Execution and Redress

Lately, the Kenyan press and some blogs have been pondering the question of justice. One of the government’s “most wanted” was recently executed by the Kenyan police. The question has been whether or not this execution without trial, justice without procedure, is warranted.

On the one hand, the ever-distant specter of a “civilized” nation, in which justice is linked to process: arrest, trial, judgment. On the other, the immediacy of execution by the state, which is, simultaneously, a mark of the state’s failure. (Among nations that term themselves civilized, civilization remains a specter.)

In economic terms, the so-called gangster was tried and executed by a jury of his peers, the police force with whom he probably shares more, culturally and socially, than the legal system. The distinction between the professional elites and gangsters cannot be exaggerated. We might describe the execution as the most honest of transactions.

There is a use to recounting the obvious, re-tracing one’s steps.

Execution refers to a doing, a carrying out of a plan.

We might ask whether execution is a form of redress. I am struck by the obscenity of dressing a corpse, obscene if one likens it to dressing an animal. A sense of making palatable, off-stage. We are never as far from cannibalism as we think. (Here, of course, cannibalism is that which distinguishes us from our savage pasts, more than any other act.)

Redress or, to imitate a tradition, re-dress (to clothe a previously clothed but now naked body, echoes of Ham’s sin—to see his father’s nakedness, and laugh): this remains the major question and task, the burden the 21st inherits from the 20th.

And now, the question that spurs this: how does one execute re-dress?

To ask this question is to confront the corpse, and sometimes the ghost, at the heart of what we might term justice. (Foucault and Agamben run through this, though I could not explain how.) This corpse—Saddam’s body, the latest executed Texan, the Kenyan gangster, the one from Sudan—stands as a kind of evidence, as the copula that joins execution and redress.

Here, to execute redress might always demand a corpse—what some would call human sacrifice, or Jesus.

Might it be possible to think of justice apart from execution and redress, these seemingly chiasmatic terms.

Might one then be able to think about kindness?