This volume represents the first collection of essays devoted exclusively to Jacques Derrida's Death Penalty Seminars, conducted from 1999 to 2001. The volume includes essays from a range of scholars working in philosophy, law, Francophone studies, and comparative literature, including established Derridians, activist scholars, and emerging scholars. These essays attempt to elucidate and expand upon Derrida's deconstruction of the theologico-political logic of the death penalty in order to construct a new form of abolitionism, one not rooted in the problematic logics of sovereign power. These essays provide remarkable insight into Derrida’s ethical and political projects; this volume will not only explore the implications of Derrida’s thought on capital punishment and mass incarceration, but will also help to further elucidate the philosophical groundwork for his later deconstructions of sovereign power and the human/animal divide. Because Derrida is deconstructing the logic of the death penalty, rather than the death penalty itself, his seminars will prove useful to scholars and activists opposing all forms of state sanctioned killing. In compiling this volume, our goals were twofold: first, to make a case for Derrida's continuing importance in debates on capital punishment, mass incarceration, and police brutality, and second, to construct a new, versatile abolitionism, one capable of confronting all forms the death penalty might take.
Introduction: From Capital Punishment to Abolitionism: Deconstructing the Death Penalty
Stephanie M. Straub
Part I: Reading Derrida’s Death Penalty Seminars
1. Beginning with Literature
2. Derrida and the Scene of Execution
3. Always the Other Who Decides: On Sovereignty, Psychoanalysis, and the Death Penalty
4. The Death Penalty and Its Exceptions
Part II: Derrida and His Interlocuters
5. Derrida at Montaigne: A Stay of Execution
6. “Bidding Up” on the Question of Sovereignty: Derrida Between Kant and Benjamin
Part III: Extending Derrida’s Analysis
8. A Proper Death: Penalties, Animals, and the Law
9. Figures of Interest: The Widow, the Telephone, and the Time of Death
10. Opening the Blinds on Botched Executions: Interrupting the Time of the Death Penalty
Part IV: Derrida and Capital Punishment in the United States
11. Furman and Finitude
12. The Heart of the Other?
13. An Abolitionism Worthy of the Name: From the Death Penalty to the Prison Industrial Complex
List of Contributors
Deconstructing the Death Penalty is an important collection of essays on a single work by Jacques Derrida. Among its authors' impressive credentials is their rich knowledge of the philosopher’s corpus of work, manifest on every page. Given that these seminars are at the core of Derrida’s life-long and, in his latter years, explicit and over-riding concern with sovereignty, with the human and the animal, and with state violence, the attention this volume devotes to them is of crucial importance. It offers an indispensable reckoning with deconstruction’s legacy and relevance to current debates around the question of sovereignty and the state’s monopoly on violence.
University of California, Riverside