The Green Wall: Nature, Liberty and Yevgeny Zamyatin's Dystopian Frame
23 Pages Posted: 29 Mar 2010 Last revised: 13 Jun 2014
In this paper I shall first argue that historically, external nature has been profoundly associated with the idea of human liberty in many ways, but that this association receded from mainstream philosophical acceptance after the rise of Newtonian science. However, I maintain that these nature-liberty associations do not vanish from political thought, but instead are transplanted predominantly into a new cultural form arising in direct parallel alongside the development of modern science and industry: the literature of utopias and dystopias. Accordingly, I relate this genre to the current debate about the compatibility of a strong environmental politics with the core assumptions of liberal democratic theory, focusing especially on the significance of dystopian thought. After illustrating the pervasiveness with which external nature is seen as a stimulus to human freedom and transformation in dystopias, I give a reading of perhaps the most primal source of 20th century dystopian works, Yevgeny Zamyatin's novel We (1924), with its symbolism of the Green Wall separating the rigid political community of OneState from the disruptive flux of nature. Pointing to the ways in which Zamyatin's imagery and plot devices cast nature as both a symbol of spontaneity and as an operator opposing the reductive instrumentalization of life manifest in such industrial philosophies as Taylorism, I conclude by cashing out the possible implications of such connections for the green/liberal debate.
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