Deconstructing Death: Derrida and the Scene of Execution

Autumn/Winter 2016
DOI: 10.3898/NEWF:89/90.02.2016

This paper focuses on the scene of execution, on the essentially theatrical and spectacular nature of the death penalty. It argues that this scene involves not a literal seeing but a virtual or phantasmatic seeing, i.e. a specific kind of visibility that has important consequences for thinking the death penalty (and its future). It highlights two moments of Derrida’s reading of the death penalty in The Death Penalty I and II: the first is Derrida’s insistence on the virtualization of the spectacle; the second is Derrida’s appeal, in the penultimate session of The Death Penalty I, to the explicitly phantasmatic dimension of the death penalty. As the paper tries to show, there is no escaping the scene of execution because there is no escaping the dream of execution; one does not simply put an end to a phantasmatic truth. But if this ‘ready-made phantasy’ is the case, if there is something invincible about the dream of execution, then what would it mean, this paper asks, to think beyond the death penalty?

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New Formations 89/90: Death and the Contemporary