David Wills


International and Intercultural Communication | Philosophy


Killing Times begins with the deceptively simple observation—made by Jacques Derrida in his seminars on the topic—that the death penalty mechanically interrupts mortal time by preempting the typical mortal experience of not knowing at what precise moment we will die.

Killing Times traces the logic of the death penalty across a range of sites. Starting with the struggles of American courts to articulate what methods of execution constitute “cruel and unusual punishment,” Wills goes on to show the ways that technologies of death have themselves evolved in conjunction with fraught ideas of cruelty and instantaneity, from the guillotine through today’s drugs for lethal injection—and beyond the justice system to the opposed but linked practices of suicide bombing and drone warfare.

Grounded in a deep ethical and political commitment to death penalty abolition, Wills’s engaging and powerfully argued book pushes the question of capital punishment beyond the confines of legal arguments to show how the technology of capital punishment defines and appropriates the instant of death and reconfigures the whole of human mortality.

David Wills is Professor of French Studies and Comparative Literature at Brown University.



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