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On Cruelty

Judith Butler: The Death Penalty

16 July 2014
The Death Penalty: Vol. I 
by Jacques Derrida, translated by Peggy Kamuf.
Chicago, 328 pp., £24.50, January 2014, 978 0 226 14432 0
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... Whence comes​ this bizarre, bizarre idea,’ Jacques Derrida asks, reading Nietzsche on debt in On the Genealogy of Morals, ‘this ancient, archaic (uralte) idea, this so very deeply rooted, perhaps indestructible idea, of a possible equivalence between injury and pain (Schaden und Schmerz)? Whence comes this strange hypothesis or presumption of an equivalence between two such incommensurable things? What can a wrong and a suffering have in common?’ By way of an answer, he points out that ‘the origin of the legal subject, and notably of penal law, is commercial law; it is the law of commerce, debt, the market, the exchange between things, bodies and monetary signs, with their general equivalent and their surplus value, their interest ...

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