F. D. Reeve

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If novels were events, "The Radiant Future" would be a circus. Despite its title, it is not science fiction, nor is it a romance about a collective farm: it is a book about the adventures of the mind…. "The aim of the book," Zinoviev writes about a book within this book, "is to give an objective description of communism as it really is from the point of view of its deepest underlying laws, its tendencies and its future prospects." The comment is appropriate to the book at hand.

"The Radiant Future," written in the form of dialogues and intellectual confessions and anecdotes by an unnamed narrator, is directed against the intelligentsia which defends an ideology that prevents people, capable of being human, from becoming intelligently human. Zinoviev's main professional interests are in nonclassical logic and its application to the analysis of the language of science. His literary ambition is to tell the truth about his culture in work that will make people talk about that culture. Though he honors fellow mathematician Solzhenitsyn's study of the labor camps, he scorns his dogmatism. Zinoviev's thesis is that Communism, like any self-perpetuating social system, is normative and adequate, that it reproduces basically and exclusively the human material which preserves it, and that internally originated change is inconceivable not because the system is perfect but because there is no juridical protection of the individual. Political rights have no meaning; judicial retribution has no meaning; there is nothing to believe in because there is no basis of meaning. Moral sickness has become the norm. All are sick; therefore, all are healthy. Those who talk about sickness are anathematized as ill. The supreme false-hood is that the state expresses the collective will of the people; the truth is that a few have power, and that many comply….

The book is a non-novel novel. Its material is fresh; its prose is keen; but the fiction is thinly allegorical. There is scarcely a plot, and there are no individuated characters. The figures are types—housewife, teenage daughter, administrator, absentminded professor. The "plot" concerns the construction, deterioration and abuse of a huge billboard, which says "LONG LIVE COMMUNISM—THE RADIANT FUTURE OF MANKIND," built by the institute in which the narrator is head of a department. This is intertwined with the narrator's hopes of being elected to the Academy of Sciences and with his neighbor Anton's search for a Western publisher for his critical study of Soviet life. By asking Anton what he has written, the narrator gives us a serious analysis of Soviet society from within; and by describing what happens to the sign—its metal is ripped off, its letters fall out, it is defaced, and finally repairs begin—Zinoviev mixes satiric vignettes with sharp commentary. Essentially, each episode is an illustrative philosophic dialogue formed by contrast of styles (high discourse followed by an obscene poem) or reversal of an expected point of view. (p. 15)

Many writers have analyzed and satirized the pompous bleakness of contemporary Soviet culture. Zinoviev, the skeptic, now adds a dialectical base for discussing a society that has no moral consciousness or institutions to support one. Marxism and its romantic ideology have nothing to do with what actually goes on. The truth is that no literature and no arithmetic will repair Russia. One struggles against them however one can. Meanwhile, this saucy, irreverent book holds the mirror up to a grotesquely self-satisfied society. But even the man who tells the truth tells only partial truth and, therefore, partial falsehood. "The Radiant Future," for all its virtues, evokes the magical line of the 19th-century poet Tyutchev: "A thought put into words is a lie." (p. 23)

F. D. Reeve, "A Send-Up of Soviet Russia," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1981 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), March 15, 1981, pp. 15, 23.


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