Feyerabend and his Shadow: Compassion and Complexity

One of the themes of STORIES FROM PAOLINO’S TAPES is the need to perceive and to pay attention to all that is outside the narrow limelight of official knowledge and social success. The light is but a narrow selection from a far larger and more ambiguous field. In the incipit Feyerabend quotes from Brecht’s Threepenny Opera (« And the ones stand in darkness and the others stand in the light. We only see those who stand in the light, those who stand in the darkness you don’t see ») and evokes those living outside the limelight, living, loving, and dying. This is humanity, not the bloodless fiction created by intellectuals who set themselves up as spokesmen for their own partisan values treated as universal.

One needs a shadow perception to see those in the dark and to pay attention to them, and not just fixate on the important people (and the important facts and ideas). The need for shadow perception shows itself again in the story of Falstaff in Verdi’s opera, who is too naive, too innocent. His innocence constellates the cruelty and vengeance of the two young women, Alice and Meg, who wish to punish him for his impudence. He falls for their ruse, no shadow warns him, he takes their ploy at face value, falling victim to a veritable conspiracy of ressentiment. At the end there is a recognition of life as « silly », as containing both bright and dark moments, both innocence and cruelty, in a complex comedy regented by no transcendent value.

The darkness is there in the account of Schrödinger – saying no to power, refusing to accept the viciousness of the Nazi harassing the Jew and spitting in his face, perceiving the dangers of nuclear power and warning against it when opinion was in favour of it. Speaking your mind is not innocence or provocation but a « gift », ie not the property of a heroic autonomous ego, but the outcome of sensitivity to a wider perception and the willingness to act on it.

Feyerabend’s account of Fritz Lang’s FURY is yet another example of the need for shadow perception. The innocent hero, Joe Wilson, is nearly lynched by an angry mob, but the sheriff shows compassion and violates the « law » to save his life. However Joe identifies with the fury for vengeance of the mob, and wants revenge against those who tried to kill him unjustly at all costs. At the end he has a « change of heart » and accepts the complexity of life and the need for compassion.

Compassion is paying attention to and valuing those who do not stand in the light, caring for the losers and the lost, for those who do not have the power and prestige accorded to the élite by the régime of light. As Feyerabend recounts these stories we can feel his compassion, his emotion at the the twists and turns of people’s lives.

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