Beheading is in the news. Rarely, however, is it discussed in relation to the long tradition of the severed head and and the history of decapitation in the West. If IS is taken as largely a phenomenon of modernity, then its use beheading as spectacle needs to be considered in this context. This lecture looks at three paradigms of decapitation: the mythic, which goes back to the head of Medusa as a petrifying image; the Christian, focused on St John the Baptist in relation to martyrdom; and the guillotine in the French Revolution as it shifts from being a mechanism for the redistribution of sovereignty to the enforcement of purity through terror.
Michael Newman is Professor of Art Writing at Goldsmiths.
Recorded on 8 December 2014