In his book review ‘Human, All Too Inhuman – The smallness of the “big” novel’ (The New Republic, 24 July 2000, p. 41), James Wood defines features shared by novels of a new ‘genre’, hysterical realism: ‘The different stories all intertwine, and double and triple on themselves. Characters are forever seeing connections and links and plots, and paranoid parallels. (There is something essentially paranoid about the belief that everything is connected to everything else.)’
If Wood is right re his bracketed aside (which might reveal more about him than about the characters [or authors] he’s dissing), then surely humanity needs to embrace paranoia – for any fully sentient ecologist could tell Wood that widespread denial that ‘everything is connected to everything else’ underlies, for one, our global climate crisis. Though maybe, in the last decade, technology has changed his perspective? Digital culture makes real this so-called paranoid belief. But, like big novels, the big picture isn’t Wood’s field of expertise. As a champion of literary realism, he illuminates the art of deploying detail. In How Fiction Works (London, Vintage, 2009), he writes: ‘in life as in literature, we navigate via the stars of detail (p. 52).’ And: ‘Literature makes us better noticers of life; we get to practise on life itself; which in turn makes us better readers of detail in literature; which in turn makes us better readers of life (p. 53).’
When I began to teach myself astrology nearly three decades ago, I soon eliminated many texts. If not for Liz Greene – a Jungian psychologist who weaves history, literature and myth into her subtle and complex analyses – the astrological handbook landscape would have seemed even swampier to me. Her detailed case studies ground theory in context.
If great, or even just good, literary writing thrives on precision (and the work I most love confirms Wood’s thesis that it does), then much astrologic writing (unlike Greene’s) exhibits the opposite: pile-ups of vague ideas evocative in their way, and likewise devised to engage readers’ imaginations, but less conducive to the attainment of the promised self-knowledge than to the entertainment of wishful thinking (part of the appeal of fiction). Loose language, like loose faeces, can comprise undigested matter; can stink, offering nothing to push against, nothing substantial. For example…
My astrological diary, which I chose for its daily data on planetary aspects and moon phases, from which I draw my own conclusions, also provides mini weekly forecasts. For instance, this week’s opens with: ‘Tuesday is a rather complicated day – keep things simple on that day and don’t expect too much of yourself and others.’ Was this deduced in part from the abundance of lunar aspects (most of which arose and passed before dawn, while I snoozed)? The short forecast concludes with: ‘On the weekend you may want to focus on a healthier lifestyle and imagine how you integrate that on an everyday level.’ Ah, food for thought while I’m at a cocktail party (for which a waning Virgo Moon is far from perfect, but we can’t change our birthday/solar return). Still, the sensible tone of these tips suits a ‘planning diary’.
The following comes from an online oracle with a transformational bias: ‘Whether the effects of this time frame are showing up in obvious, physical life sorts of ways or whether it is a more internal process, things are different now. And they’ll just keep getting more different from here on out. Ready or not, here it comes.’ Here comes what? This disorienting warning applies to the next five years from the vantage point of last July.
And just last week someone sent me something along the same lines, part of an article on the last solar eclipse, subtitled: ‘Who Does It Affect and for How Long?’ [NB: You’re about to see excerpts thereof removed from their context. If anyone wants to read the rest, I’m happy to pass it on.] The prediction begins: ‘This Solar Eclipse has a huge impact on everyone for over 4 1/3 years.’ That answers the question posed in the heading, and the next 1800+ words elaborate. Here’s a representative sampling:
‘Before the next New Moon at 14 Aquarius on February 2-3, we shall all begin a new long wave cycle of graduating into a new Spiritual focus that we've been rehearsing for, and some will be initiated into a greater Spiritual role to play in the world. The next few weeks are the end of the end and the beginning of the beginning.’ [Italics mine] The next paragraph doesn’t unpack that last sentence, so let’s skip a few. ‘Keep sharpening your intuition as you continue to go ever deeper into vast feelings that connect you to all Beings through all time.’ This is one of several such instructions. ‘The next 52 months will continue to offer many important turning points as well as challenges for most of the 12 signs.’ To which signs doesn’t the above apply? What happened to the huge impact on everyone? And, near the end: ‘We now stand on the threshold for what will flame on in just a few weeks. We are still breaking out of our cocoon, and transfiguring our lives.’ So we’re all in this together (this meteor storm of mixed metaphors)? Isn’t such obscurity more ensnaring than enlightening?
But hey, maybe this pundit is an astrological guru. Maybe he’s a profoundly intuitive communicator. Maybe I just haven’t done enough (a) personal growth workshops, (b) Eastern-style meditation or (c) psylocibin/cannabis/eccy to find his hyperbolic style inspiring. Or maybe I’ve just read too many commentaries from more grounded, less grandiose writers. His new-age-cultic advice is a far cry from the psychological insights offered by the likes of Liz Greene.
Last year I read a short yet expensive book called The Genius Decision: The Extraordinary and the Postmodern Condition by Klaus Ottmann (Putnam, CT, Spring Publications, 2004), because it promised to bring together at least three of my interests (art, literature and philosophy). Unfortunately, I lacked the genius to grasp it. The text is studded with gems like this quote from Theodor W. Adorno: ‘The ineffability of illusion prevents the solution of the antinomy of aesthetic semblance by means of a concept of absolute appearance.’ (If you get what Adorno’s on about, please feel free to comment; even your wildest guess is welcome!) The above is by no means loose language; on the contrary, it’s densely compressed – a textual version of an impacted bowel. Such books often contain more typos and/or botched grammar than average; a clue that even editors and proofreaders can’t get their heads around them.
One fundamental difference between Academese and New-Agespeak has to be, in general, their audience; but what do these audiences have in common (beyond elitism and relative smallness)? Their mutual distrust would seem to point to something, but what? Insularity? Too much reliance on one cerebral hemisphere (be it left or right)? Does each need some of what the other has in excess to find balance?