Themed Set: Scary Escapes

Whether one checks out laughing or shrieking, execution is an intrinsically frightening proposition.

Whatever one’s view of what constitutes just desserts for the particular individual at stake, this is also the condemned at his or her most nakedly human — most susceptible to empathy. The little tributes in these moments that the mechanisms of death must pay to the corporeality of the doomed tend to strike us: the aching animal needs to eat, sleep, fuck, and excrete, every one of them paradoxical before the gaping grave.

In “A Hanging”, George Orwell remembers the way a man being escorted to the gallows in India walks around a puddle in his path, a triviality eloquent of the man’s soon-snuffed life. “When I saw the prisoner step aside to avoid the puddle, I saw the mystery, the unspeakable wrongness, of cutting a life short when it is in full tide.”

So much more the fascinating those few who return to us from that walk to the gallows — those whose own flesh endured le toilette du condamne only to be recalled to a life of worrying about puddles. These are essential scaffold-dramas: the last-second reprieve, or the intended reprieve delivered a fraction too late; the execution survived; the cinematic escape. One foot over the threshold of death, and then …

The next three days’ posts feature proposed executions whose victims had every expectation of dying until being spared at the very last minute by some inexplicable deus ex machina — the most terrifying and most edifying escapes imaginable.

On this day..

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