Monday, January 19, 2009

Shadow: What Does It Know

The big story in the Washington Post online Friday September 8, 2006 reveals the decision by the Bush administration to move fourteen detainees from undisclosed locations around the globe to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Shackled, sedated and hooded, “their arrival marks the end of a five-year effort by the Bush administration to conceal as many as 100 al-Qaeda suspects from the world and to shield the agency's interrogation tactics and facilities from public scrutiny”, writes Washington Post staff writers Dafna Linzer and Glenn Kessler. A shadowy picture accompanies the text. This morning I can’t help thinking about shadows.

One of the more famous shadows of my childhood I inherit from my father. My father was a dramatic actor in his youth and trained in voice and broadcasting in college. He was the star in the senior play in high school and wanted to be a radio news announcer until the practical side of life took over and he, as a young father with a dynamically growing family, took a job with the U.S. government. This brings me to the early 1950’s and my childhood inheritance from my father’s side. Dad loved the old-time mystery radio shows of his own childhood lived in the days before television. The one famous line he would dramatize went, “Only the shadow knows!” The line I recall never really happened that way in the original radio program, Detective Story whose debut in radio ocurrs in August of 1930. The program’s actual opening line is “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!” The line made the shadow character so popular the show eventually was renamed, “The Shadow.” The gifted nature of his shadowy ability allows “The Shadow” to overcome any of his enemies. I checked him out with Sure enough The Shadow…

"a figure never seen only heard, was an invincible crime fighter. Besides his tremendous strength, he could defy gravity, speak any language, unravel any code, and become invisible with his famous ability to “cloud men’s minds.”

If I keep in mind the idea of a radio show where we have to imagine the shadow image like the one I’ve provided this essay, I believe I can understand why The Shadow is never seen and only “heard.” But, this kind of shadow the image of this kind of shadowy nature of psyche revalues and reimagines today has a much harder time being heard in our present day. How aware of shadow are we?

Today we see the shadows of others without recognizing ourselves in them. We know with the known being kept under guard and unknown. Our shadows remain in shadow themselves. They are all one thin color. They can’t be ident
ified as me and you. The message is clear. The shadow must remain alien and apart. It must remain an enemy and foreign. We are not to see anything other than the existence of the shadow (and see it as other than and separate from ourselves in what we claim we are). The shadow is to have no voice and to deliver no message of its own. The image the shadow is now made to wear says not that it fights evil nor that it will help us fight evil, but that it is evil.

The Washington Post article refers to such facilities that maintain the apartness of the shadow as “black sites”; these sites, like the detainees, are kept from public scrutiny. They, too, remain invisible. It seems we are allowed to see the shadow but not what the shadow sees. Thusly, we come to know only of the shadow and not what the shadow knows. Part of the collective problem of the shadow dwells in our being swallowed by it. We are in it. How do we get out from within the shadow?

Like a sound bite, the shadow remains a shallow surface with ghastly consequences in allusion. Sequestered unheard, without rights of even closer scrutiny and critique, our empowered collective shadow has permission to abuse and the abuse may be held secret and in high places for a long, long time. Projected back onto surfaces, the evil the shadow knows is always “out there.” To this John Goldhammer remarks, “Yes!” For Goldhammer suggests we are seeing
the shadow of fudamentalism at work.

But, the shadow marks a kind of vacuous space. This may be what Adolf Guggenb├╝hl-Craig (henceforth, AGC) tries to speak to when he writes,
The Emptied Soul and then goes on to talk about this emptiness. As AGC notes the companion traits of The Shadow, he attempts to separate and define our notions of the eros and the aggression as distinct from The Shadow itself. The Shadow consists of several different levels. It harbors elements we cannot identify with or that are repressed because of education, culture, or value system. It can be individual or collective. I’ve been thinking about the collective shadow this morning. This shadow is the one the entire culture represses. That’s why I have said our collective problem is that we are in it. We cannot see it because we are in it. How do we get out?

I like what AGC has to say about The Shadow. You’ve got to begin by knowing something about the existence of these black shadow sites imaginally. They are part of the experience of experiencing what is missing. What soul lacks soul? And when the shadow lacks its soul what is it that has been lost? The shadow, says AGC, is a complex matter. As a complex it has an archetypal core, one distinguishable from the instinct of self-assertion, what you and I think of as aggression, and the shadow element of psychic destructiveness. (Emptied,136)

And, there you have it, one man’s insight, but a pretty good one. The empty element in the shadow soul is an element of psychic destructiveness. It portends the absence of eros.

AGC notes that this absence of eros can appear in quite charming people. This means charm is as much a claim to the presence of such absence as to the presence of eros. We have reached a season of shadow. We are in it. That morning I began thinking of it as if it were like
the fall equinox
. This season of shadow is a season of spectacular change. Like the fall equinox we will have had to overcome ideas about being special and the center of what matters just to begin to get to know what we didn’t know about the season of shadows we are experiencing today. That was no small effort on our part then and it will take no small effort on are part today. To know what a shadow knows means we will have had to dare to think new thoughts like we once did autumnally...perhaps, about things only our shadows can share.

Essay first published by September 8, 2006 @ 10:07am