I think he is the most funny philosopher that ever existed: Paul Feyerabend. I don’t remember why I bought his autobiography, Killing Time – I think I just saw it in the book shop at the Station, at a moment I was in need of something new to feed my mind. I didn’t know his philosophical work back then. In recent years I have read the book twice and would read it again, because it is so entertaining. And wise…
The title of the book is funny: normally we think of killing time as doing things with no lasting result, unnoticeable things, like playing cards, or worse: watching the screens with moving images which nowadays are everywhere in public spaces: in airplanes,in busses, even in the waiting room of the family doctor. In countries where such screens would be unaffordable luxury men kill time in the traditional way: standing around on corners and talking about nothing… Feyerabend uses the expression to characterize his amazing international philosophical career.
As an Austrian youth he participated in World War II on the nazi side, and he is bluntly open about it. He discloses the fact that at age 19 he just had no deep thoughts about the events of his time, or that his own existence had any connection with the fate of others. He thought of war as just some adventure, but had to pay for his participation with irreversable invalidity. That, however, didn’t make him lose this attitude: the boyish, adventurous, wanting to live life to the full-attitude, which also characterized his life as an academic. He played around, wanted to win from his colleagues in debate, and became hugely popular with his ‘anarchistic’ book Against Method. It were the days of counter-culture and hippiedom, days that made the succesful professor into a cult figure. But none of this, he later saw, was really important. In those days, he knew no deep love, he didn’t understand about connection or compassion. It made him realize, as an older man: it all was just killing time.
Who wants to read his academic work might also enjoy his wittiness, and the cleverness in which it is dressed. But in his autobiography, with its narrative, instead of argumentative, style he didn’t turn into a lesser thinker. He turned into a better thinker instead. One might regret that because of his early death at 60 he didn’t have the time to turn his ripened vision of life into a new philosophical book. He himself writes, however, at the end of Killing Time, about the war inside him: between the ambition to be seen as a great philosopher and the human need to write clearly and simply, so one can share with other human beings. His final and humble insight is that he doesn’t desire intellectual immortality, but only that love may endure. Just the touching words of a man who is dying from cancer? Or a serious call to all ambitious fellow humans: ‘stop killing time!’
Paul Feyerabend lived from 1924 – 1994.
His autobiography is: Kiling Time: The Autobiography of Paul Feyerabend, The University of Chicago Press, 1995