Yevgeny Zamyatin + ‘A Thousand Hands Squared’ + Dissertation


Every time I return to Australia the lack of readily available bookstores due to the Borders and Angus & Robertson bankruptcy saddens me. I have always enjoyed reading and trips as a child to the local Westfield with my parents would often involve detours into Borders and a new book. Today, the space Borders used to occupy has been replaced by retail and coffee shops, and only a tiny sliver of literature remains in the form of an understocked QBD bookstore. While QBD carries a limited selection of recent best sellers and a number of well-established classics, books that fall outside of these limited categories are almost impossible to find in Sydney. So, after waiting for almost a month, the first texts I ordered for my undergraduate dissertation arrived in the post via Amazon. They are Yevgeny Zamyatin’s famous dystopic novel ‘We’ (which I probably could have found in QBD but past disappointment dissuaded me from looking) and his novella ‘Islanders’, which also contains his very short story ‘The Fisher of Men’.

Although I do not yet have an exactly-worded question for my dissertation, the main thrust explores how Zamyatin’s relationship with communism informed his writing. It took me a while to focus solely on Zamyatin. Originally, I wanted to examine how the rise of communism affected the Russian Novel but the impossibly extensive nature of this endeavour soon revealed itself. Forced into a more manageable topic for my 10,000 words, I decided to focus on a writer I knew and enjoyed. Having studied ‘We’ in high school, I was familiar with its themes and knew that it was banned by the Soviet Censorship Bureau in 1921 and only published in 1924 when it was smuggled out of the country. A quick google revealed Zamyatin had a sizeable, but manageable portfolio of work and also outlined his fluctuating relationship with both the Tsarist and Soviet regimes, which confirmed his suitability. Having finished ‘Islanders’ and ‘The Fisher of Men’ last night, I began ‘We’ this morning and remembered a short piece I had written for an assignment in my final year of school, which I thought I would share with you.

For those of you unfamiliar with ‘We’, the novel follows a man known by his government issued number – D-503 – in the highly artificial, tightly controlled and mechanically efficient One State.  As the novel progresses, the repressed qualities of his human nature are slowly awakened by the ‘unscheduled’ flirtations of I-330 who is a member of One State’s small resistance group.  D-503 ultimately betrays the members of the resistance after a state-performed lobotomy, but the novel ends with One State’s control in doubt and a particularly strong image of birds repopulating One State (all wildlife had been expelled). In my high school piece the social unrest described by D-503 had been crushed, but now, 234 years later, unrest might be returning to One State.  For those of you who have read ‘We’, you will notice I attempted to structure the story in a manner similar to Zamyatin.  My Record 1 incorporates the non-conventional method of titling chapters and includes an attempt at similar language and diction.  I deliberately employed an almost mathematical quality to my writing, and finally, like the ending of ‘We’, the ending of Record 1 is ambiguous and open to interpretation by the reader.  I hope you enjoy!

A Thousand Hands Squared

Record 1


The Realisation


√-1.  What a beautiful conundrum, so magnificently abnormal.  Hypothetically speaking, if √-1 is the cornerstone of order, reason and the most sacred of things valued by OneState and its Numbers, would it not follow course that if √-1 was to worm, to burrow its way into the foundations of OneState, the columns of order would be slowly but surely eroded?  This assumption is occurring presently in our most glorious, perfect state and I savor its work, its resulting pandemonium.  Perhaps not a pandemonium compared to the lives of the Ancients, or our Brothers beyond the Wall, but compared to the Thousand Hand Revolution, 234 years, 45 days, 12 hours and 37 minutes ago (I can go on…) it is not dissimilar.  In actuality, the turmoil is greater than that of the aforementioned revolution.  Although, presently it is quite peaceful and the mathematical equation is without that nonsensical number, it will be substituted into the equation in the next few steps.

The control OneState has over its Numbers is slowly waning and the chaos that has occurred and is occurring is rising exponentially.  This is credited to the revelation that the Great Operation, the ‘operation’ which all Numbers in OneState, and every Number since the Thousand Hand Revolution has undergone to excise the imagination from the brain, is in fact a fallacy.  The Great Operation is not a surgical operation but a cover-up.  It has been discovered by OneState’s doctors that the part of the brain that holds a Number’s imagination is too closely intertwined with the parts of the brain required for a Number to function efficiently and effectively.  If it was to be removed, our perfected, highly evolved selves would no longer exist.  We would become defective and unable to perform the tasks they require of us.  This created a dilemma, which could not be surmounted by any science or technology in OneState’s most perfect possession.  This revelation, known amongst members of the revolutionary movement Otpor as the Realization, is the method by which √-1 can return to the equation.

The origin of the Realization is unknown; however, the first expressed, albeit limited and secretive admittance, can be traced to K-379, my closest friend and the leader of the Otpor.  With his admittance that he dreamt at night came my admittance that I too, suffered from this sickness.  Our discovery that we were not alone led to us spending every Personal Hour together, discussing what it meant, how it could be that we possessed this sickness of the Ancients and the best course of action.  And then one day, K appeared with a manuscript.  It was very old, yellow with age, crumbling and frayed at the edges.  The fibers of the paper themselves were worn and loose almost giving the paper the feeling of what I believe (if the reports of our Brothers outside the Wall are accurate) could be synonymous with fur, making the writing faint and faded.  This text, written by Number D-503, detailed the truth of the Thousand Hand Revolution, and we found that our feelings regarding our place in OneState matched his perfectly.

Fifteen years have passed since the Realization and the Otpor has grown and developed into the beast it is now.  It is snarling and pulling on its chains and is almost free.  Numbers unaffiliated with our struggle are now committing crimes against OneState and innumerable resistance cells are sprouting throughout the city.  Numbers are not obeying the Table, they are missing work and engaging in sexual intercourse without tickets.  The Guardians are too few to control the populace fully and their tactics of suppression are too extreme.  Purges and mass arrests are causing Numbers loyal to OneState to become afraid of the Guardians and Numbers innocent of revolution are acting irrationally, creating a cycle in which the situation is spiraling wonderfully out of control.  There is no longer the blind adoration for OneState and our most glorious Benefactor as the presence of √-1 has destroyed that.  √-1 and its pervasive effects are tantalizingly close to fruition.  We will soon drink the juices of freedom dripping from its crushed flesh and lick them greedily off our fingers, hands and arms.

And then I surface.  My lungs are burning and my head is spinning.  I am drenched in sweat and my sheets are plastered to my naked, awkwardly stretched body.  I am trapped by the clinging, grasping sheets and I must escape.  Thrashing wildly and trying to rise from my bed I feel as though the soft comfort has turned into a black hole and I am being sucked, gasping and wailing into its dark unknown.  Finally, I pull myself free of its engulfing, viscous surface and fall out of the bed and smack my head on the cold, hard glass floor.  The impact literally leaves me senseless and my body relaxes until I am spread flat across the glass.  My mind and body calm as one and in that moment looking through the clear glass, my thoughts are like crystal; I feel hollow and at peace.  But then the placidity begins to fade and the recollection of the events slowly flow back into me.  Startled, I sit bolt upright.  A dream!  I just had a dream?  No – I could not have.  But I must have, what else could I be doing on the floor next to my bed at – I swipe my badge off the bedside table, and look at its surface, just below my Number L-279, the display blinks – 2:03am?  No.  It is not possible.  I underwent the Great Operation.  But I just dreamt.  Perhaps the Great Operation was… a fallacy.  I feel the blood draining from my head and it begins to spin, turning my vision into a kaleidoscopic whirlwind of grays and blues.  I reach for the phone and punch in the numbers to reach K.

* * *

© Guy Chandler and The Wide Sargasso Gyre, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Guy Chandler and The Wide Sargasso Gyre with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

One comment

  1. Ajaytao2010

    Nice reading about you

    Thanks for visiting my blog. Be in touch. Browse through the category sections, I feel you may find something of your interest.

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