A history of forgetting is long overdue. I start it today with a short note prompted by recent news from Russia. The business section of The New York Times features an interesting piece by Andrew Kramer about the Russian government's push to replicate Silicon Valley by founding a new city not far from Moscow. ("Innovation, by Order of the Kremlin," 4/11/2010.) According to Kramer, the Russians have not yet come up with the name for this Cupertino near Moscow. Informally, however, it has already been referred to as Город Солнца, "The City of the Sun," apparently, by none other than Vladislav Surkov, Putin's right hand in PR and ideas for modernization (http://www.vesti.ru/doc.html?id=351833). Аccording to Kramer, however, it has now been rejected because of its obvious association with a Moscow suburb Solntsevo (Sunny Ville or Sunnyvale), which happens to be the birthplace and headquarters of the infamous Solntsevo organized crime syndicate that has bedeviled post-communist Moscow. But the deeper irony behind this "nomen-est-omen" story seems to have either been lost on the NYT reporter or fallen victim to the editorial dumbing down.
What has been forgotten is that The City of the Sun is the title of Tomasso Campanella's famous utopian novel (La città del sole, 1623), a major work of Early Modern political fiction envisioning a perfect society and echoing the earlier Utopia by Thomas More. More to the point, Campanella's book has had a distinguished history in modern Russian political utopianism (e.g., in the Bolshevik Alexander Bogdanov's 1908 utopian novel, Red Star). Most famously, it was put to good use by Evgeny Zamyatin's in his We (1920), an archetypal twentieth-century dystopia and a prototype of Huxley's Brave New World and Orwell's 1984. In it, Zamyatin presciently envisions many of the grimmest aspects of the coming Soviet state and does so with uncanny precision.
The Cupertino on the banks of the Moscow River may eventually get another name but the utopian impulse of Kremlin's bureaucratic modernizers, so deftly understood by Zamyatin almost a century ago, may yet do more harm than good. To paraphrase George Santayana, Those who forget their Zamyatin (and Campanella) are destined to live out his script.