Christopher Hitchens Visits Room 101

Hitchens wrote a book about Why Orwell Matters.

Looks like he learned one of the lessons of Nineteen-Eighty-Four during his own trip to Room 101.

Here is what he had to say about it.

10 thoughts on “Christopher Hitchens Visits Room 101

  1. I don’t think “being tortured feels bad” was one of the lessons of 1984.

    Or maybe it was “using nasty methods makes you nasty, too.” However, that wasn’t really a lesson of 1984 either, since the said nasty methods were an integral part of the Party’s operation (their use didn’t corrupt the Party, it sought power in order to use them) – “the purpose of torture is torture” etc.

    Or do you mean that the U.S. has used such methods purely for their own sake?

  2. Rhesus,

    The lesson I figure was made obvious in the experience is that nice euphemisms (“Ministry of Love”) are inevitably used — and language twisted until it refuses to refer to reality — when governments are doing horrid shit that they shouldn’t be doing. If waterboarding “simulates the experience of drowning,” does strangulation “simulate” the experience of choking?

    I don’t think the US used those methods for their own sake. I think the US used those methods for reasons the “deciders” felt were justified, but not publicly justifiable. Hence the euphemisms.

    It’s like saying, “I’m not really embezzling money…” or, “I’m not really hurting anyone…” Once you start saying things like that, it’s a good bet you’re doing something wrong and know it.


    Glad you enjoyed it. Annoying them because the truth hurts, or were you reading it aloud in an Igor voice?

  3. “Not REALLY embezzling money”

    also like

    “I don’t mean to be rude, but. . . ”

    Annoying them because “I’m trying to relax between classes, you heavy-hearted killjoy.”

    The descriptive passages were incredible.

    re: 1984: have you ever wondered/figured out what would be in YOUR room 101, and what you’d say to get them to stop? Your “Do it to Julia!”? I never figured mine out, though I’m sure I had some interesting, if pretentious, conversations about it in my first year of university.

  4. LOL, yes, “I’m not trying to be rude…” is a great one.

    Actually, you see — and this may tell you something about me — I was reading William S. Burrough’s Naked Lunch and I got about a seventy or a hundred pages in and found it so depressing that I went off and got myself a copy of Nineteen-Eighty-Four to cheer myself up. Read it all in one night, in the Second Cup cafe on St. Laurent in Montréal. No word of a lie. It worked, too. But only because it lifted me out of the Burroughs gloom, not because Orwell was particularly cheering in any sense. Except maybe the “things really could be worse” sense.

    I suspect I’d be fairly easy to break using torture, and a whole range of things would have me screaming, “Do it to Julia!” and full of regret not long after. In fact, I suspect that almost everyone would be depressingly easy to break.

    But I also like to hope that humans as a whole could never let a state like INGSOC exist for very long. Certainly, the boot couldn’t stamp on the human face forever. Not forever.

  5. not forever. humans’d throw off the boot eventually. or the boot would adapt itself.

    I fully understand what you mean about buying 1984 to cheer up — that tragic trifecta king lear, oedipus rex, and the Book Of Job all put a spring in my step, and I love Rilke’s Duino Elegies so much that I’d learn German just so I could do a Ph.D on them, rather than study something I don’t love quite as much. JD Salinger, too, especially Franny and Zooey, fills me with joy. Something about greatness that does that, even when the topic seems bleak. On the other hand, I could barely read Chuck Palihniuk Pahlinukk Plauknituk. . . the Fight Club guy, and the movie version of the musical “Chicago” left me bummed for a week.

  6. Ha, I have enjoyed some of Palahniuk’s stuff — Survivor and Fight Club specifically (the links are to my short reviews), but after I read the book of short stories, was it titled Haunted? — ah, yes, it was, and I reviewed it briefly here — I had basically had my fill of his writing, I think. Haven’t seen Chicago, probably won’t.

    Oedipus Rex — man, there’s this insanely good Japanese production of the Stravinsky oratorio Oedipus Rex that just killed me. Utterly, utterly brilliant. Gloom, horror, plague and error and death, but also riveting artistic brilliance.

  7. Hmm. The statement “waterboarding is not torture” could be taken as doublespeak, but it’s really just an example of conventional political speech (the kind treated in “Politics and the English Language”). Doublespeak has a more specific meaning, at least within the context of 1984. Anyway…

    I think, if you’re really looking for lessons from 1984, you (and by “you” I mean “any reader”), you should pay attention to the identities betweeen your patterns of thought and those of the antagonists, and the connections between your favored political movement and INGSOC. If you can’t find them, you’re not getting half the point of the book. INGSOC is going on right now, in all our heads.

    Don’t you think humans love repressive regimes, anyway?

  8. Interesting article, and it echoes the words of a North Korean spy (held in a South Korean prison) in the documentary ‘Reptatriation’. He said he was often beaten and could deal with that, but having a towel put over his face and water poured into it was something he couldn’t stand, so he gave in and signed papers saying he had converted to anti-communism.

    As for 1984, have you read ‘League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier?’ Moore sets it in 1958, after the Big Brother government has fallen (saying that the date ‘1984’ was changed from ‘1948’).

  9. Rhesus,

    Well, and Orwell was a socialist, neh? I think picking out how uncomfortably like one’s own chosen politics INGSOC behaves is more than half the point of the book! And doublespeak is, for me, just a kind of extreme explosion of what Orwell’s talking about in “Politics and the English Language.” Sort of like how the cyberpunk street in a book like Neuromancer is so much grungier, horrid, and unhospitable (among other things) than the Reaganoid world it was written in reaction to. “Speculative presentism,” as the cool kids are now calling it.

    I don’t know that humans love repressive regimes, but I think there is something to something Hitchens once said about the vision of the supernatural we have. He described the attitude of some Christians as being that of people in love with slavery, and that was interesting. If you inject you real politics into the Bible stories — ie. Do I want a Lord and King? Do I want to be a Lamb shepherded by a Master?” — suddenly everything is problematized. Severely.


    I hadn’t heard of that case. Very interesting. Must find a copy of that documentary. :) And of the Moore — I’ve wanted to read LoEG for some time, but never gotten around to ordering it.

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