See topsy “ride the lightning”: The scopic machinery of death

Southern Journal of Philosophy 50 (s1):74-94 (2012)
abstract: This essay explores the connections between speculation, spectacle, and the death penalty, particularly insofar as they bear on what is “proper to man” and on the man–animal distinction. Returning to a scene of death from Derrida's seminar The Beast and the Sovereign, specifically the scene of an elephant's autopsy, we see how what he calls “the globalization of the autopsic model” of sovereignty requires the death of the animal (Derrida 2009, 296). Following Derrida, we see how man's dominion over other animals is built on a model of sovereignty as necropsy that erects itself through the autopsic model of power, which ultimately is built on the scaffolding of death and the death penalty. Following the history of the death penalty, however, we see that it becomes the property of man through its exercise on animals, particularly through the capital punishment of animals, which inaugurated the codification of law in Europe, and Thomas Edison's electrocution of animals, which inaugurated the electric chair as a form of execution in the United States. Moreover, the case of Edison (who invented both the electric chair and the first moving pictures, many of which were images of execution) makes manifest the connection between spectacle, animals, and the death penalty
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DOI 10.1111/j.2041-6962.2012.00122.x
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