Electronic Theses and Dissertations



Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Committee Chair

Kas Saghafi

Committee Member

Daniel Smith

Committee Member

James Bahoh

Committee Member

Michael Naas


Concluding the first year of his seminars on the death penalty, Derrida writes that “even when it will have been abolished, the death penalty will survive.” This dissertation interprets his claim in various contexts and with particular attention to the specificity of Derrida’s discourse on survival or survivance. The first chapter attends to the complicity of the Western philosophical tradition, through the example of Martin Heidegger, in providing the theoretical scaffold for the institution of capital punishment. This chapter also traces a logic of donner la mort, or giving death, from the philosophical level to the social level, working out the mechanics of a process of “sacrificial indemnification” that perpetuates any form of identity through an effaced but effective form of putting-to-death. The second chapter interprets a tendency in the history of execution that moves from the effusion of blood to its staunching through the lens of a Derridean phylogenetic psychoanalysis of the body. Through readings of Freud and Breuer and Hungarian analysists Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok, this chapter reads Derrida’s treatment of inheritance as essential to any understanding of the historical discourses on the death penalty as well as Derrida’s elaboration of survivance. The final chapter turns to Derrida’s engagement with Immanuel Kant’s rigorous defense of the death penalty, interpreting Kant’s argumentation in terms of his desire for another life beyond the temporality and the phenomenality of this one. This chapter reads Derridean survivance as a working-though of Derrida’s own Kantian heritage, and suggests that it is inextricable with Derrida’s treatment of justice in the later works. These chapter work together to distinguish Derridean survivance from traditional economies of survival. A main theme of this dissertation is that survivance, if and when it occurs, can only occur through an other, leaving open the question of the survival of the death penalty to the dissemination of indefinite and unpredictable forms that could consist in its abolition. Another objective of this project has been to emphasize the importance of The Death Penalty seminars to both the trajectory of Derrida’s own thought and the Western theoretical tradition in general.


Data is provided by the student.

Library Comment

Dissertation or thesis originally submitted to ProQuest.


Open access