The Idea of Having to Explain

“Perhaps you do not know even about such elementary things as the Table of Hours, the Personal Hour, the Maternity Norm, the Green Wall, and the Benefactor.  It seems to me ridiculous yet very difficult to speak about all this. It is as if a writer of, say, the twentieth century had to explain in his novel the meaning of “coat,” or “apartment,” or “wife.” Yet, if his novel were to be translated for savages, how could he avoid explaining what a “coat” meant… and so it is with me: I cannot imagine a life that is not clad in a Green Wall; I cannot imagine a life that is not regulated by the figures of our Table,” (10-11, Zamyatin).

Starting this book, you are immediately thrown into the daily accounts of the narrator and this new world of human order that he lives in. He speaks of things like the Green Wall and the Table and he refers to people as numbers and to our generation as ancients, without any explanation at all. We are just dropped smack into this world. But, at the start of his third entry, which to me was one of the most interesting, he acknowledges that he has not explained any of the terminology in which he uses, just expecting anyone who reads his entries to already understand what he is saying and what it all means. What stuck out to me the most about this revelation was how he admitted that he was wrong to do this, and then continued to explain why he did by putting it in our generation’s lay-person terms. He uses ordinary every day items and concepts, such as wife, coat, and apartment, things that are universal to all peoples and cultures of our time, to get us to understand the universality of the terms in which he is using. These are objects or concepts that we would never have to explain to another person, such as he has never had to explain his to another person. There is just a collective knowing. But, going over his previous entries he reflects on this notion and realizes that the audience that he is addressing might not know what he is talking about, and they might be incredibly lost delving into the world in which he is so used to. As he says at the end of the above quoted passage, he has never known a world without these things, so to think of a world that doesn’t have them is not a first thought, therefore, he never felt the need to explain in detail, the concepts of his world. To me, this part was so interesting because he is being so vulnerable and honest about this mistake and trying to relate to whoever might be reading, by explaining that this is the only world he’s ever known. For us, we know our world inside and out and would never think of explaining what elections or college or marriage is to someone. Everyone knows what those terms are. He is helping us get into the mindset of someone who is speaking to peoples completely outside of his world and what that must feel/be like, and helping us have a better grounding in this world and in how he thinks.

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