A Garden with a Guillotine
In St. Petersburg (Russia), they had a gardening competition a few weeks ago in which the participants were requested to draw their inspiration from French themes.
First place was won by the design of a garden with a guillotine. Amid the trees, bushes and a base of green grass, that murderous device was displayed as a harmonic and coherent element of the scheme. Behind it appeared a flowerbed of mauve-colored flowers.
The guillotine was made of materials that looked very natural. It seemed to consist of varnished wood and wrought iron.
The materials were probably recycled; an ecological guillotine doesn’t pollute the environment.
The garden was called “Garden of the Convention,” alluding to the parliamentary body of the great French Revolution.
I think it’s very significant that a garden appeared in Russia with a guillotine, and also that it won an award.
It was said on the news that some visitors even had their photos taken with their head inside the device, and the beautiful landscape in back. To me this seemed like a deserving pose. In fact, the enjoyment of the guillotine’s esthetics must be, without a doubt, a part of the consumer practices of the global middle class.
It’s something like a return to the archetypes, to the repressed content of collective memory. At the end of the 18th century, the Enlightenment was transformed into a knife edge gravitating toward necks, an exercise of the true bourgeoisie in the flesh, the premiere of a model of consumption that the planet is experiencing today.
In Cuba, as far as I know, we never had guillotines. But we do have is the La Cabaña fortress. According to a certain Havana architect, it’s the sole Cuban piece of authentic Baroque, specifically military Baroque.
In La Cabaña they used the garrote [a Spanish device used to execute prisoners by strangulation], and later the firing squad. Today they conduct a touristic ceremony there that consists of the firing of a cannon every night at 9 p.m. At this staging are performers dressed in period uniforms and hoisting the Spanish flag. In addition, the International Book Fair is held there every year.
La Cabaña could be our garden with a garrote, or a garden with a firing squad. That coincidence always impresses me when I visit the book fair held there each February. Here they shot people; they choked them to death. Now there are books. It’s the opposite of France; where first was the Enlightenment and later the executions.
Those practices could be recaptured in a performance. A book fair with a garrote, books with shootings. For a moderate price, paying homage to our repressed memories: “You are invited to stand in front of the platoon,” in the style of Goya’s painting. And, “If you want to, scream.”
Or you could choose not to do that. In any case, the order “Fire!” would be given.
The new enlightened middle class should internalize the costs of their enlightenment. They should feel it. Enjoying the shootings and the garrote is a part of the daily life of a middle class intellectual. Executions are for amusing oneself. A garden with a guillotine. Bookstores with shootings. Reggaeton with a garrote. Discos with the electric chair. Gas chambers connected to the Internet.
I hope it’s clear: I’m an enemy of the death penalty.
When the 1871 Paris Commune took place, the rebellious workers brought the guillotine out into the street and set it on fire.
I would like for the burning of the guillotine be a part of our collective memory and a model of working class consumption. Once a year we could take the junk for killing over to the central courtyard of the San Carlos Fortress and set them on fire.
In this way, the makers of electric chairs, guillotines and garrotes will be able to retain their employees and conserve the secrets of their trade: every year they will build devices with the sole purpose of making them burn in the new fire of the Commune.
3 thoughts on “A Garden with a Guillotine”
“!Ah, ca ira, ca ira, ca ira//les aristocrates a la lanterne!” (“Ah! It’ll be fine, It’ll be fine, It’ll be fine//aristocrats to the lamp-post//Ah! It’ll be fine, It’ll be fine, It’ll be fine//the aristocrats, we’ll hang them!//If we don’t hang them/We’ll break them//If we don’t break them//We’ll burn them…//And when we’ll have hung them all//We’ll stuff a spade up their arse.”(Sans-culotte version)
I am also opposed to death penalty. Sometimes when some humans commit atrocious acts against other humans some people think that the best punishment is to kill them, not so.
The worst punishment for a human is loss of liberty. This is the punishment most cubans in Cuba have suffered for 50 + years for the crime of supporting a revolution that made promises it could not deliver.
A good article. Our movement is with you 100% in regard to the death penalty.
Let us remember however that the guillotine was inverted as a humane method of execution. Formerly those who faced “capital” punishment–cutting off of the head–were decapitated by a hatched blow. Sometimes of course the hatchetman was hung over or simply did not like the person being executed, and he would miss on the first whack and have to chop at the neck until the head finally came off. Undoubtedly a very cruel form of execution, no matter how you slice it.
Since the executioner would often take the severed head by the hair and raise it up for the entertainment-starved crowd to see, it was noted that the eyes would pop and blink and the face of the head would work in horrific ways. This gave rise to the belief the person could still feel pain and was reacting to it for several seconds after the fatal blow.
And so the French Revolutionaries, wishing to do away with the cruel beheading technique practiced by the hated royalty, invented the guillotine. This device had a diagonal blade for smooth cutting. It was mounted in a jig that allowed the cutting blow to descend rapidly by gravity and make the cut both precise and instantaneously.
But the really humane part was the heavy wooden block that held the cutting blade. This block, as the neck was being sliced by the blade, hit the back of the person’s head and knocked her or him unconscious instantly, thus preventing any pain to the victim.
So, we can look at the guillotine as an instrument of torture, or more accurately as an instrument of humane execution. The real focus however should be on the death penalty itself.
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