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Killing TimesThe Temporal Technology of the Death Penalty$
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David Wills

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780823283521

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: January 2020

DOI: 10.5422/fordham/9780823283521.001.0001

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The Time of the Trap Door

The Time of the Trap Door

(p.54) Chapter 2 The Time of the Trap Door
Killing Times

David Wills

Fordham University Press

This chapter offers an examination of the refining of the instant of execution that takes place with the introduction of trap door gallows in the seventeenth century and, more spectacularly and explicitly, in the late eighteenth century with the French Revolution and the guillotine. The death penalty is thereby distinguished from torture and a post-Enlightenment conception of punishment is introduced, lasting to the present. But the guillotine is bloody, and that underscores a complex visuality of the death penalty that also obtains during the same time period, playing out across diverse genres such as the execution sermon, political and scientific discourses relating to the guillotine, Supreme Court descriptions of crimes, and practices of an entity such as the Islamic State. What develops concurrent with the guillotine—yet remains constant through all those examples--is a form of realist photographic visuality.

Keywords:   Blood, guillotine, instant, photography, realism, sermon, visuality

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