Sep 5, 2012

Ambivalent Post-Saturn Queers Seek Derridean Surf Instructor

Boots and Addy compose fan mail to their favorite postmodern astrologer and discuss the meaning of woo in our times.

How would you describe who our pomo astrologer is and and what she does?

Boots: A lesbian witch who wears a pirate jacket.

Addy: Yes, all of that and also the person who talked to us about how the Gemini twins are bowlegged and sassy booted, and that this is a critical refounding of butch/femme, and that actually, one of the belly buttons of the universe is where the gemini twin’s sassy boot sits in the sky.

[Our astrologer] is here to help us figure out how to be around for the turning of the ages in the right kind of way. I also think I’ve maybe described her as post-structuralist. The way she talked about the 'dude standardization project' and the foundation of the zodiac as a very relevant way of understanding the lives of people living in a world that would divide up the sky in such a way...It’s not only weird pomo times, it is the speech of someone who is invested in the political.

Boots: That is what was so fun about it, though, is that she was so clearly invested in the political and speaking on all of these different registers about astronomy and astrology and these different ways of seeing the sky, and that she seemed invested in all of them, and also the project of the universe beyond the sky. It was all about not needing those to fit together in any tidy kind of way.

Addy: Defying disciplinarity. It was as though until I heard her speak I had never thought of the zodiac as a structuralist framework. Of course, duh, but we don’t have to just choose between woo and air sign, academic woo. No, we can be discerning, critical with our woo. I felt like she was really speaking to this crew of wayward, thirty-something slash Saturn returns-ish ambivalent post-punk queers.

Boots: She really had her finger on the pulse. Is that what is happening in [the northern coastal counties]? Who else is employing her services.

Addy: Maybe we should open the post-university [up north].

Boots: Her number of registers of politicization of the zodiac and where we are traveling in life and where all of the planets have been situated in different historical eras. The ways we can politicize the looking of the sky.

Addy: It’s the idea of historicizing, but on a totally different register of time. It was this woo materialist, or woo historical materialist, understanding that is so how we need to talk about it right now. Women, the original Marxists. Witches, the original Foucauldians. There was also a real commitment to the terrestrial.

Boots: There is something key about that teaching us how to be in time, and teaching us to engage multiple planes of existence and attention. There is something about the way that I’ve engaged with metaphysics that feels like a bracketing, we are either uncritical or critical in a way that is flip. I detach from the level of criticism I use in the way I engage the rest of the world. I don’t engage with it as something to be interrogated, which would allow it to show itself in more interesting and generative ways.

Addy: Like a conservative interpretation of lesbian feminism's 'nationalist' impulses, the ways that woo is engaged with non-critically, that we treat it too tenderly. We are scared. We were closed off from it or it still marks a loss. But that is the kind of conservative 'decolonial' imaginary. To not engage with a critical refounding of what woo is and what we need woo to do. What is woo in our times, really? I think [our astrologer] opened up that it is possible to have a different relationship to time and magic and material and being than the one we usually get to engage with that still draws on skills we’ve been honing by being in the fucked up world that we are being in. Why are we tentative with woo?

Boots: It’s not that I’m tentative with the critique. It’s more about this feeling that I’m slightly uncommitted to the nationalism. Interested in the potential of such, but skeptical about the border-making practices, or the aesthetics or the way it’s configured etc. but I’m interested in the effects such nationalism might have the resources I or others might draw from it, such that I am side-stepping into the practices that I find intriguing, without being able to commit to the full-on political project. I am dabbling. I don’t feel the need to critique because I don’t take it seriously as something to critique, even though I do take it seriously.

Addy: We want a post-nationalist feminist world-making project that we are not just 'dabbling' in. What would it look like to embrace? Braid it into the strands we are pulling on to make meaning in the world. What would a relationship to woo that wasn’t handling it--relating to it with some kind of generational deference or over-carefulness? How could we wield it more meaningfully?

Boots: I think it’s about looking at what resonated for us listening to [our astrologer]. These ways of approaching woo in non-fundamentalist ways--in ways where there are multiple registers, not simply bracketed lines. I’ve been thinking a lot about irony and the general disappointment/dissatisfaction with hipster irony in the world. I read this thing that was a challenge to take irony seriously, at this level of reading things multiply, rather than that creating distance necessarily, to think about things as being more than what they say they are. That there is a relationship with meaning and intention and multiplicity that allows us to access ironic readings not as distance-making or emotionally distanced. I’m interested in a multiplicity of readings for woo that don’t demand distance, such that one can encounter the project not as nationalist nor anti-nationalist. Because I think that’s the thing about dabbling. You are allowed to read things multiply such that 'this is how I’m reading it, this is how it really is.' 'This is what I’m going to say I think about it, but this is what I really think about it.' All those different ways of reading and narration.

What I got out of [our astrologer's] talk was this ability to not create distance in multiple readings, but to take all of those readings seriously. When she was describing how the zodiac was more of a spiral..these suggestions of other ways to imagine beyond the terrain that we are given. We can reimagine borders and still take seriously the work that they do. Take seriously the terrain they set out and how they demarcate themselves, how they are in relation with other models and structures. What they give to us, and what they don’t give to us. All these ways of taking things at their word, even though it’s not the final word. What would that model of relating to woo be? Rather than, ‘I’ll take it, but I’m going to be skeptical about x, y, and z.’ Or to be really devoted to x, y, and z but to say I’m really skeptical about it because I’m afraid of how it might come across. But that involves not taking it seriously or not responding to the demands that it makes.

Addy: I think about camp as this way of really loving things and putting yourselves in them and also totally not taking them seriously, so I think gay people are good at this. Being back in school and witnessing some of the cultural break downs between the gays and the people who don’t have much context for the gays has made me appreciate that difference. It’s one of the things I think is sad about taking everything so seriously. I wonder what it’s like to make stake in the world and also re-think stake. To be open to a constant and incoming remaking of the idea of self-interest and what it is. I think gays are good at that, as a world-making practice, and I don’t know what that means in relation to the woo, but as people trying to embrace a piece or idea of our own 'history' in that, there is something a little bit more tender about how people handle that than just through irony. There is something very bittersweet about it.

Boots: I’m with you, I think that gets at something with the lesbian nationalism. The woo provides a reimagining of worlds while still acknowledging its roots in, and it’s being a product of, the world in ways that are similar to gay camp. The sort of unicorn-ing of the world.

Addy: You just turned 'unicorn' into a verb.

Boots: That particular tenor of camp...its the tendency of kinds of humor and marginalization to come together in ways that are bittersweet, and hilarious and tragic and that reimagining worlds becomes possible through an against a hopelessness of the constrained world. And that the structures or the ways things are held in and confined, precluded, becomes visible because of that..and the magic is created in response to that.

Addy: That is some thin air shit! People just folded meaning back in on itself a couple times and then invented a world.

Boots: Absolutely. I mean, they did. And that’s not always obvious. It makes it extra fascinating and extra hard, because we see how tenuous and accidental and specific those sorts of makings were and how solid they are in their remakings of themselves and how hard it is to create resistances to those..whatever they are, I’m not quite ready to call them ‘accidents,’ but that set of possibilities that then became solidified. So other world-making practices are both tragic and hopeful in that way which I think is part of what’s going on in irony and gay camp--and I hope part of what’s going on in the woo. 

Addy: I feel like I’m seeing a shape right now but I don’t know what it is. I feel like its made out of soap.

Boots: When you said that, I immediately imagine that Dial cheese soap. Because the moon is made of cheese.

Addy: That’s what I’m saying man, just bringing it back around.

Boots: Are you imagining a giant moon made of dial?

Addy: It was a little more umbilical than that.

Boots: Umbilical dial. Or cheese.

Addy: Something about umbilical and cheese go badly together.

Boots: A lot about umbilical and cheese go badly together.

What are [our astrologer's] three best qualities?

Addy: Pomo-wisdom and Hilarious re-naming of things. Her aesthetic. She's got swag.

Boots: Her coat is amazing. And she has an amazing demeanor! She talked for 2.5 hours straight with utter charisma. She was so chill and so on. A hard note to hit.

Addy: Yes. Discerning and also chill-axed. We are all striving.

Boots: But I want to back to re-naming, because it’s actually super important to these questions around what is woo in our time? (Talks about collective tarot making process) That question of categories--that questions need to be asked of categories, and some need to be hung onto, or at least we can hang our hat on them. And that’s what [our astrologer] got into. She offered another way to think about the universe, another way to think about the constellations.

I always had a hard time remembering constellations, but now, all of the sudden, I remember the sassy booted twin. And the whole thing of making the body into that shape, so it’s not only a renaming and reimagining of the things we are seeing, but a demand to collapse the space between them, to rethink constellations as bodily, which was a connection to the historical stargazers she conjured up at the beginning. Making it a non-intellectual exercise to look and create a relationship to the cosmos.

Addy: And the way she described looking as a way of making stories about their lives. Could we just do that too?

Boots: I think we are!

What do we need that [our astrologer] might be able to support us with?

Boots: This is [back to] the relevance question.

Addy: I need other ideas of time, or of ‘victory’ to sustain work for justice. Kind of like we were talking about earlier [in a previous conversation]. Not what is right or legitimate in this exchange, but what are responses that open up the conversation, that open space to imagine other ways of responding to one another? I think those are questions I have in relation to our movements. What are ways of noticing space for intervention on speech or discourse? How do we recognize the openings when our concepts of justice and the future are not fixed? What are the tools we use to frame and reframe and negotiate with one another our shared values with respect for difference, and--I hate the word ‘innovation’ because we live in the Bay Area--but on some level, innovation? And I just don’t feel like we have that.

I think the spaces where people often went to think about those things, as imperfect and often disappointing as they were, are increasingly diminishing. So far we mostly have reactive responses to that. What is a response to neoliberalism and to everything we need to be learning right now in terms of the spaces we used to labor and make meaning in our lives that are no longer open or available--what are the openings within that? What is a response to that that is not about being like, ‘look I told you so?’ but a response that fundamentally continues to open up more spaces for being with one another in ways that are just and possible?

I don’t know. I mean, I feel bitter. I really do. I don’t want to lose the powers of discernment. I don’t want to be just a surfer, but that’s why I’m learning to surf because discernment comes easier for me. It’s so easy, living in places that make themselves over so quickly and that are so expensive, to just roll around and think ‘it’s not like it used to be.’ It’s kind of like our earlier conversation about radical queer politics which is running on 70% nostalgia for a time that a politics of transgression was more meaningful and this idea of a perfect queer left that never ever existed and so now people are just busy being bitter, and talking shit, and that’s kind of what it is, you know? What’s on the other side of that?

Boots: I’m curious though, what do you think is under the bitter, if anything?

Addy: It’s that these fuckers don’t even enjoy themselves. They have miserable lives. It is like getting a big fucking tick. What do you think?

Boots: My question to myself when I’m feeling bitter is: 'Is that a feeling of loss? mourning? disappointment? disconnection?' I think that there is, more often than not--it’s a feeling of subsumed rage. Just really tired rage. I need to have a bit more energy if I’m going to stick with this game of living and resisting. I guess that’s why I ask myself, where is the bitterness coming from? What is that? I’m clear that it doesn’t serve me or anyone else or building another world. I want to understand it’s origins better and it’s trajectory better to figure out other ways to be in relationship with it. Maybe that is too therapeutic sounding.

Addy: Well, I don’t think it’s only therapeutic because it doesn’t sound like you are just trying to fix it, but to ask what it should do. I think, for me, it is mourning more than anything. And moving through a world in which so many people refuse to mourn. Where the spaces we built to figure out how to do that together are being systematically destroyed. Spaces of being where we could imagine responses together no longer exist and we are supposed to file out into the world as individuals who are all self-calculating, like, ‘What do I need to do?’ And that’s supposed to be progress! It just feels like there is a fundamental social contract that has been violated. The idea of what surplus and progress are supposed to be and be used for. It just really gets to me.

Boots: So what we need [our astrologer] to do is provide us with a restored social contract! Or space for restoration beyond the bitter, or at least a space for mourning...

Addy: mourning the displacements of neoliberalism. Okay, well, concisely, leftists need a critical astrologer.

Boots: I think a critical astrologer who has a warm relationship with the cosmos and its cruelties.

Addy: A Nietzchean astrologer?

Boots: Not quite that bad. I don’t think [our astrologer] did it in a way that was so direct, now listening and talking to you after and our conversations about our need for spaciousness. There’s a way that how she frames the cosmos was a metaphor for that. And that didn’t involve some fictional perfectionism of the universe. Not this sort of importing of the other-worldly as a pinnacle of us. It wasn’t an idealization of the universe. Nor was it an idea that we can in some fundamental way universally represent the universe, but this idea that in this grappling with the grandness and potentially deadliness and the weight of the temporality that it presents in this very hopeful and very disappointing way, that that is part of what gives us the space. To use that understanding as a resource to imagine specificity and generality at once. History and future at once. Or historic and present-future at once. As a tool, as a metaphor, as a muse in a way--being able to engage in the sky or the cosmos gives us a kind of concrete and abstract metaphor for space. For an opening that we are asking for.

Addy: So, maybe more like a Derridean-surf-instructor-astrologer for leftists?

1 comment: