A Brief Essay Against All Murder, and the Death Penalty

by Anthony J. Gavin

How can I condemn someone, to I know not what?

 

Postscript to "A Brief Essay Against All Murder,
and the Death Penalty"

 

I.

“How can I condemn someone,”

 

The essay proceeds in the manner of a question. The question begins by itself seeking to establish the conditions of possibility or parameters within which an injunction may be sought or made, and justice rendered. Within the conditions of possibility or parameters so described, an injunction is thereby also sought or made to formulate, along with the matter of justice, its question. The matter of the question of justice is to be resolved as a matter of justice’s own justification.

Condemnation speaks absolute judgement. The utterance of the condemnation is a logos (λογος), the preeminent and emanating word of the Father become flesh; which, as immediately as it, by rendering judgement, renders the question of justice, so is it itself the immanent presence of justice. Such is the judgement rendered by the devil’s mark, the branding of witches or pagan tattoos, in which is inscribed not only what is rendered, namely absolute judgement, but also the symbol or the language of its rendering. To condemn is to judge guilty, to doom, to excommunicate even so far as to banish one from (His) immanent presence. Excommunication is both an expulsion from a community, as well as a silencing, or a rendering speechless. The unique ambiguity in the prefix ex- connotes for the word a double meaning, wherein one discovers both the sense of an issuing forth from speech, as well as the striking of one’s speech, rendering the one speechless. In “doom,” one sees also the trace of the Old English dom, a word denoting both a law and, through the law, the judgement rendered upon its infraction; i.e., condemnation, the accusation of the guilty. The modern sense derives also from the Christian Judgement Day, the end of days, the exaltation of the innocent to the Kingdom of Heaven and the endless suffering inflicted by absolute separation from the Father, which is to say from justice itself.

To bear the wound of this suffering, this absolute separation, is to know the screams of an unknowable chaos. For this separation is from the word become real, all speaking and rationalizing and categorizing violently deformed and thrown out of the pandemonious vortex of the violent separation that tears the self to shreds; torn apart from the word, all elements of speech disassembled as if thoughts in Anaxagoras’ own suffering soul, and spewed out as so much shit to flow through the rivers of the second ditch of Malebolge, which Dante circumscribed for flatterers in the eighth circle of Inferno. The suffering of such a torment would therefore be compounded by the additional anguish of having no words to describe itself. A suffering unable to render its own account, that is, to provide itself with its own justification. The utterances of what would have been so many words, suffocating their suffering speakers as so much shit filling their mouths.

We hold no illusions today about the death of God. We fuss only over the exact date upon which to say that we had at last welcomed that impossible guest, the death of God and the ‘end of history’. For the moment suspended by the question, God might have died yesterday, or else in 1883, upon Nietzsche’s proclamation. It makes no difference. The question is not a question in time. It is precisely the question of the end of time. The end of a time for a one, for whom time itself is inseparable and none other. The question of justice, the absolute judgement of the one, is precisely the question of the end of history. The moment that the question can be said to suspend is none other than a moment in time, an historical moment. The manner of the question in which the essay proceeds is thus a question without end. A question distilled through an end of history, a time disjointed and refracted through the prism of the question itself like a life flashing before your eyes.

Rendered through this prism is the totality of conditions of possibility or parameters within which the injunction may be sought or made. It is an entire life, a history disjointed and refracted and woven through so many memories, in the suspended moment announced by the presence of the question. Thus, we can say that the question is a question of the existence of a someone. For the existence of a someone in history appears to be none other than just that interval of time during which an individual presides over herself. The corollary question, as to whether this interval of time is constitutive of time’s entirety, depends upon one’s perspective. The question cannot decide the matter. How can I render through this prism this entire existence belonging to a someone, that is to say, an existence that does not belong to me? What belongs to me in the utterance of the question is not first an existence itself, of course, but the prism: a question of justice. The absolute judgement, rendered as a logos, disjoins and refracts. We have seen, in the light of this, that the question of justice sought and rendered by the absolute judgement is rendered as absolute separation from the immanent presence of justice. Thus, the question, whose utterance always already seeks to possess, is founded on a dispossession. To belong to a society of laws is to bear the possibility of being found guilty, deprived and lacking in the absolute of law, which we can say should once have been an originary identity in the lawful subject with the sovereign, or else the grace of the Father. The sovereign body is the immediate body of the law, whose existence is a threshold over which passes the question of inclusion in, or exclusion from, the sphere of law, which we may also call the body politic. Inclusion means having one’s life preserved. Exclusion means putting to death. Additionally, we can say that our good health inscribes the force of the law of (dis)possession on our bodies. But this aside does not fall within the immediate purview of the essay. At last, we conclude that what belongs to the question is precisely the power to dispossess, to excommunicate, which is immediately also the power of possession. To the question belongs all of (a) time, at its own precipice.

To the question belongs the time that it interrupts. To the question belongs both the question of its own time, and the timeliness of a someone. This latter, most directly, is what one can say is called into question. The former, the question of the time of the question, would rather be called into the question. It is an interpellation of the question itself, radiating out from a self-inscription that overcomes it. How so? Does it emanate from a history, an echo from a paused moment, like a slamming on the brakes, or the stinging skull that accompanies the forceful coughing of a severely congested cold? We cannot say. The history belongs to the question, and not to the essay itself. Neither does its meta-analysis belong to this postscript.

There is always that which escapes the question. Forgotten histories, moments unrecalled or hardly lived in the first place, and tales of violence lost. A cross-examination of these, forced into place by the question as an injunction – that is to say a command – is only prismatic, imperfect as the pure light shone through it, disjointing and refracting, refracted and disjointed outwardly at angles every bit as violent as the violence suffered by the witness. Violence always exposes itself as a history. It is forced to. It is chased into a corner until there is a history given to satisfy the command of the question. The witness suspected of dishonest telling before the court of the question stands to be overcome by questions on top of questions, questions whose possibility was of course inscribed on the originary questions themselves. A court issues its verdict always as the trial of violences untold, all ordered by the revelation whose condition of possibility always was the question.

The one I condemn is always a witness. They are the witness of time, of an entire life and a history. They are its only witness. Without them, time stops. For them, yes, it is true, but this most assuredly does not negate the truth-value of any of the foregoing statements. For they are a light, a unique perspective of truth, of an unfolding delimited by what is opposed to it and therefore shared by me. But the question interrupts this relation, this sharing, lest we forget. And in this interruption one finds, in suspension, a tendency towards (dis)possession. They are a light called into question. A light held in view and perused for shadows, deprivation and lack. We should note that deprivation also bears the connotation of moral depravity, of condemnation under widely accepted norms of justice, whether they be imposed socially, civically or legally. For Aristotle, deprivation (στἑρησιϛ) was deformity: in a human being, fallenness from a rational natural essence and a failure to cultivate a properly virtuous ethical character. Aristotle’s Organon, in this way, is a body of work of Platonic bioluminescence. But I digress. The guilty is a being found wanting of life, which is to their nature. The witness is a light, is all of history. And if she will not speak, cannot speak, or will not or cannot speak correctly (before the court of the question), then the former joins with the latter into a singularity. Without being suspected of the infraction called forth by the question of justice, the witness is the guilty, the guilty is the witness. All lights suffering violence and violently shining out, a reaction to blind us, we who dare to ask the questions, those issued by the justification of the question of justice, and to do violence there either by speaking them aloud or in our heads to ourselves (for we are all the jury, who silently await that we may one day render our verdict). All lights flashing in shadows cast, casting blindness. The only use of the court is that the bodies have left the room. A violence every bit as furious, gross and entangled as if it had been sexual. A hall for negotiating truths from lies, lies from truths, all subsumed by the narrative structure of the question.

The guilty witness commits the sin of not having spoken, in full knowledge of the truth, when called upon to render a just verdict. As it turns out, this is in Leviticus 5:1 (not that this renders it any force). But of what is the guilty, witness? They are, once again, the witness of time, of an entire life and a history. They are its only witness. Without them, time stops. For them. And the question of justice is directly posed around this stopping of time for them. Immediately as the question it stops this time in the form of a suspension, as we have seen, but it is only through mediation by the court of the question that the matter of absolute judgement formed by the question of justice can be rendered. But does not a court presume the innocence of he against whom justice is brought? We have already seen that this is not the case. For the question itself is already a death. There, in any courtroom, the presumed innocent is found dead and guilty. Time stopped. A history suspended and found at its limit, dangling over an ownmost finality. And so the presumed innocent is never as such in courts of questions spoken or thought.

We might call them the witnessing guilty, except that in the court of the question it is only the witness who is called a witness. The witnessing guilty is called the accused, called as a witness, but also the guilty. But it is not enough to know of what the guilty bears witness insofar as he stands accused in the court of the question, for in the question of justice there is already the tyranny of its own historicizing narratives. The question cannot decide the matter as to whether an interval of time is constitutive of a time’s entirety. The matter depends upon one’s perspective, as we have seen. Standing guilty before the question, they are the existence of an entire life possessed and at the precipice of dispossession. Histories remembered, moments recalled – for those rare enjoyable ones lived in the first place – and tales of violence inscribed. A cross-examination of these, forced into place by the question as an injunction, is equally prismatic, imperfect as the flickering light dimly shone through it, disjointed and refracted outwardly at angles every bit as violent as the original violence suffered by the guilty. Violence always exposes itself as a history. For it has not much choice. It is pursued itself by violence, ever the stalker in its shadow, a violence shaped by violence both as a history, and before the violent court of the question itself. A court issues its verdict always as the trial of violences unfolded.

 

II.

“to I know not what.”

 

The question of justice proceeds on a precise indeterminacy. The question, that one in the manner of which the essay proceeds, began (as we have seen) by seeking to establish the conditions of possibility or parameters within which an injunction may be sought or made, and justice rendered. The precise indeterminacy rendered by the question of justice in its procession is the matter of its own tyranny, an outer sphere of boundary conditions set upon the field of difference within which the possible outcomes, or answers to the question, are concretely determined. In the court of the question, one knows not precisely at the outset what kind of a verdict will be rendered. But for any given totality of ‘facts,’ words spoken and silences hushed, a precise punishment applies. This is precisely the tyranny of the historical narratives demanded by the question: a concrete actualization rendered as verdict upon the violence of possibility. There is, of course, the matter of legal interpretation, up to those who issue final verdict upon the veridicality and severity of what has been made to speak in the court of the question. But this is none other than an extension of the law itself, no different from the immediate body of law, the new speaking organ(s) of its sovereign body dissolved out over the myriad institutions of our proud modernity. And these institutions so impress us that we are often inclined to forget all about the question regarding the matter of justice’s own justification, which is also taken to be the question of the question of justice. We forget that, inscribed on the question of justice itself, is the matter of its own justification. The question only justifies itself in its answer. This latter only manifests after a series of mediations, the self-mediation and inwardly directed self-differentiation of the question of justice itself. But the asking of questions, too, stands in need of justification. For the asking of questions stands both the witness and the accused upon the precipice of the guilty.

The question is already a death. Time stopped. A history suspended and found at its limit, dangling over an ownmost finality. The innocence of the presumed guilty, so presumed before the court of the question, thus has its possibility only as a resurrection. What has its death as given and is found as never having been separate from justice itself, in and through its condemnation, rises from its true unity with the body of the word become flesh. The event of the resurrection is the impossibility of the condemnation. The possibility of the resurrection is the limit condition of condemnation. And in the event, the guilt of absolute separation from justice turns back on to the question itself. One might say it was just as such that Rome was doomed to fall. The question of justice’s own justification becomes the question of justice itself, as the originary question falls back on the dead guilty found innocent. One can also say that the resurrection of the dead guilty as the innocent is a recommencement, a new dawn of history, and a time continued, if not restarted. However, the suspended moment of the originary question, in its collapse, sets forth a suspension anew in the form of the question of the question of justice. So that the originary question itself is now the witness, the guilty witness held accountable for the tyranny of its ownmost history, which was before its own historicizing, held violently over the questioned.

Is this resurrection an impossible possibility? The witness I condemn is not the son of God, not the word become flesh. They are the witness of time, of an entire life and a history. They are its only witness. Without them, time stops. The moment suspended by the question of justice is an end of history, and already a death. To inquire after the impossible possibility of the question of the justification of justice outside of, but inscribed on the question of justice itself, is to inquire after the possibility of life after death, the impossible possibility of the resurrection. The death of the condemned before the court of the question, as we have seen, is immediately also the death of God as inscribed on the question itself. The question is not a question in time. It is precisely the question of the end of time. The end of a time for a one, for whom time itself is inseparable and none other. Thus, the impossible possibility consists in the resurrection of God himself. God died in his body. God decomposed (–ecology is inseparable from the economy of the question of justice). The condition of the impossible possibility stated as such suggests itself as the condemnation of a prophet, or else a martyr.

The death of the prophet or the martyr resurrects time from its disjointure, a history forestalled in the suspension of the court of the question. For a time out of joint is in reality no time at all. There is no temporality in it. It is only a dead interval. In another sense of injunction, as an adjoining, this resurrection appears to be a simple demand of justice. For the injunction must rejoinder the question in time so that it may close in upon itself, finally collapsing the moment of the time that it suspends into its continuance. Death and the question of death: in each there is an absolute break. So long as the matter of justice’s own justification remains open ended in the suspended moment of the question – and this so long is always an eternity, outside of time itself – justice is an impossibility. Its justification is an impossibility. The resurrection, the innocence of the dead guilty, provides closure to the moment of the suspension brought on by the originary question. But, as we have seen, the closure of the question of justice at this moment only forestalls the matter of justice’s own justification in the selfsame instant, when those who before issued forth their questions in the court of the question of justice become the accountable. Those who before asked the questions are become the witness, and also the accused. And hence, the matter of justice’s own justification is entirely circular. Either those who before asked the questions will themselves be the new prophets, resurrected by the new order of time when the trial finally acquits them; or, they will be put to death for their transgressions as the guilty, imbricated in the violence of the originary question visited upon the first witness. The self-justification of justice is either an endless cycle of trial, suspension and resurrection, or else it comes to an end, at last, in the death of the last.

We believe neither in Gods nor prophets. But from time to time, a martyr is resurrected in the form of the question of justice’s own justification. Such a resurrection is always occasioned by a wrongful (state) killing, a wrongful death exposed. But a wisened body of law does not seek the death of the martyr known as such ahead of time. It is only in death – in the moment of suspension of the originary question – that the martyr is as such. And so the precise indeterminacy, not of the originary question, but of the question of justice’s own justification, is precisely that the question does not itself know what death is.

But here, we have come upon a confusing new juncture. We have seen that the question of justice is already a death. Time stopped. A history suspended and found at its limit, dangling over an ownmost finality. And yet, the question of this death, witnessed by the question of the question of justice, the question of the matter of justice’s own justification, has been seen to contain the precise indeterminacy, itself inscribed on the precise indeterminacy of the originary question, of not knowing what death is. Thus, we are forced to admit that the question of justice, from the perspective of justice’s own justification, is misunderstood. It is unknown. Both death itself, and the question of justice, are the unknown, from the matter of justice’s own justification. The question must therefore be asked, from outside of the originary question as well as its own question, as to how a justification can proceed to justify (from) the unknown. For the question seeks to justify an unknown that is wholly its own, since we have also found that, in the suspension of time forestalled by the originary question, there is precisely its tendency towards (dis)possession, the power of life and death, possession and dispossession, simultaneously instantiated outside of (a) time.

Whither the unknown, death? And what is it? We speak of death as if whatever state or happening one intended by it could be said with some certainty. From the perspective of the question of the originary question, the question of justice’s own justification, death is inscribed on the originary question itself. Death is the suspension of time, the end of history distilled by the moment of the question. For the question of justice, death is the suspension of the guilty, lifted out of time and placed before the violence of the court of the question; and also, the possibility of his condemnation. The impossibility of the death of the guilty is, in turn, the resurrection of the guilty as innocent, which at the same time instantiates the death of the question of justice, the questioner as the witness, and the guilty witness who now appears before the court of the resurrected. The question of justice’s own justification asks what death is for the question of justice itself. And this chain of justification may proceed upon high towards infinity on a pile of apologetic corpses. But with each corpse, there is the presumption of the justification of the originary question, and a solution to the matter of what death is for the original condemned. And here, one discovers an irresolvable aporia of justice.

The one I condemn is always a witness. They are the witness of time, of an entire life and a history. They are its only witness. Without them, time stops. And we have seen that, from the perspective of the question of justice’s own justification, this stoppage of time – a suspension distilled out of the time of the condemned, wherein the question supplants its mediations, so as to locate its own resurrecting self-justification in its eventual continuance in the beyond of the collapsed moment of the presently forestalled interval of history – is equally a death. Without first resolving the impossible death of the witness, the entire artifice of justice’s own justification is left without ground. And this very interval, that distilled by the question for a suspended moment in time from the entire life history of an individual, and which – as time itself forestalled – was already a death; the question has already inscribed on itself the condition of its irresolvable aporia, making its justification contingent upon the unknowable known only to the witness. For the existence of a someone in history appeared to be none other than just that interval of time during which an individual presided over herself. The corollary question, as to whether this interval of time was constitutive of time’s entirety, was seen to depend upon one’s perspective. The question could not decide the matter. What makes this intervallic history entirely unknowable to the question of justice’s own justification is precisely the originary unknowability of death to the witness.

A death is irresolvable. Death is always the infinitely distant – a pure limit concept. Time experiences itself as a dilating or contracting function with limits at positive and negative infinity towards the irresolvably other, a pure beyond that collapses the possibility of resurrection. And this, without recognition. For it is the mere conjectural apprehension in the self-experience thus described which itself suggests the pure unknowability of annihilation. The entirety of history unfurls upon nothing else but this. This hopeless expectation, the infinitely deferred. In the Phaedo, Socrates suggests that philosophy is preparation for death. In truth, it is a survival instinct, triggered in the face of it. Time’s slow decay must be resolved as a matter of the calculation of this infinite function. To expire before its resolution is a condition of madness, although a madness also infinitely deferred as merely inevitable. The suspended death of the guilty holds in itself the mediation of the infinity of questions, points plotted along the resolution towards a calculation of the absolute value of the limit. All the questions of justice, to the guilty, are calculated towards the absolute possibility of a madness infinitely deferred; a madness produced only at this limit by the consummation of a schizophrenic break imposed by the violent narrative inscription of the question of justice. Death is the inevitably unrecognizable. Each of its own myriad resolutions only calculates the various possibilities of the pure stalking beyond.

I know not what renders itself in the preponderance of the question of justice, the negotiation of the violence imposed upon an impossible actualization of death. I know not what death is that awaits me, that enters into every possibility only as the locus of a profound dark. A dark that calls the witness, but lets no light escape. I know not even what untold violence is imposed by the rendering of a verdict over the matter of the question of justice. And it is I who condemns, in the name of the law, this separation from its immediate body, which whenceupon torn does decay every bit as much as Socrates’ body or Van Gogh’s ear. Decay is the expression of the infinitely forestalled moment of time’s absolute limit. And though we rationalize our decay to its limits at infinity, we depose ourselves in infinitely inescapable finite moments approaching impossibility. Whatever verdict already inscribes the impossibility of the infinitely forestalled moment, as the guilty, taken before the question of justice, is so inscribed on and by the question of justice’s own justification that its presence before the court is already a death.

The question the manner in which the essay proceeds began by itself seeking to establish the conditions of possibility or parameters within which an injunction may be sought or made, and justice rendered. These conditions of possibility or parameters are seen to be precisely the presumption of the knowability of death. Even if death could be presumed knowable, as a general possibility for a knowing subjectivity, the theory of knowledge according to which it could be rendered intelligible would decidedly not belong to our institutions of justice. Justice is not a theology. This is not to suggest that justice is utterly incapable of rendering an answer that satisfies, according to its own terms, the content of the matter of the question of justice. Far from it. Justice will approach its limits, corrupting and regenerating, breaking down and resurrecting, in every moment that the matter of its own justification necessarily eludes it. The necessity of the question begged in every injunction sought or made in the order of justice rendered must be approached as the absolutely irresolvable, the final justification of each order presenced by the court of the question.

The question of justice’s own justification necessarily cannot make a return to the question of justice itself. Justice proliferates like an infection in its post-Enlightenment roles of committing excommunications and beheadings. We ask for liberty in employing such disgusting images as those just described, which must only serve to illustrate the grotesquity of the immanent inwardly entrenched and expanding tendrils of justice inscribed and entangled in the only matter of self-justification that it can possess, of forced expansion and the deep growth of root systems of essential and vital complexity. Justice is a germ. It does not place itself before the court of the question of its own justification, until it becomes the thief of time; or perhaps not a thief, but at least a massive concentration effecting temporal dilations, just as a germ become a nasty cold puts me into a fretful and uncomfortable, and yet deep sleep, for several days; or as a germinating seed sets roots, simply thrown into a there. The there becomes the entire meaning of time, for a time. Every attempt to articulate the question truncates the presumed authority of the question of justice: the authority to possess and dispossess, to render absolute judgement and separation. And so the impossible knowability of death in the face of a condemnation made is always the critical force that robs justice of the possibility of its unbridled tyranny. And yet the preponderance of the question itself is precisely what justice is, where justice finds itself, negotiating the limits of its own authority. This is both the condition of its outward expansion, and of its inward self-differentiation, the latter of which forms a structural matrix the complexity of whose interstices form the most approximate embodiment of an ideal approaching an absolutely rigid skeletal support, bestowing the integrity of an unyielding self-justification as if emanating from an absolutely foundational beyond. We know that this pure beyond is the infinitely elusive unknowable, what is inevitable but escapes recognition. And yet the law is so exceedingly complex that it seems itself an object – or rather, an icon – worthy of reverence. As such, the law could be called a fetish. What would be implicitly fetishized, of course, are just its procedural renderings of (un)questionable violence. A body of law whose obsessive project of self-justification collapses in the end only on endless impositions of violence is only a body that constantly allows the irresolvability of the question of death to escape it. The question must be posed, for it is essentially the question of what justice is. Or else, justice is a simple executioner, gluttonous and perspicuously mad. And in each territory into which such a presence of justice, onto-theological, seeks to bury itself, the question must there give it haunt, burdening it with the unrest of its own dead.

 

III.

On the title and body of the essay.

 

The title of the essay provides the reader with an approximate thematic summation of the essay’s content. In doing so, the title also offers a sufficient, and possibly necessary condition, for the rendering of a context in which to situate the exact sense of the essay itself. Along with the creation of this context, naturally I take it that the body of the essay itself is a simple sufficient condition for the comprehension of the content of the essay. That is simply to say that the essay is what it is, simply. Taken together, the title and body enjoin a further sufficient condition stating their conjunction as a simple condition of their own comprehension. All of this is to say that the postscript is entirely an afterthought, and a clarification. Strictly speaking, I take it that there is nothing said in this postscript that is not said as such in the essay itself, taken together with its title, which situates one’s reflections about the essay’s content. This postscript is only an extended reflection. Its eventual conclusion is none other than the unresolved question already set forth by the essay itself. It is exactly for the reason that this question is, necessarily, simply unresolved, that justice at the limits of its means of implementation – where it finds itself – finds itself without ground.

One would possibly be expected to give an argument as to what makes a title a sufficient condition for the rendering of a context for an essay, as well as what makes the body of an essay a sufficient condition for the resolution of its content. For the condition of the claim that each of these taken together enjoins an understanding of their conjunction, self-sufficiently entailing a comprehension of the work as a whole, seems to rest on these. Minimally, for either of the independent conditions stated of the title and body of the essay, one could say that each constitutes for itself a necessary condition for its own comprehension, which is for each their particular rendering of a context or content, respectively. This much could be said of any essay, as any piece of writing takes both its own body and title as at least a necessary part of a complete understanding of what it is said to be, or to be about. A title is an accessory, a maquillage, disclosing behind it a face and an inner working. We are not without such accoutrements, and neither are our writings, which are only our bodies of words.

However, it is also said of an essay that its precise sense might have eluded a reader’s attempts to grasp it, for reasons others derive from any number of outside conditions taken as necessary for the rendering of a true understanding. These conditions might be historical, religious or aesthetic, if not otherwise. We often say that one cannot fully come to grips with a particular body of words without looking outside, to the overall productive span of an author’s lifetime, for example. One must compare earlier texts with later ones. And while it is true, for us, that we may say that comparing photographs of ourselves taken today with those from when we were small children provides those who seek to know us with some slightly closer contours to the sides of a complete understanding, we must realize that the people in these photographs possess no true understanding of each other. It is precisely because each is lifted from the continuously smeared temporality of a self-experience that this is said, despite the apparent fact that I feel closer to the boy I once was, the more I seek to understand him from through the lens of my present self and in pictures. This sentiment reveals only a particular habitual way of reading texts, rather than the way in which a text itself asks to be understood. A text is lifted out of time – it is precisely this that allows it to take up the question of justice as a question. And although one says that a picture is worth a thousand words, it is also true that a text seeks to expose its organs, to reveal its inner workings in a bounded movement constitutive of its body of words, gliding over its surface. It is only I that put myself into a text. The text pulls me back into it only as my reflection. For any other, it is equally a reflection. And for any other, the extension of this reflection spanning whatever body of words binds them into a possession with the text: a possession both ‘of’ and ‘by’ it. The postscript attempts to dispossess itself of the text, and to speak only about it. It is just such a possessed reflection of the text. This is why it is said that the postscript is entirely an afterthought, and a clarification. The postscript is only an extended moment of reflection, coproduced by the text and its reading. Strictly speaking, there is nothing said in this postscript that is not said as such in the essay itself, taken together with its title, which situates one’s reflections about the essay. A given text is a unique moment, produced by the movement of its reading.

The title of the essay expresses that its body provides an argument against all murder, and the death penalty. The body of the essay proceeds to articulate a fundamental question of justice, the limit of whose sought conditions or parameters for its own resolution is the pure unknowability of its very ground, and its every rendering of a verdict. Death is the unknowable, given by the title of the essay. But the essay does not propose to offer an argument against death as such. The title, taken in conjunction with the body, provides only an argument against death rendered in the order of the question of justice. Justice was seen as a forestalling of time, seeking to collapse in upon itself in the self-mediating inscription of its own justification as a closure: a continuation of time is the possible resurrection of the question of justice found dead before the matter of its own justification. The resurrection, as we have seen, provided closure to the moment of the suspension brought on by the originary question. But the closure of the question of justice at this moment only forestalled the matter of justice’s own justification in the selfsame instant, when those who before issued forth their questions in the court of the question of justice became the accountable. And hence, the matter of justice’s own justification was entirely circular. Justice meets its own irresolvably unjustifiable limit at the matter of a question of death arising from its own condemnations, its own absolute judgement, its own excommunications and executions. Faced with this aporia, every movement of the question of justice had inscribed upon itself already its own condemnation and a death from the matter of its own justification. Justice is thus for itself the rationally unwillable condition of its own expansion, as resolutions to the precise indeterminacy of the question of justice at its outer limits resolve themselves in the impossible incalculability of death. Death is the unknowable beyond of an infinite limit.

An essay itself is only an argument. In this essay, it is only the question itself that is the argument. The question and the argument are coextensive, identical upon the body of the text. However, the body is also the limit of this identity, since a reflection extended through the movement of the text is what one says is inscribed on the body of words itself, which is therefore not identical with any symbol or etching inscribed on the body, but is rather contained in and unfolded from the latter. One part of the argument that the question also is, is that it is merely a question without end. In the extended reflection of this postscript, we reasoned that the question is not a question in time. It is precisely the question of the end of time. The manner of the question in which the essay proceeds is thus a question without end. A question distilled through an end of history, a time disjointed and refracted through the prism of the question itself like a life flashing before your eyes. A question undiminished and stubbornly enduring through the myriad inward extensions subtending its impossible resolution. A defiant question, which already knows that any attempt to render a response is useless. Its irresolution is instead a limit. Every self-enclosed circular justification that justice imposes on itself only expands in upon its own complexifying self-conception that always threatens to collapse into itself on the question of death.

As a final addendum, to a point which should be obvious by now, I shall dedicate a brief closing moment to the value of this postscript itself. The postscript is only an extended reflection unfolded from what is already in the essay itself. Each movement that it makes is drawn out only from the movement of the question the manner in which the essay proceeds, provided the context of its title in the background. This postscript is merely an extended moment in which the matter of the question collapses in on itself, and continues. Therefore, insofar as this postscript contains in itself nothing other than the question’s own fundamental irresolution, it says nothing that is not already contained within the question itself. As was said above, the postscript attempts to dispossess itself of the text, and to speak only about it. It is just as such a possessed reflection of the text. The form of the question inscribed as on this body of words, in its irresolvable continuance, dispossesses itself also of the temporality of questions of justice, and stands in here only as itself the eternally self-resurrecting impossibility of a resolution. This postscript is only an extended reflection of this eternally self-resurrecting collapse, and as such must be treated as a wholly abstract venture, treating only the contours of the movement of the question qua argument treated in the essay itself. The postscript is hence not necessary to render an understanding of the essay itself. With this premise in place, I am moreover prepared to return to the question as to whether the conjunction of an essay’s title and body constitutes a sufficient condition for their comprehension as a singular whole. I take it that the analogy of the photograph reveals one argument in favour of my stated position, for the treatment of a text of its own account; a second argument is that this postscript itself is taken not to be necessary, strictly speaking, for the rendering of a complete comprehension of the essay itself. This postscript is only the most immaterial of all possible extended reflections on the essay itself, sticking as closely as is possible (such has been my attempt) to the matter of the question itself the manner in which the essay proceeds. Any further treatment, rendered from the perspective of some conception that justice has of itself, will bring multiple further conditions taken as necessary for the rendering of a particular understanding. But the question in its context is self-sufficiently an argument. The question comprehends already the fundamental unknowable that it demands as an answer, and thus its impossible irresolution.

In the matter of questions of justice, whose impossible limit was also a condition of self-expansion, the internally complexifying system of self-justifications formed by their calculations of point-solutions towards the infinite limit will presumably be possessed of a more elaborately concretized structural validity than the self-collapsing abstract form of the question itself. But the very abstract question appeared not only as the matter of the question of justice, but also as that of the question of justice’s own justification; just so, it haunts a complexifying system of justice all the way through. This is simply to say that the tendency of justice’s expansion towards its limit is as a theology. The natural expectation is that it thereby be held accountable for the rendering of an afterlife for the condemned, its dead. The question immediately appears as an infinite compassion for the guilty and the witness who, before the court of the question, were also taken as the entire outer bounded limit of (a) time. The fundamental irresolution of the question of justice, therefore, amid the massive internally complexifying condition of justice’s self-expansion, always serves to condemn a system of justice itself for the time that it takes. For everybody is a life, a living witness. They are the witness of time, of an entire life and a history. They are its only witness. Without them, time stops. And the time that justice takes is itself already death, and the question of death. Today, one leaves it up to a system of justice to render its impossible resolutions material, and authoritative.


A Brief Essay Against Committing All Murder, and the Death Penalty by Anthony J. Gavin is Blasted Tree original nonfiction.

Feature Image by William M. Vander Weyde - George Eastman House Collection

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