by Becket Flannery
Lesbia: Sparrow and I did our charts and – they indicate we’re very sexually compatible.
Catullus: Oh – but you –
Lesbia: I’m not a Lesbian.
Catullus: Right. I know, I mean, I didn’t know you were into astrology.
Astrology is pretty old, and discovering your friends are into it is really old as well. I asked my friend why it feels like almost everyone we know is at least astrology literate, if not a full initiate. We were just passing questions back and forth, the way you’d pass around a left over wire from your radio clock build-it-at-home kit, knowing it has some use, but where? Had horoscopes always been a background rhythm for our friends? What has caused them to emerge as the objects of persistent discussion, comparison, exegesis? More specifically: why now, why our latter twenties, why 2012?
These two questions, why now in our lives and why now in course of cognitive capitalism, are really the same, and both are easy to speculate on: cryptic algorithms as sites of “veridiction” in which the more complex the equation the more legitimate its prescriptions; the idea of a methodology comforts us, its details nicely obscure but intelligible in principle, whether in internet searches or the zodiac. This stuff writes itself.
That very ready-made quality of these answers suggests something given in the question, an expectation of technological determinism, generational trends, and market mutations. Even the question “why now?” itself feels granted, very much at hand. One usually encounters it in phrases such as, “Artists are returning to painting as a critical mode of production, but why now?” or if you prefer, “Yes, there is a renewed interest in the collectivism of the 1970s, but why now?” These not at all random examples feel equally at home on the academic panel as in the crit room. The questions and the acceptable responses suggest a certain kind of time, contemporary time, or perhaps just contemporaneity. They also suggest a slight repression of the question “why here?” which, with its suggestion of a parochial locality, might seem embarrassing to an art public accustomed to thinking multi-nationally.
Of course we have always asked “why now?” but the stakes of such a question vary greatly between contemporaneity and, say, the Marxist dialectic (you remember: thesis, antithesis, Sisyphus…). In the latter case, because the concern is always to unblock the movement of the dialectic, the question “why now” is always replaced with the Leninist question “what is to be done?”
When we consider history as progress, as the slow movement of time inevitably towards improvement, the question “why now” becomes plaintive, conservative, intending to slow down the movement of time, suggesting as its corollary “why not later?” Although I like to think we have abandoned this faith in time, the forward-moving triangle of Wassily Kandinsky dragging us all into modernity, we still live in its inverted nightmare: the market, the state, technology, etc. have become totalizing but dysfunctional, untethered: modernity without mastery. Kandinsky’s pyramid is no longer being hoisted at its apex by a crane just above the proscenium, but is digesting itself in a kaleidoscopic spin.
Astrology calibrates the influence of celestial bodies on human events, and the fallout of that relationship forward in time. Unlike the dialectic or historical progress, which approach truth as they abstract from every particular instance, the astrological reading approaches truth as it focuses in on the individual chart; that is, the particular person born at the particular time and the cosmic alignment thereof. In other words, astrology already asks the question “why now;” its approach promises to answer both why certain things happen now, and in fact what is now: how do my conditions of now relate to yours? And so the question is whose now is it? And why “why now” now?
Catullus: But I don’t believe in astrology.
Lesbia: You don’t need to believe; you know your sign, so, you’re already influenced by it, what’s expected from you, who you are compatible with.
Catullus: So it works – not because it’s true, and not because I believe in it, but –
Lesbia: Because you can’t unbelieve it.
Becket Flannery is an artist (?) “living” in Los Angeles, where he is en/rolled in the MFA program at the USC R.O.S.K.I. School of Fine Art. Previously* he lived in Philãdelphia for $2 years.