Boris Ivanovich couldn’t believe his ears. “What do you mean, you can’t write any more propaganda?”
Arkady Nikolaevich shrugged his shoulders. “It’s all derivative. I just keep on, over and over, praising the nation. I mean, I love the nation, and I especially love our dear leader, but I feel like I’m in a rut.”
Boris nodded. “Maybe you want to switch divisions? There might be an opening in the film department.”
Arkady shook his head. “No, it’s just the same thing, but as dialogues. I want to be able to explore my talents more. There’s only so much I can do with exhortations to increase steel production 12.5%.”
Boris went to his computer. “Let’s see what else is on the job board. I don’t want to see a good guy like you burn out. Let’s take a look, here…” The search query ran and a screen full of results popped up. “Here you go, there’s an opening as a patriotic novel writer. If that doesn’t give you permission to explore, I don’t know what will.”
“What’s the pay like?”
“It’ll involve a pay cut, but you get to set your own hours. That’s got to be a kind of compensation.”
“Could work. I’ll give it a shot.”
And so, Arkady Nikolaevich put in his application to be a patriotic novel writer. Within days, he got an interview with three members of the editorial board: Timur Ismailovich, Ivan Mikhailovich, and Bobby Dougovich.
“My parents defected from the USA.”
Akrady shook their hands and sat down opposite them. He made a firm, confident smile to show to them he knew how to live a life of socialist realism and, therefore, could be trusted to hold true to the ideals of the state.
Ivan opened with a direct shot. “Arkady Nikolaevich, are you familiar with the works of Ayn Rand?”
Arkady was shocked. “No. Aren’t her works on the restricted list?”
“They are. For many reasons.” Ivan hoisted up a copy of The Fountainhead and let it slam down on the desk in front of him. “We could engage in idle chit-chat about your opinion of alliteration and syllogism, or we could have you read this and return to us when you’ve finished with it to discuss in detail the mission we have in mind for you.”
“Mission. So do you want to read this book or not?”
“It is a forbidden book, I don’t know exactly what to say.”
Ivan held up his hands to acknowledge Arkady’s confusion. “Let me help you out. Here is an official waiver to give you permission to read this particular book.” He produced a paper, filled out front and back with appropriate signatures to give Arkady Nikolaevich permission to read books by and to conduct research on Ayn Rand.
“I am given permission to research her, as well?”
“We encourage it. Again, it is for your mission.”
Arkady hefted the book and bid farewell to the editors.
Two weeks later, he was ready to meet with them again.
Arkady appeared before them, unshaven and slightly disheveled, but with a driving, burning clarity in his eyes. “I want you to know, all of you to know, that I understand perfectly why Ayn Rand is banned here.”
Timur asked, “And why is that, Arkady Nicolaevich?”
“She glorifies rapists, narcissists, and sociopaths! Her work is justification for cold-hearted abandonment of the weak and vulnerable! I could just see her in ancient Sparta, cheering as the deformed children were hurled into the apothetae.”
Bobby interrupted, “Well, to be sure, recent evidence shows that the Spartans didn’t actually hurl children into the apothetae.”
Arkady spent only a split second to reflect on that revelation. “Then she would have encouraged them to institute the practice! She was a monster!”
Ivan asked the next question. “You mentioned the glorification of rapists. Presumably, you are referring to the Roark character in The Fountainhead. Rand herself said that rape would be ‘a dreadful crime’ and that Dominique invited the rough treatment. A perfectly rational explanation, no?”
“Ivan Mikhailovich, Ayn Rand said that in the public eye. Privately, in her notes, she said that Roark owned Dominique, that Roark didn’t care about Dominique’s consent, and that he was justified in raping her – justified! Only a deranged maniac could justify an act like that. Now, consider, is it the character that justifies or is it the character that speaks, thinks, and acts as an extension of the author that justifies?”
Ivan nodded. “And what is your conclusion?”
“It is the author.”
“What is your justification?”
Arkady summoned his inner strength to discuss his justification. “William Edward Hickman. Ayn Rand heard of how this man kidnapped, murdered, and dismembered a little girl and took his complete lack of consideration of others as an inspiration for her characters. She even described Roark in terms she once used to describe Hickman. She mocked at the society that rose to condemn this individual that knew no bounds – didn’t she understand that we have societies to try and keep things like that from happening? No wonder she was so rabid in her attacks on socialism! She was against anything that would restrain the predatory nature of a man!”
“She was also against Stalin.”
“And how hard a choice is that to make? Stalin was a predator that usurped the clothing of socialism to further his own ends. She would hate him for his socialism until she got to know him better as a person. I dare say if she knew him intimately that she would write glowing praises of how he turned the communist party on its head and ironically twisted what should have diminished the individual into something that vaulted his own sociopathic cult of personality.”
Timur tapped his pen on the table a few times. He looked at Ivan and Bobby, who both nodded. He then looked Arkady straight in the eyes. “You know Ayn Rand is the darling of opponents of our regime. Telling them what you told us means nothing to them. We are not worried about convincing them with words. We need something to serve as a tonic to give our people when they fall under the spell of Rand’s poison pen. What we want… is a novel that would be the dead opposite of The Fountainhead. Can you write that novel, Arkady Nikolaevich?”
Arkady looked at the floor. “No.”
Bobby twisted his face in confusion. “What do you mean? I thought you wanted this job.”
Arkady looked back up. “I do. But I can’t do this alone. It needs to be written not by an individual, but by an entire people. The entire nation should write it.”
Bobby remained confused. “That would be chaos. Bad writing, too. Do you know how badly some people write?”
“We don’t have to use entire phrases. Single words could be selected from passages citizens contribute. I would just get them all in the right order.”
Bobby’s face cleared up. “Ah! Genius!”
Ivan and Timur nodded in approval. “Yes! A work of the people, guided by a revolutionary vanguard!”
Arkady smiled broadly. “So I have the job?”
Timur stood up and offered his hand. “Indeed. You have the job, Arkady Nikolaevich.”
Arkady got right to work on the specifications of the novel. It would have one hundred thousand words. He listed the percentages required for nouns, adjectives, adverbs, and verbs! The all-important verbs! He insisted that only the most highly educated regions of the nation would receive a quota for verbs, knowing that they would be key to the appreciation and impact of the novel.
There were frustrating episodes in the composition phase, such as when the Kharpo region failed to submit its nouns on time, or when the Zepograd Autonomous Urban Enclave sent in 3000 adverbs, when it was supposed to supply only 200 adjectives. Did they not know how to follow instructions? Then there was an entire week when a computer error mistakenly marked all the nouns as requiring a top secret security clearance, denying Arkady access to that part of speech. Undaunted, Arkady left blanks in his sentences where the nouns would go, trusting in his editors to eventually declassify the necessary nouns. Years later, Arkady would give workshops on “nounless novels,” and would revolutionize the writing process with his dialectical approach to assignment of nouns in an otherwise finished work.
Finally, the novel was finished. Yes, it would have been better had that sentence been written in active voice, but one could not truthfully say that ‘Arkady wrote the novel.’ It is true that he arranged all the words in the novel, but he did not write a single word of it. It would also be false to say that he edited the novel, for he took every word given him and included it in the work. Amazingly for a work of that size and scope, the editorial board did not make a single cut, addition, or alteration. The work that Arkady supervised, the novel that was finished, practically wrote itself.
Regardless of the literary merits of We, the People – which one should note met with overall critical acclaim – it served as a rallying ground for anyone that wished to laud the virtues of a people. Nowhere in it was there a justification for selfish Faustianism. While some members of the central committee objected to the way the title referenced the opening words of the Constitution of the USA, the rest of the central committee held the view that such a reference helped to underscore the irony of the spread of Randian individualism in a land based upon an invocation to the collective. That, had Arkady Nikolaevich known George Washington, he would have enjoyed him as a builder of coalitions, a creator of social contracts, and an apostle of the necessity of collective action.