“We”, Zamyatin’s seminal book

“We”, the pioneering novel by Yevgeny Zamyatin

Published today at 6:00 p.m.

The publishing world is currently feeling a weakness for dystopian stories, as evidenced, for example, by the success of “Panorama” by Lilia Hassaine published by Gallimard. It is also this publishing house which offers, in its beautiful collection “L’Imaginaire”, a very recent reissue, in a new translation, of “We”*, a founding story by Evgueni Zamyatin published in 1920 and which sometimes known under the title “We Others”.

You must read this story which has spanned time and eras while remaining impressively current. Here, human life is subordinated to science and, like “Panorama,” it takes place in glass-walled dwellings. In these vivariums, everything is regulated: calories absorbed, chewing, thought, sexuality…

Identities are reduced to numbers and the reader apprehends this totalitarian universe through the prism of D-503’s gaze. This engineer constructs “The Integral” as he would construct real socialism. This monstrous spacecraft is intended to export into the extraterrestrial universe the model of civilization designed by the “Benefactor”, as the world revolution could be exported…

But it would be too easy and too reductive to see in “We” a criticism, a denunciation of the Soviet system. Certainly Zamyatin perceived the excesses very early on but, like a meteor of Soviet letters, he let this literary asteroid come back to visit us and enlighten us with its trail of light.

Scheduled happiness

Reread “Us” in the shadow of the digital transparency of the data that we produce in quantity and without our consent, of the algorithmic governance that governs many aspects of daily life and of the exponential power of intelligence artificial can encourage, failing to find any “pause” button, to take a moment to think.

And in the universe of programmed and infallible happiness which makes possible the eradication of feelings, which he elaborates, Zamyatin instills dissidence through writing, a bit like Winston Smith in the land of Big Brother.

This is also why reading or rereading Zamyatin is so important. On a literary level, he has developed a matrix book in which classics like “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley, “1984” by Georges Orwell or even “Unbearable Happiness” by Ira Levin are rooted, until the very recent “Panorama”. A thought-provoking and shiver-inducing read.

“We”, Evgueni Zamyatin, Ed. Gallimard, 336 pages, March 2024, from 20.61 to 23.70 fr.

*The publication of “We” is enriched with a preface by Guiliano da Empoli, the author of “The Mage of the Kremlin”, an afterword by Jorge Semprun and is also accompanied by “Seul”, the first and long short story by Zamyatin, written in 1908.

Philippe Villard is editor-in-chief of the Tribune de Genève. In more than twenty years of career, he practiced journalism in various French-speaking media, and was a teacher at the Journalism and Media Training Center in Lausanne. He is also the author of a novel entitled “Plume-Patte”.More informations

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