chapter  1
31 Pages

Killing in the name: inflicting political injury

Both George Orwell and Elaine Scarry have written about the perverse tendency for the body in pain to swell up until it fills the universe. Indeed, while Scarry doesn’t refer to Orwell’s classic 1984, the figure of Winston Smith can be deployed in a metaphor for her argument. If we begin by engaging briefly with the situation of Orwell’s protagonist, we open a window onto the utility of pain, injuring and killing for political conflict. Winston lives in Britain after the nuclear attacks of the Second World War. He works as a bureaucrat for the ruling party but begins to lose faith in the totalitarian regime which rules over the nation. The party tracks every minute act of rebellion in which he engages, through an intensive surveillance programme. But, while the regime thinks nothing of bringing death to its enemies, it will not kill Winston. Instead he is compelled to defeat himself through structures of torture and interrogation which remake him as a political subject of the party. Once captured, his words, fears and body are used against him as weapons. Having forced Winston to betray himself and his loved ones in every possible way during torture, the party succeeds in remaking him as a subject. He masters the mind-set of doublethink which the regime requires of him. And only then, once his mind is clean, do they kill him (Orwell 1949).