Fixed on his mattress, the prisoner, or pupil, knows that to be a revolutionary subject is to be a historical subject who remembers everything. For this to occur, he must be fully awake, even if his state of wakefulness kills him. The narrator’s captor unties his blindfold, and he can see light. The light emanates from hundreds of lightbulbs planted in the ceiling. The room is painted white. The baby-faced guard stands in a yellow uniform in the corner. The others are dressed in white lab coats and sea-green medical scrubs. Surgical masks and steel goggles hide their faces. A man to the narrator’s left asks him, “Who are you?” The next questions are “What are you?” and “What is your name?” None of the simple questions are easy for narrator to answer. The Commissar notes how he can’t even get his name right. He suggests that the doctor inject the narrator with “the serum” to get him to tell the truth.
This scene, like the beginning of the novel, is strongly influenced by Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. The nameless narrator of that novel goes underground and lives in a hole that is “warm and full of light,” due to his use of 1,369 light bulbs. In this instance, the narrator sees hundreds of lightbulbs. In both cases, the excess light is deemed necessary to help each narrator to see himself clearly. For this narrator, the light bulbs do not have their intended effect because he does see himself clearly, but he doesn’t see himself in the way that others insist he see himself.
The doctor pulls out a contraption from a burlap sack. Its purpose is to deliver static electricity to startle the narrator. The Commissar asks for some privacy with “the patient.” Everyone else leaves the room. The narrator sees the ghosts of Sonny and the crapulent major in one corner of the room. The Commissar leans forward and shows the narrator the book they found in his old quarters at the General’s villa—the KUBARK interrogation manual from the CIA. The narrator asks for the lights to be turned off. The lightbulbs, like the serum, are parts of an interrogation method invented by the KGB.
The purpose of the electricity, the lightbulbs, and the serum is to extract from the narrator what his tormenters want to hear: they want him to identify himself and his allegiances. Their discovery of the old CIA manual makes his allegiances seem less clear. He cannot be both a Communist and a worker for the CIA. His duplicity is deemed a sickness, which is why they regard him as a “patient.”
The narrator can no longer feel his body. When the Commissar asks if he can remember what he’s forgotten, the narrator thinks he can. However, he can’t articulate it. If he could, perhaps the wire that delivers shocks would be removed from his nose and the taste of battery in his mouth would go away. He recalls that the Communist agent was interrogated in a movie theater. She lay in the center of the large room, naked on a table covered with a black rubber sheet. Her hands and feet were roped to the table’s four legs. The movie screen serves as a backdrop from which Claude watches the agent’s interrogation with the help of a projector.
The torture has succeeded in separating the narrator from his awareness of his body, leaving him only with his mind and his memories. This forces him to come to terms with his betrayal of the Communist agent. Her interrogation in a movie theater reinforces the notion of torture as spectacle, which was made even clearer when the narrator participated in the production of The Hamlet.
The crapulent major was in charge of the interrogation, but he abdicated his role to the three policemen in the movie theater, while he sat watching from a folding chair. The Communist agent cried out that she was innocent, while the police officers decided on who would rape her first. A middle-aged policeman climbed on top of her and asked for her name; she said nothing. When he repeated the question, she said that her first name was Viet and her given name was Nam. The policemen were silent at first, then they burst into laughter. They took turns raping her. After the oldest policeman finished, the room was quiet, except for the agent’s sobbing. For a final show of cruelty, the policemen took an empty soda bottle and shoved it inside of the agent. Finishing this story, which the narrator views as a consequence of history, he asks if he can sleep.
As Claude said, the crapulent major was indeed guilty of something. Both he and the narrator seemed to have forgotten about this incident when they had their conversation about the major’s impending assassination. The narrator could have saved the agent by exposing himself as a Communist, but that would have probably resulted in his being killed. Still, his passiveness during the agent’s rape and torture indicates an unwillingness to act, especially if the action would compromise his own safety or comfort. The narrator enjoyed his privileges from knowing Claude and the General and didn’t wish to lose them.