Parallel Gallery
and Journal

coup de grâce Linda Marie Walker
part 2
34. In 1989 Romanian revolutionaries videoed their execution of the dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, and televised it "as a way of appeasing the vengeful populace".
Joel Black, The Aesthetics of Murder, The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore & London, 1991, p. 20

35. Earlier that year Lebanese terrorists sent US officials a videotape of an American colonel who they claimed to have executed. A few frames were shown on tv news. Military experts studied the tape to determine its realness. And concluded the victim was dead before the hanging. It was not the dead colonel that was meant to alarm, but the act of execution. The death was officially faked, between countries, made fiction. As if, even at that level something must be withheld (a real killing), or something must be produced (a simulated execution). It is difficult to fathom what is considered the more potent. All that is tendered, as currency, is theatre. The colonel's story, his true life end, is denied - yet his faked death is massively shown.

36. Execution now is (almost) invisible. It must, though, be witnessed, for the group, and so is still staged for an audience. Executions by lethal injection are carried out in 'chambers'. The person 'handed' a death sentence/penalty is strapped to a stretcher: "As he spoke, saline solution was pumped into his veins and, when he concluded, the prison warden gave the signal for the liquid to be replaced by poison."

The Telegraph Pic, Penfriend sees killer executed, in The Advertiser, Adelaide, August 4, 1994, p. 20

37. Witnesses, including "four ... chosen by Drew" watched from "the viewing position one metre away".


38. Outside Cummins jail, Varner, Arkansas, a group gathered to applaud ("to be in the presence of justice done to their satisfaction"), and to protest ("liberal civil rights groups and specialist capital punishment opponents") "the rapid-fire execution of three murderers".

Charles Laurence, 'Hang 'em high' like the old days, in The Advertiser, Adelaide, August 8, 1994, p. 13 ("They were declared dead on Thursday by doctors whose fees for attendance were thus cut by the economies of scale. The State congratulated itself for effiency and saving taxpayer's money. ... This latest execution - numbers 24, 25 and 26 this year; 250, 251 and 252 since the death penalty was restored by the Supreme Court in 1976 - has created more interest than usual.")

39. Edmund Burke wrote in 1757 that the most sublime presentation of the 'imitative arts' would be abandoned by an audience if it was "reported that a state criminal of high rank is on the point of being executed in the adjoining square".

Black, ibid., p. 4
40. "This explains," writes Joel Black, "why mime performances during the Roman Empire incorporated actual execution scenes in which convicted criminals took the place of actors."

41. The execution stops the organism signifying outside of order(ing), as impermissable other, as the flesh of disunity, inconsistency, chaos, split, and starts the corpse signifying inside of order(ing), giving order a correct sheen, that cannot (though) on reflection (surface) be supported as logic, as natural reason.

42. Still, execution is carried out by authority of highest reason (order returned, proved): "A three-judge panel of the 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals had earlier stayed Holmes' execution, but three hours later the full 8th Circuit voted 8-3 to lift the stay, and the High Court declined to issue one."

AP, Three killers executed one by one 'like hogs', in The Advertiser, Adelaide, August 5, 1994, p. 11

43. The killer of order is killed, to bring torn edges together, and in so doing tears open other edges along which all that (says) makes-up the story of the executed circulates forever, displaying the impossibility of being, at any instant, that story. The literal ending, the matter (is) over, carried to the grave, is just the start of a bigger process predicated on the query: tell me what really happened: ghost stories: "I had to acknowledge that I was not capable of forming a story out of these events. I had lost the sense of the story; that happens in a good many illnesses. But this explanation only made them more insistent."

Blanchot, ibid., p. 18 (It is this insistence and consequential repetition that continually fails to fill the void, to stop the flow, to bridge the gap. No matter how much is said, no story can every satisfy, the said is forever another beginning.)

44. For the Azande people (of Central Africa) all deaths were killings to be avenged (according to Evans-Pritchard in his 1920s study).

E. E. Evans-Pritchard, Witchcraft Oracles and Magic among the Azande, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1976

45. Death was the result of witchcraft, and a man and a magician were chosen to act as avengers, after consultation with the oracle. The avenger had to obey strict taboos and the magician had to make poison-medicine. "Several months after magic has been made someone dies in the vicinity and they inquire of the poison oracle whether this man is their victim. ... In course of time the oracle declares that the death of a man in the neighbourhood is due to their magic and that this man is the victim whom they have slain to avenge their kinsman."

ibid., p. 224/225

46. The oracle of 'their prince' then has to agree. A public notice is posted, and the remaining poison-medicine is destroyed: the magical task has ended.

"When the oracle of the prince agrees with the oracle of the kinsmen vengeance is accomplished. The wings of the fowls that have died in acknowledgement of their victory are hung up, with the barkcloth and sleeping-mat of the boy who has observed taboos, on a tree at the side of a frequented path in public notification that the kinsmen have done their duty." (ibid., p. 225)

47. The name of the victim is kept secret by the avenging kinspeople, otherwise "the whole procedure of vengeance would be futile".

ibid., p. 6

48. A victim's death too must be avenged upon someone - that someone, the avenging witch in the first instance, must be unknown -

Evans-Pritchard goes into some detail as to the complex contradictions arising from the practise of vengeance-magic, and of the Azande being aware of them, and (for example) faking vengeance for the benefit of neighbours. (ibid., p. 5-7, 14/15, 25-30, 124-126)

49. unless the Prince declares "he knows Y to have died in expiation of a crime and that his death cannot therefore be avenged".

ibid., p. 6

50. "This is the story of my life - that is what must always be heard when someone speaks of someone else, cites or praises him or her: '... Happy is he who does not depart convinced that he has lived only a small part of his life!'"

Derrida, ibid., p. 2

51. At the limit, this is probably known, that life will have been short, a reading of the future that is, always, as if lost. And execution is (finally ) the lawful loss of the property of oneself (excluded at last), and of the life of oneself: my life, the right to the property of my life.

ibid., p. 3

52. And the giving of death. It can only be said that one leads one's own life and one's own death, and death arrives early, no matter what. Execution imposes the penalty of early death - you are unrepeatable, irreplaceable, this is your one death, you will not recover. You become ex (x). "... after having wondered, in sum, why man - and not the animal - always dies before his time, while also understanding that he dies immaturus, immaturely and prematurely, Senaca describes the absolute imminence, the imminence of death at every instant. This imminence of a disappearance that is by essence premature seals the union of the possible and the impossible, of fear and desire, and of mortality and immortality, in being-to-death."

ibid., p. 4

53. Barthes looks at a photograph, a portrait of Lewis Payne (by Alexander Gardner, 1865). Payne tried to assassinate the US Secretary of State W.H. Seward. He is photographed in his cell, waiting to be hanged. The image is of someone who "is dead and ... is going to die ...", who is sitting, waiting, full of that imminence.

Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida, trans. Richard Howard, Flamingo, 1984, p. 96

54. And more, there is nothing to be done. His hands are barred, around each wrist is a metal bracelet and between each bracelet a bar. His hands are held apart, he can not wring them, they are useless things resting on his legs. He is already finished. Barthes calls this accord of past and future an equivalence. In this photograph death is known by the subject, there is no means left (over) to pretend the unity (continuity) of life, it (testifies to) indicates what every image, real or imagined, attempts to hide: the end.

55. Execution is a word which passes the limit (a password), the bar(s), the barred - legality, prevention, sociability, music, award, prison, intolerance, closure, exclusion, inclusion, exception, mark - like a sigh, between life and death, severing. What differs, what creates the sigh, is the time of the wait. Severing courses in the (subject's) consciousness of the imminent instant. This is the execution's passage, there is no language for this imminence, it is untranslatable - who would want to bear/hear it. At the instant there is no more shelter, nothing is needed. ("They ... argued it was unconstitutional for the State to "assess who they think is worthy of another hour or two of life".")

AP, ibid.

56. It is the possible impossible, no choice, suddenly, in the morning, through a door, around a corner. There is nothing to say before to-say is cut out of, sliced off, the body of the group, the limit exists for the interminable event, for the making of the vast fatal (panic) interruption, where the price is everything one is (now), and the world (now) too.

57. Let's believe there are only potential meanings and these are constellations of three times: the originary moment, a repression after the fact, and a return of the repressed. And that this constitutes the subject of desire, of repression. And this repression desires not to know unconscious material, the repressed. "But repression is no more consistent than anything else. When subjects cannot fully represent something to themselves, repression momentarily lapses."

Ragland, ibid., p. 93

58. And the lapses must be filled, and by the very thing that is the condition of an illusion, which by its pressure to reveal what it is that isn't revealed reveals, gripped by the dream that functions like consciousness (or vice versa), and therefore becomes central, and appears as meaning, as substitute for what goes-missing, for what cannot be layed-to-rest, to keep horror at bay.

ibid., p. 93/94

59. With the kill, there is no possible relationship between the self and the corpse, or the signifier and the signifier, everything is nothing, the space of meaning too vast to bridge, and momentarily blessed by a word, by speech, by writing. Killing scorches the ground of discourse, all that is said flees at the moment of saying, and is said again and again, somehow, as terror tactic and healing balm: a vanishing point. The consistency that execution is meant to restore is the prime myth of the practise/illusion of reality: the execution restores the gap for which it is being exacted. Death drives the life-game ("the work of our life ... is death")

ibid., p. 100
60. and taking life, for the good of the group, intensifies drive for the game (the (love of) continuity for which the kill was ordered) which shatters/splatters at the 'kill' instant: to live as if whole.

61. Execution is a memorial, a commemoration, to fatality, as the symbol writ (sacrificed) real: it is done, we are implicated, we are death, and the return (repetition, insistence, resistence) of the knowing (fallout) is fixed (inert) - is the fix(ity). It is possible then to execute, it is familiar: "life and death are not opposed to each other, but ... life twines itself around many potential deaths ...".

ibid., p. 99 ("We desire that which is familiar, although it marks us as creatures of pain and insufficiency and so does not wish our good.")

62. "[Mata Hari] looked straight at the twelve Zouaves who presented arms, then readied their rifles and aimed at her body.

"She smiled, as if to acknowledge the salute. Then nodded, either to acquiesce or order them to fire.

"The twelve shots ran out. She fell.

"Yet the firing squad had aimed badly. Only three bullets reached their mark. But one of them went through the heart, and death was instantaneous.

"There was no need for the coup de grâce, but since tradition demands it, one of the officers approached discreetly (like the cachetero who puts the finishing touch to a bullfight) and emptied his gun into her ear. The weapon, being an ancient model using heavy lead bullets, left a hideous hole where her face had been."

Erika Ostrovsky, Eye of Dawn, The Rise and Fall of Mata Hari, Dorset Press, NY, 1978, p. 198/199 ("Enveloped in the clouds of suspicion that hung over France in 1917, not one of her former friends had the courage to claim the body and give it a decent funeral. The remains were taken to the dissecting room of one of the Paris municipal hospitals where her so much wanted, disputed and admired body underwent postmortem operation in the interest of medical science.")

Linda Marie Walker is a writer/artist living in Adelaide, South Australia, and is working on a PhD at the University of Western Sydney, Nepean. coup de grâce was first published in 600,000 Hours (mortality), a catalogue accompanying the project of the same name (exhibitions, conference, publications), organized by the Experimental Art Foundation, Adelaide, South Australia, September - December 1994.