The nature of Rusanov’s work had been for many years, by now almost twenty, that of personnel records administration. It was a job that went by different names in different institutions, but the substance of it was always the same. Only ignoramuses and uninformed outsiders were unaware what subtle, meticulous work it was, what talent it required. It was a form of poetry not yet mastered by the poets themselves. As every man goes through life he fills in a number of forms for the record, each containing a number of questions. A man’s answer to one question on one form becomes a little thread, permanently connecting him to the local center of personnel records administration. There are thus hundreds of little threads radiating from every man, millions of threads in all. If these threads were suddenly to become visible, the whole sky would look like a spider’s web, and if they materialized as elastic bands, buses, trams and even people would all lose the ability to move, and the wind would be unable to carry torn-up newspapers or autumn leaves along the streets of the city. They are not visible, they are not material, but every man is constantly aware of their existence. The point is that a so-called completely clean record was almost unattainable, an ideal, like absolute truth. Something negative or suspicious can always be noted down against any man alive. Everyone is guilty of something or has something to conceal. All one has to do is look hard enough to find out what it is.
Each man, permanently aware of his own invisible threads, naturally develops a respect for the people who manipulate the threads, who manage personnel records administration, that most complicated science, and for these people’s authority.
— From Cancer Ward by Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn, published in 1967.