“ By definition, in essence, by vocation, there will never have been any invisibility for a legal putting to death, for an application of the death penalty; there has never been, on principle, a secret or invisible execution for this verdict. The spectacle and the spectator are required. The state, the polis, the whole of politics, the co-citizenry—itself or mediated through representation—must attend and attest, it must testify publicly that death was dealt or inflicted, it must see die the condemned one.
The state must and wants to see die the condemned one.
And moreover it is at that moment, in the instant at which the people having become the state or the nation-state sees die the condemned one that it best sees itself. It best sees itself, that is, it acknowledges and becomes aware of its absolute sovereignty and that it sees itself in the sense in French where “il se voit” can mean “it lets itself be seen” or “it gives itself to be seen.”1 Never is the state or the people or the community or the nation in its statist figure, never is the sovereignty of the state more visible in the gathering that founds it than when it makes itself into the seer and the voyeur “of the execution of an irrevocable and unpardoned verdict, of an execution.”
-- Jacques Derrida’s “The Death Penalty, Volume I (The Seminars of Jacques Derrida)” [iBooks]
STEVE BENSON 05 17 15
A N N E X P R E S S 2 0 1 5
05 16 2015 3:38 pm
I hope the survivors feel a sense of mercy in seeing that this naive and emotionally manipulated adolescent is killed in their name. Since it's going to happen, in any case. We get our lynchings where we can justify them, after all.
I have never survived such events and I find it hard to put myself in their place, particularly if they seek the death penalty for his error.
Of course, or perhaps it doesn't go without saying, I also find it hard to imagine myself in his place at any point in the process, from contemplating such a gross infliction of harm through to the present. There must have been some sort of radical dissociation engaged along the way, I would think. It goes without knowing, then, for me, what he may really feel, understand, or want. This renders him, to me, a fascinating if terrifying individual. Terrifying to identify with, that is.
And ultimately, as usual, I can't think how he can not be me and us. The human being is a species more than it is an individual. Charlie Hebdo is not me but his journalist friends are me, as are their killers. I wore a black and white button back during the first gulf war, identifying myself as an Iraqi, at the invitation of friends to join in this gesture. I am a Navy Seal shooting an unarmed Bin Laden in the gut. I am a child salivating over an AK47. Not my best moments, perhaps, but I am all of these. I am condemned to death by the state.
I love the Derrida quotations you shared, E. So apt, and so helpful to my contemplation.
I find it hard to understand why or how I could kill someone out of love or sympathy for someone else. But out of an urgent felt need to protect someone -- possibly.
I suppose that the death penalty allows some people to feel that a matter has been put to rest, there need be no more anxiety on that account - this killer will not somehow escape from prison to kill them and their loved ones - the case is utterly closed, from this point of view. But this of course corresponds finally neither to laws of karma nor to those of intergenerational or cultural trauma.
05 17 2015 10:16 am
regarding the 18 year old german of the 1930s -
there's a fascinating book whose author (son of hans kohut) was well interviewed on tracy morgan's show several months ago. called 'a german generation,' a fascinating tome, it was researched and constructed as a book of essays and case-composite monologues based on recent but pre-existing interviews with aged survivors of the rise of german nazism, who were in a back-to-nature youth bund movement at the time, a movement that was liquidated to fold it into the nazi youth movement. to stay with their friends and within the loop of cultural drift, i might say, they joined the movement that superceded their own and slipped into accepting its tenets along with, seemingly to themselves, everyone else of their generation. (this is my impression of some of what i can glean from the book itself. i recommend it to everyone's attention.)
the degree of naivetee & denial & avoidance & compliance you may find in these accounts of fledgling fascists without portfolio in their later adolescent years and on through adulthood offers a 'there but for fortune' perspective on the complicity of the german population, including party members, in the militarism and racism and development of the holocaust. to the degree that it has not been convenient for us in our civic spaces and historical moment to become collusive, intentionally or not, with subjugating and oppressive forces, we may find cause for ample gratitude to fate. on the other hand, to the degree that we have become so collusive already, we may reckon with the enormous difficulty entailed in leveraging ourselves out of such complicities. just how is this to be done, today?
05 17 2015 2:16 pm
"Aristotle defined Kairos as the time and space context in which "the truth" will be delivered... And in the new testament the time for God to act (is this getting a bit far away?)." your references from the ancients of days long by feel resonant for me, here and now, M, and thank you.
a moment in time, there being enough to spare one to be present to the truth of the moment, embodied within it as two bodies with minds attend to it, attend to themselves (including their presences to one another, including the presences of the other)
such moments are rare not only in our daily lives but in the consulting room with patients who may assume willingly or compliantly the role of consumers seeking the right fix, anxious overthinkers seeking the relaxed departure at end of session, harried citizens seeking to reduce their exposure to the violence of traffic and thus scoping out plans for arranging fewer meetings with an analytic edge and a silent center
the silence, a momentary pause, an access to the bodily felt impression that refreshes attention into witnessing, with all its pores and open wounds alive to the frankly emerging self (mine or my partner's), may still be risked if I seek to find myself responsible to its possibility, at any moment, present to the moment that is and to the moment that may be
Steve Benson, Blue Hill, ME