This chapter puts the instant of execution into contrast with the different time frames of the crime itself and of court proceedings. The analysis works through a particular nineteenth-century multiple homicide in France—studied by a team led by Michel Foucault—committed by Pierre Rivière. The case is distinguished by the memoir that Rivière wrote as a justification for his crime but that, in various ways, became part of the crime itself. The murders occurred when “extenuating circumstances” were being accepted as a criminal defense and when psychological testimony was finding its way into proceedings. Both those tendencies extend the crime into the past history of the criminal mind and show how the moment of committing a crime becomes part of a longer narrative—or even literary—fantasy that is in some respects indistinguishable from what we understand as a motive. The chapter ends with a discussion of Kafka’s “death penalty” fiction.
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