Foucault, Michel: Discipline & Punish, the Birth of the Prison, translated from the French by Alan Sheridan, pps. 3-5,Vintage Books, New York, 1995
The Body of the Condemned
On 2 March 1757 Damiens the regicide was condemned ‘to make the amende honorable before the main door of the Church of Paris, where he was to be ‘taken and conveyed in a cart, wearing nothing but a shirt, holding a torch of burning wax weighing two pounds’; then, ‘in the said cart, to the Place de Greve, where, on a scaffold that will be erected there, the flesh will be tom from his breasts, arms, thighs and calves with red-hot pincers, his right hand, holding the knife with which he committed the said parricide, burnt with sulphur, and, on those places where the flesh will be torn away, poured molten lead, boiling oil, burning resin, wax and sulphur melted together and then his body drawn and quartered by four horses and his limbs and body consumed by fire, reduced to ashes and his ashes thrown to the winds’.
‘Finally, he was quartered, recounts the Gazette d’Amsterdam of 1 April 1757. ‘This last operation was very long, because the horses used were not accustomed to drawing; consequently, instead of four, six were needed; and when that did not suffice, they were forced, in order to cut off the wretch’s thighs, to sever the sinews and hack at the joints.
‘It is said that, though he was always a great swearer, no blasphemy escaped his lips; but the excessive pain made him utter horrible cries, and he often repeated: “ My God, have pity on me! Jesus, help me!” The spectators were all edified by the solicitude of the parish priest of St. Paul’s who despite his great age did not spare himself in offering consolation to the patient.
Bouton, an officer of the watch, left us his account: ‘The sulphur was lit, but the flame was so poor that only the top skin of the hand was burnt, and that only slightly. Then the executioner, his sleeves rolled up, took the steel pincers, which had been especially made for the occasion, and which were about a foot and a half long, and pulled first at the calf of the right leg, then at the thigh, and from there at the two fleshy parts of the right arm; then at the breasts. Though a strong, sturdy fellow, this executioner found it so difficult to tear away the pieces of flesh that he set about the same spot two or three times, twisting the pincers as he did so, and what he took away formed at each part a wound about the size of a six-pound crown piece.
‘After these tearings with the pincers, Damiens, who cried out profusely, though without swearing, raised his head and looked at himself; the same executioner dipped an iron spoon in the pot containing the boiling potion, which he poured liberally over each wound. Then the ropes that were to be harnessed to the horses were attached with cords to the patient’s body; the horses were then harnessed and placed alongside the arms and legs, one at each limb.
‘Monsieur Le Breton, the clerk of the court, went up to the patient several times and asked him if he had anything to say. He said he had not; at each torment, he cried out, as the damned in hell are supposed to cry out, “Pardon, my God! Pardon, Lord.” Despite all this pain, he raised his head from time to time and looked at himself boldly. The cords had been tied so tightly by the men who pulled the ends that they caused him indescribable pain. Monsieur le Breton went up to him again and asked him if he had anything to say; he said no. Several confessors went up to him and spoke to him at length; he willingly kissed the crucifix that was held out to him; he opened his lips and repeated: “ Pardon, Lord.”
‘The horses tugged hard, each pulling straight on a limb, each horse held by an executioner. After a quarter of an hour, the same ceremony was repeated and finally, after several attempts, the direction of the horses had to be changed, thus: those at the arms were made to pull towards the head, those at the thighs towards the arms, which broke the arms at the joints. This was repeated several times without success. He raised his head and looked at himself. Two more horses had to be added to those harnessed to the thighs, which made six horses in all. Without success.
‘Finally, the executioner, Samson, said to Monsieur Le Breton that there was no way or hope of succeeding, and told him to ask their Lordships if they wished him to have the prisoner cut into pieces. Monsieur Le Breton, who had come down from the town, ordered that renewed efforts be made, and this was done; but the horses gave up and one of those harnessed to the thighs fell to the ground. The confessors returned and spoke to him again. He said to them (I heard him): “ Kiss me, gentlemen.” The parish priest of St Paul’s did not dare to, so Monsieur de Marsilly slipped under the rope holding the left arm and kissed him on the forehead. The executioners gathered round and Damiens told them not to swear, to carry out their task and that he did not think ill of them; he begged them to pray to God for him, and asked the parish priest of St Paul’s to pray for him at the first mass.
‘After two or three attempts, the executioner Samson and he who had used the pincers each drew out a knife from his pocket and cut the body at the thighs instead of severing the legs at the joints; the four horses gave a tug and carried off the two thighs after them, namely, that of the right side first, the other following; then the same was done to the arms, the shoulders, the arm-pits and the four limbs; the flesh had to be cut almost to the bone, the horses pulling hard carried off the right arm first and the other afterwards.
‘When the four limbs had been pulled away, the confessors came to speak to him; but his executioner told them that he was dead, though the truth was that I saw the man move, his lower jaw moving from side to side as if he were talking. One of the executioners even said shortly afterwards that when they had lifted the trunk to throw it on the stake, he was still alive. The four limbs were untied from the ropes and thrown on the stake set up in the enclosure in line with the scaffold, then the trunk and the rest were covered with logs and faggots, and fire was put to the straw mixed with this wood.
In accordance with the decree, the whole was reduced to ashes. The last piece to be found in the embers was still burning at half-past ten in the evening. The pieces of flesh and the trunk had taken about four hours to burn. The officers of whom I was one, as also was my son, and a detachment of archers remained in the square until nearly eleven o’clock.
For an analysis of Discipline & Punish, the Birth of the Prison, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Discipline_and_Punish
Aspects of Terror 3. 1945 to 2015.
Laws and customs are useless without fear.
Niccolo Machiavelli, Il Principe, 1532.
In 1987 President Reagan said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall”. Though history gave Ronnie credit for the wall’s fall, it had been obvious for years that Communism was a lame duck, an empty threat. When Gorbachev did as he was told, we took to calling him “Gorby”. Anyway, after more than four decades of bloviating politicians, nuclear threats, military posturing and armed engagements, everybody needed a break. The US had suffered major shocks of its own after World War II and was in need of some psychic R and R.
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (1941) had unified the United States. But then came the military stand-off in Korea (1953) and the assassinations of President John Kennedy (1963) and five years later, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. Richard, “Tricky Dick”, Nixon’s criminal Presidency and the defeat of U.S. forces in Vietnam in 1975, topped off consecutive seasons of discontent. These successive traumas gradually undermined America’s self esteem and raised doubts about a future world order. All the while, allies of the U.S. continued to expect the US to confront and pay for any global conflict, arising anywhere, at any time. Talk about Schaden Freude!
– All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian, or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit. ….Thomas Paine
At the time of Reagan’s Berlin speech, religion had ceased to be a significant moral force in many western cultures. But, still gripping the heartland of America was a deep Christian belief in the wrath of God, the fear of death and its aftermath.
Then came 9/11, 11 September, 2001, when hijackings of four US commercial airplanes by Jihadists galvanized the US, bringing terror back to the heartland and providing political opportunists a ready made bandwagon. Before a joint session of Congress in January, 2002, George W. Bush used 9/11 to unveil what became his presidency’s slogan, “Axis of Evil”, a not very subtle allusion to our II World War enemies and Biblical admonishments. “Axis of Evil” and “Weapons of Mass Destruction” paved the way for a March, 2003 US invasion of Iraq.
– The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary …H. L. Mencken
Tragically the War with Iraq, as it came to be known, was unnecessary. Provoked by Dick Cheney, and justified by Gen. Colin Powell who, in February 2003, presented the United Nations with seemingly unimpeachable proof of Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction, the US invaded Iraq, dragging its allies behind it. But Colin Powell had been set up. When Dick Cheney’s proof later proved to be fabricated, world wide condemnation of the US followed.
US tactics have been useless against individual acts of terror and so called Mid-East Jihadists. Those tactics, for there is no evidence of an intelligent strategy, have only exacerbated Mid-East problems. The institutional chaos among today’s Muslims is comparable to the Reformation in northern Europe when Catholicism splintered into multiple Protestant sects. Then as now, the conflicts have more to do with power than religious doctrine. Finally exhausted from years of carnage, Europe began to sort things out, sort of. The Mid-East must do the same.
It’ll take time, probably a long time, but that’s okay. Let’s leave the ball in their court and while they’re figuring out which strain of muslimicity is the purist, we can keep busy at home, shedding our ethnocentricity and recouping the losses we’ve suffered during our attempts to impose our brand of capitalism and democracy where it’s unwanted. Oh yes. We can also deal with the crooks on Wall Street. [1.]
Meanwhile, the Cold War has morphed into the War on Terror. According to current political cant, it will take years, perhaps generations to defeat terrorism. Now everyone can breath easily. No need to confront national problems, simply fixate on terror. However, proponents of a long term engagement with terror would do well to remember the fate of the French in Viet Nam, the Russians in Afghanistan, Napoleon in Russia, the Brits in America twice and the US in Viet Nam. Terror is part of the human condition. It will never be defeated by war. It can be sublimated, but that’s something our politicians seem willing to avoid.
For people saturated with terrorism, perpetually trapped, as it were, inside an Iron Maiden with an adolescent suicide bomber, I suggest the following remedies. Frequent and liberal doses of sarcasm, mockery, laughter and ridicule would certainly help. And read up on some terrorists from back-in-the-day. History will reveal contemporary terrorists to be merely tawdry exhibitionists.
Their kidnappings, beheadings, bombings, burnings and mass murders, constantly talked about, reported on and analyzed, will pale into insignificanse when compared to the exquisite terrors inflicted byTimor Lane, Pope Innocent the IV, Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot. These sadists did not wear masks nor seek publicity. They were confident of their missions. Leave all this Mid-East stuff to the Mid-East, the entire Mid-East. They’ve started killing each other, a good sign, so leave them to it. As Jon Stewart said, ” It’s all Bull shit”. So let’s start cleaning the shit off our boots. They’ve been on the ground for far too long.
[1.] The financial crash of 2008 was another kind of terror. American’s awoke to discover their investments and pensions had been electronically siphoned into Wall Street banks. Overnight, America’s middle class almost disappeared and to date, no bank financial officer has been prosecuted, much less put in jail. The nation’s unity, so prominent after World War II, was fractured into a corrosive cocktail of bewilderment, disbelief, cynicism, disgust and fear. In seventy years, the US has dwindled from the world’s richest, most optimistic and powerful nation, to third world status.
The question is, will it stay there?
Note: In 1945, I was 8 years old. I clearly remember VE Day. I and my fellow students were given small paper American flags and sang “God Bless America” as we marched en mass around our school.
Posted by robinengelman on August 23, 2015 in Articles, Commentaries & Critiques, History
Tags: Colin Powell, Dick Cheney, Gorbachev, H. L. Mencken, Jihadists, John Stewart, Niccolo Machiavelli, Ronald Regan, The Berlin Wall, Thomas Paine