Walter Burkert, the German scholar of ancient sacrfice, provides a line I think that would fit sources as diverse at Durkheim and Freud, Agamben and Derrida: “Civilized life endures only by giving ritual form to the brute force that lurks in men” (Homo Necans [University of Cal Press, 2004]), before turning, in a footnote, to the ritual of providing a last meal to those to be executed, calling it a “comedy of innocence” in the hope of goodwill (148). He sides with those who argue that the ritual of last meals began as an attempt to avoid the dreaded miasma, a play of forgiveness by the soon to be dead, mirroring the gift of food one would provide a guest in one’s home. This “play” also occurs between the damned and the sacred, between the sovereign choice of what one will eat at the very point where sovereign imposition is to put one to death–though I realize my choice of words here is anachronistic–a final hospitality to those about to depart.
And so, those in Texas who lecture us endlessly on Christ–leaving aside all the complexities of the staging of the Last Supper and its replication in the forgiveness of trespasses to all of the damned–have now ended this rite for Texas’s death row inmates. As the state senator (I won’t dignify him with a name) largely responsible for the change puts it, in less careful phrasing of Burket’s dictum above, “We’re fixing to execute the guy and maybe it makes the system feel good about what they’re fixing to do.” What becomes, then, a state when it can’t no longer even bother with giving ritual form to such sovereign violence?