In his primer Astrologik (Vertical Pool, 1999), underground filmmaker and overall maverick Antero Alli argues against legitimising astrology. But not for the reasons you might expect. Astrology happens to be his profession. So it’s his peers who want to look more respectable, set a few standards. What could be wrong with that?
Let’s forget for a second that this is about astrology – a discipline dismissed by most ‘educated’ atheists, as if they’ve confused what they call belief in astrology with belief in God. (Religion’s age-old antagonism towards astrology seems to escape them.) The standard objection is that it’s unscientific.
Why, then, do I mention it? Well, Alli’s main concern is honesty. That his context is astrology is, for my purposes here, incidental. (Though if the topic interests you, I heartily recommend him.) The thing is, we live in a society (we in the West, an increasingly abstract location thanks to globalisation) where the truth (unlike crime on a corporate scale) doesn’t pay. And with the times a-changin’ – faster than when Alli made his case sixteen years ago – I dare say astrologers aren’t feeling any more secure.
But whether they crave more status, money, or just a more regular income, security symbolised in externals – assets, insurance – is illusory. And the more invested we are in illusions, the weaker our grasp of the truth. I use the word truth (so loaded, and much abused) somewhat loosely, to connote such qualities as emotional honesty. Not an absolute, Truth with a capital T, but openness to the moment in the opposite sense of opportunism – openness that admits immediacy, vulnerability and authenticity vs. repression, defensiveness and hidden terms and conditions; openness that dispenses with political correctness. My point is, Alli’s perspective applies not just to the art of astrology but to the arts and, in particular, literature. What happens, for example, when creative writing course graduates colonise the literary scene? Is this conducive to originality?
Most publishers and politicians aren’t so different at heart. Aiming to appeal to the mainstream, they follow sales rankings or polling, put fashion before quality or fishermen before sustainability – because our cultural climate has parallels in what’s left of the natural environment. Fail to protect the fish and rock lobsters that eat spiny sea urchins and the little critters overbreed – until swimmers have to be careful of where they put their feet. And in Oz, it’s getting that way with PhDs; they’re clustered wherever you look in the literary sea, bristling with scholarly research, comforting bourgeois values and PC morality. What could possibly be wrong with that?
There’s such a thing, though Alli doesn’t spell it out, as diversity – part of the logic of, say, setting up marine reserves (opposed by a government that cuts welfare and pays big polluters). If astrologers all become qualified – like the new breed of Oz author, who writes for similarly qualified readers (such as uni tutors), it’s a self-perpetuating loop – they end up catering only to clients who largely resemble themselves. And what’s lost is, for starters, perspective.
In Alli’s words:
If that archetype truly is ageless, it must have suffered an eclipse at this late stage in our present age of capitalism. Show me a consultant who can afford to tell the truth without any regard for the consequences. Tact is required if you rely on word of mouse to attract business. But I’m letting myself get distracted – Alli’s identifying an ideal, not an individual. He’s also defining the kind of astrology he practises. Perhaps he sounds slightly unschooled – like some sort of outsider? Hmm… I never used to think thoughts like that before I went to uni. Instead, I used to notice when people sounded pretentious and/or academic. Sometimes I still do. Which reminds me…
One of Astrologik’s reviewers, while also an admirer of Alli’s ‘creative and original writing’, frowns on his calling astrology a language: ‘Start with what linguists believe constitutes a language and then apply those criteria to astrology. Except he won’t, because astrology would fail to meet the criteria…’
Huh? A language isn’t defined only by what linguists believe. (And if mere belief underlies their criteria, what sets linguistics apart from religion?) Personally, I’m OK with the dictionary definition of ‘language’. Oh, wait – my dictionary offers more than one definition. Hmm – maybe that’s true of the field of linguistics, too. What would I know about language, though? I’m too busy using it; because, hey, for language to work – to make sense – takes practice, not just formal education. Yet, this confused-sounding reviewer objects to Alli’s illogicality:
So now I need a science degree to make valid guesses concerning the future? (Whatever happened to life experience?) That’s like saying the territory can’t exist without the map. (And don’t get me started on this amateur critic’s grammar.) It reminds me of a line from another of Alli’s books, Letters, Essays & Premonitions (Vigilantero Press, 1993): ‘I don’t believe in astrology but it works and that’s why I use it.’
And that reminds me of a well-known line from Jeanette Winterson’s second novel, The Passion (Bloomsbury, 1987): ‘I’m telling you stories. Trust me.’
Maybe she’s not the best example: a graduate of Oxford? But I think she’s kept the outsider perspective that stems from her hard-up working-class origins. And she didn’t stick around to do a doctorate.
As Alli’s reviewer demonstrates, it’s not rocket science, learning to keep your mind closed. But groundbreaking art and ideas tend to come from minds independent enough to stay open.