“I am in history,” he [the fixer] wrote, “yet not in it. In a way of speaking I’m far out, it passes me by. Is this good, or is something lacking in my character? What a question! Of course lacking but what can I do about it? And besides is this really such a great worry? Best to stay where one is, unless he has something to give to history […] (60).”
The fixer worries. Throughout the text, his worries shift from the hardships of maintaining a suitable livelihood to the epistemological worries of fatalism and his vein attempt to assert free will, causing the former worry to pale in comparison. The above excerpt captures an introspective moment, one that is encouraged by the philosophical documents he seeks out and reads, namely Spinoza’s works. The fixer is a part of history and his story does have something to give it, albeit perhaps unbeknownst to him. He aspires to a higher calling, something he has characterized as more noble and rewarding than menial labor. The books that he reads afford him that dream, further solidifying them as more than mere “windmills” of his naïve imagination. Recalling his father-in-law’s warning, “Stay away from the wrong books, Yakov, the impure (12)”, perhaps it may be safe to assume, prima facie, that Spinoza’s collection and the like were nothing more than a catalyst toward Yakov’s demise, naively boarding a pyrite gilded train scheduled for an imminent and inevitable wreckage.
However, this supposition is reductive, treating Yakov as merely a body at the disposal of the fates in a nihilistic universe. Simply, Yakov is an idea. “Nobody can burn an idea even if they burn the man (61).” To quote Christopher Nolan’s Inception (2010):
“What is the most resilient parasite? Bacteria? A virus? An intestinal worm? An idea. Resilient… highly contagious. Once an idea has taken hold of the brain it’s almost impossible to eradicate. An idea that is fully formed – fully understood – that sticks; right in there somewhere. (Cobb)”
Revolutions stem from a single idea of rebellion. As stated by Albert Camus in The Rebel: An Essay on Man in Revolt, “The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.” A fixer is not simply a trade, but an idea. Yakov is “in history”, yes, but “far out” as well, enabling him to both be familiar with history, but estranged enough to critique it. The fixer symbolizes a “fix” of more than wagon wheels and carpentry, the fixer exists and dies to “fix” history by perpetuating an idea of resilience and protest to one’s current conditions, no matter how dismal.
As the story progresses, the reader is increasingly suffocated by the frustration and incredulity of Yakov’s trial of innocence. The narrator’s tone is blunted as well, a withdrawal of sympathy that has more to do with submission than actual condemnation. “Nowadays people are far less concerned about their fellow humans that in times past,” Nikolai Maximovitch notes to Yakov, “Religious feeling has shrunk in the world and kindness is rare. Very rare indeed (37).” It is that very contagion of submission that is the culprit, something that has the potential to be fixed if one allows themselves to worry.