that the journal didn't succumb to being more mathematical in structure. 32 records would have been a great mirror to the story.
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Old 11-30-2012, 07:00 PM   #27
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Given the letters are accompanied by numbers there still could have been a 50-50 balance between women and men.

I got the feeling that the United State wasn't actually that big by the way. Did anyone else get that impression? I always felt that movement was always too quick and there seemed to be no trouble seeing the glass walls from different locations and the volumes of people spoken about never really seemed to be in the millions.
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Old 11-30-2012, 07:02 PM   #28
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Oh - the vowel significance - could it have been a crude reference to anatomical differences?
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Old 12-01-2012, 03:31 PM   #29
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This is a great discussion by everyone! Your insightful comments have helped me to understand the book better.

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OK - I've finished! Let me start by saying that I liked this book. The idea of reading a precursor to greats like 1984 and Brave New World had me excited and mostly, this did not disappoint.

I did find it hard to follow some of his thoughts. There's quite a lot of incomplete thoughts that I think I'm supposed to grasp but am perhaps a bit too dim to understand. However, it didn't prevent me from enjoying it.

I always think it strange when people refer to works like this as "dated". The players change but the goal of the game remains the same in any place and in any time.
I just finished this book today so I am still digesting it. caleb72 summed up my initial impressions. I am glad to have read it for an understanding of its influence on future dystopian literature, since I enjoy this genre. In turn, I was not surprised to learn that one of Zamyatin's jobs was to edit translations of the works of H.G. Wells who he appears to have been influenced by. Here is a review by George Orwell that I found interesting.
http://georgeorwellnovels.com/journa...y-zamyatin-we/

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The other item that bothered me slightly was the author referring to the “irrational √-1.” As any one with some knowledge of mathematics knows √-1 is an imaginary (or paired with a real number complex) number, not an irrational number. Then again perhaps the author meant irrational here not in the meaning so taken in mathematics, but just an irrational idea or thought?
I liked the incorporation of mathematics and industrialized efficiencies of that time period into the plot and was also not surprised to learn that Zamyatin had been an engineer. I wondered about the description of √-1 as irrational rather than imaginary as well. On the other hand, imagination was a key theme as D-503 starts to dream and the Operation is described to remove the imagination and thus restore happiness. I also liked that I-330 was described as having an X appearance, X being an unknown variable, when D-503 first meets her.

The translator of the book that I read said that it was clear irrational was used intentionally. After finishing the book I went back and re-read the first few chapters. It really highlighted the transition from D-503's rational to irrational state of mind, or clear thinking to driven by emotional thoughts due to his illness (developing a soul). After the Operation, D-503's emotions are gone has he appears to have no reaction to I-330's torture in the Bell Jar.

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I have to agree with a lot of this - in the end, I am glad I read the book, as at the very least it helps put in context 1984 and Brave new world, but again I was disappointed with some bits of the plot that just did not feel write - again I don't want to spoil it for those who have not read it yet, but let us say that things happen to D which should have immediate consequence (at least in the logic of the United State) that are simply not there...
I too wondered why D-503 kept escaping punishment. Then after he meets with the Benefactor, my thought was also why do they want him reformed rather destroyed as someone else commented.

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And let's face it - if D- doesn't fit in, who really would?

Oh OK - now it's opening up for me a bit.

Perhaps the affair itself is a demonstration of how ill-suited we really are to such a regimented and totalitarian society. When someone so devout and fervent about the ideals of the society can ignore the obvious benefits of a safe and loving and productive relationship and instead pursue a dangerous and manipulative affair....?
I liked this comment regarding D-503, caleb72!

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I got the feeling that the United State wasn't actually that big by the way. Did anyone else get that impression?
In the beginning of the book it says that the majority of the population was destroyed during the Two Hundred Years' War.

I have some more thoughts that are floating around in my head so I'm going to think on this book a little while longer to see if they can become better organized to express in writing.
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Old 12-01-2012, 06:40 PM   #30
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A trivial point that I forgot: what about women being only vowels? Does this mean that women are roughly only 20% of the population? It seems obvious that the women are sexually dominant--that they are the instigators/choosers and have multiple partners. We know that sex isn't for procreation, so what are the implications of these aspects of social engineering? Is it because in the 1920s, women were not assumed to be as productive, but that some women were deemed necessary to satisfy a vestigial sex drive? Or perhaps they wanted to keep some women as a fail-safe, in case of a widespread failure in the means of procreation?
Here's a theory off the top of my head--it represents some rather vestigial thoughts on my part about the use of vowels as sexual symbols. They're only ideas which I'm not completely sure of myself. Feel free to hammer away at them.

If women are "even numbers" it could symbolize that they represent the Yin principle--one aspect of which equates to stability through serenity. O wants to have a child. She also wants the stability that the feminine principle implies--she is the earth mother. In a sense, she is complete as a circle is complete. I, however, is different and her vowel is phallic in nature. So she is the Yin that requires the sexual complement of Yang to release her energy--though this may result in instability. Her archetype is Eve or Helen the passionate lover.

Neither aspect of the Yin principle {relational stability and sexual dynamism}is satisfied by a society that puts its emphasis on total conformity rather than allowing the flexibility and independence of human interaction that the Yin/Yang Feminine/Masculine interaction requires.

Again. Just a wild guess.

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