‘Art is a Branch of Mathematics’- Zamyatin’s Socio-Fantasy
My abstract for Cultural Fictions at Goldsmiths- which I shall be delivering, possibly even with handouts, on the morning of the 15th of June…
The genre of the 20th century dystopia, as expressed most famously through the work of Huxley and Orwell, has throughout the century dovetailed with the concept of ‘totalitarianism’- typically, a conflation of Fascism and Communism into stories of schoolboy horror, habitually set by exam boards to demarcate the consequences of thinking about possible futures.
Through a reading of their main antecedent, Yevgeny Zamyatin’s 1920 utopia/dystopia We, I intend to investigate these notions by restoring to them their historical context. Rather than a ‘prophecy of Stalinism’ or a critique of communism, Zamyatin’s novel will be seen first of all as a somewhat mischevous participant in the political/aesthetic debates of the early 20s, through his relation to the ‘Socialist Taylorism’ of the Soviet NEP, the mathematical and geometrical fetishism of Productivists and Constructivists in the USSR, and the ‘Glass Chain’ of post-revolutionary Expressionist and functionalist architects in Weimar Germany.
Zamyatin takes Alexander Rodchenko’s phrase that ‘art is a branch of mathematics’ and extends it to society as a whole. Unlike his sucessors though, Zamyatin’s technique is immanent- the structure of his novel and the reasoning and syntax of his narrator speak within the society he delineates.
Through an investigation of Zamyatin’s sources and his methodology, his nightmare will be re-historicised and re-materialised, with the theories that feed into the novel being treated as a kind of utilitarian science fiction in themselves, harnessing their work to actual production.