"AGE OF AQUARIUS" UNPLUGGED

chat w/ Òscar Moisés Díaz

UPCOMING WORKSHOP: (donation-based, zoom room, soon):

STRANGE MANSIONS: ON THE ASTROLOGICAL HOUSES (FEB 20) <—-if you are curious about the houses from an ancient astrological viewpoint, please do sign-up. it’s going to be a fun overview and knowing the houses is an ongoing process that is kind of still changing my life…)


“I’m not a soundbite.” — Susan Sontag, in an interview, 1992.

“The dumbing down of America is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30 second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance.” — Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, 1995.

Dear Trusted Subscribers,

Hi!

My friend, the poet and astrologer Òscar Moisés Díaz and I spent last night chatting about “Age of Aquarius,” friendship, social media, Susan Sontag, weird shit about the new age, Mark Fisher, soundbites, and many other things, including the above classic photo (circa 199?) of Courtney Love and Drew Barrymore. We laughed, cried, and listened to music. I’m thinking of this transcription as a ghostly double of our audio conversation, which also exists somewhere out there in the digital ether. Hope you enjoy.

About us:

Òscar Moisés Díaz (b.1993, Soyapango, El Salvador) is a poet-astrologer, film curator, and artist. They run a full-time astrology practice. You can hear them talk more here in this episode of The Strology Show about Fixed Stars. 

Emmalea Russo (b. 1986, Maryland) is an interdisciplinary writer and astrologer. Her books are Wave Archive (2019) and G (2018). More here: https://emmalearusso.com/

Both have recent writing in the new issue of Schlag Magazine.


PART 1: ROOMS OF AIR

Emmalea Russo: So we just listened to “Age of Aquarius” by The 5th Dimension. WTF is the Age of Aquarius? What’s Aquarius?

Òscar Moisés Díaz: Totally. My immediate reaction to the song was like “oh, maybe I think of Aquarius as like the edgy b-side to that song.”

Emmalea: People romanticize Aquarius because of this concept. My teachers don’t really think of it as a thing.

Oscar: Yeah someone asked me the other day if Aquarius was the sign of universal love.

(laughter)

Oscar: Maybe we can think of Aquarius as a sculpture that we can do a 360 degree walk-around.

Emmalea: “Age of Aquarius” is the era of air. Air is the dominant element. We’re certainly not in that song from 1969. But our conceptions of time are changing. Like we talked about in the Digital Ether class. Obviously, the digital realm collapses space and time in trippy ways. But not like, that kind of trip.

Oscar: Absolutely. It will be interesting to track Saturn’s journey through Aquarius for the next three years as it moves through the Decans (ancient system of dividing the sign into degrees of ten). So, the journey that Saturn will make in Aquarius between 1-30 degrees will be interesting. So many moods within the sign of Aquarius. What do you see now?

Emmalea: What do you see now?

Oscar: Austin Coppack called this first Decan of Aquarius “the exile.” You and I always talk about “Smells like Teen Spirit” and the chart for that song has a lot of this first Decan Aquarius energy. What does it mean to go into the periphery? To recalibrate? People are wondering what it would look like to communicate in other ways, away from the usual social media platforms.

Emmalea: Yes! We ended the Digital Ether class last month talking about “Smells Like Teen Spirit” — the commodification of the rebellion. Capital commodifies anything/everything. This is also a dark side of air. Fame is anathema to punk, so it’s a mindfuck. I’ll play the song now.

Emmalea: Compare that to “Age of Aquarius.” (laughter) Air is such an ambient element: everywhere-nowhere. So it makes sense to think about it in terms of sound. Roland Barthes has an essay called “The Grain of the Voice.” You can hear the grain. Saturn.

Oscar: I think a lot about recordings and you can feel how big that recording space was. As Saturn makes its way through Aquarius, this first one seems to be about listening. Reassessing our environments and atmospheres. Taking the temperature of the air. Seeing how to proceed from there.

Emmalea: We’re so atomized right now. All in our little boxes communicating on the airy Net.

Oscar: Yeah. I joined this new app Clubhouse and there aren’t any faces, just voices. So, it’s interesting because you can only hear, not see. Rooms of air. It’s been the closest thing I’ve felt to being actually in a room with people. I love the subtleties of sound.

PART 2: FLOATING SOUNDBITES

Emmalea: What would Susan Sontag think about social media?

Oscar: Oh, well she already thought we were consuming too many images in the 70s. What does it mean to consume so many images at such a rapid pace? Now, she’d be horrified.

Emmalea: The rate at which information is disseminated. It’s dizzying. Era of the soundbite!

Oscar: The soundbite can just float.

Emmalea: No context. It’s totally deracinated, which is why the internet can feel slippery and rootless. I think that’s what hyperlinks do, too. Weird clickable reality that pulls you out of the reading experience, fucks with duration. This is what Sontag wrote in On Photography:

A capitalist society requires a culture based on images. It needs to furnish vast amounts of entertainment in order to stimulate buying and anesthetize the injuries of class, race, and sex. And it needs to gather unlimited amounts of information, the better to exploit natural resources, increase productivity, keep order, make war, give jobs to bureaucrats. The camera's twin capacities, to subjectivize reality and to objectify it, ideally serve these needs as strengthen them. Cameras define reality in the two ways essential to the workings of an advanced industrial society: as a spectacle (for masses) and as an object of surveillance (for rulers). The production of images also furnishes a ruling ideology. Social change is replaced by a change in images. The freedom to consume a plurality of images and goods is equated with freedom itself. The narrowing of free political choice to free economic consumption requires the unlimited production and consumption of images.

Emmalea: Since she wrote that in 1977, those two capacities have collapsed into one. We’re all our own surveillance mechanisms.

Oscar: It’s haunting to know that quote is from the 70s. Yes, images are one of the ways capitalism accelerates and entertains. What does it mean to spend time with an image? To sit in front of a painting or photo for a half hour? And feel anxious, etc.

Emmalea: Beyond entertainment. Quick confectionary communication can be really confusing/stimulating. Screen fever. That airy/internet phenomenon of so much feeling like nothing at all. In order to make meaning, we need duration. And most of those social media spheres don’t offer that.

Oscar: Totally. And the soundbite being so slippery and fast makes it hard to pin it down, ground it. Lots of conversations on Twitter right now about plagiarism and citing sources, which feels related to this.

PART 3: DARK SIDE OF THE NEW AGE

Emmalea: All of this reminds me of this quote from Carl Sagan’s 1995 book The Demon-Haunted World: Science as Candle in the Dark that I’ve been thinking about:

I have a foreboding of an America in my children's or grandchildren's time -- when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what's true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness...

Oscar: Wow….I mean, yeah.

(laughter, silence)

Emmalea: I like that quote because he talks about the dark side of “the new age” or “wellness.” I just watched this Showtime series on The Reagans. Nancy Reagan’s astrologer was on there talking about how Nancy would call her 8-10x per day! These practices, when we make them only about ourselves and allow them to become superstitions, can slide us into what Carl Sagan is talking about.

Oscar: Totally. Reminds me of the “wellness industrial complex.” When I worked at a museum, we would have these “wellness trainings” on our days off. It was not about wellness at all. It was a way to get us back into the assembly line, to keep us compliant. Astrology, like everything else can become about “optimization” and all these symptoms of late capitalism. I don’t even look at my transits, for instance.

Emmalea: Those corporate trainings can be really freaky. I don’t think either of us see astrology as primarily a way to understand ourselves better. The Cosmos is a unified whole, so thinking about that as a way to un-atomize ourselves and connect us, create solidarity. But, a lot of these new age practices (astrology included), can make things only a map of our psyches. It’s more than that.

Oscar: Mmm. Yeah. The consultation space is such a juicy place to be in. It can be a slowing down. Which, they don’t want us to slow down. How can we use this to connect and co-create? But right, the danger is people wanting the fast/immediate/definitive answer. It has to do with the idea that I can sell you this thing that should be fast.

Emmalea: Yes, the creative space of the consultation, for sure. Of course, astrology, like everything else, gets sound-bit and brutalized, but really there’s not a quick hot take. It’s a systemic problem. We’re sort of trained to want quick takes and answers.

Oscar: The scenic route around the mountain is actually pretty cool. If you commit to being invested. Ugh, not invested, I hate that word. But, commit to participating.

Emmalea: (laughter) And knowing that these charts are just snapshots in an ongoing cosmic movie. We don’t have to “optimize” everything.

PART 4: THEY’VE DONE THE JOB OF TANGLING

Oscar: Everyone’s supposed to be a brand now. Ugh.

Emmalea: Yes. And it’s not the fault of the individuals, it’s a systemic thing. In late capitalism, everything is the market. And we’re all meant to be our own PR machines. And then all of it is housed in the unregulated terrain of Big Tech.

Oscar: I’ve tried deleting my facebook. But I use facebook to log into other things. It’s a weird password hub. They’ve done the job of tangling. It will be interesting once Saturn gets into the last Decan of Aquarius, which is a sort of detangling.

Emmalea: The password hub. That’s hilarious. Also: like, bodies being computers. We’re not computers. I sound like such a downer. I do think there’s potential for this era to sound more like the “Age of Aquarius” song…

Oscar: You don’t sound like a downer. But I’ve also seen your chart.

(laughter)

Emmalea: We’re both goth. I’ll play this great Prince song while we think about bodies and computers. Because in post-Fordism, the language of capital is the internet/computers instead of factories/machinery.

PART 5: WE NEED SPACES TO GRIEVE

Oscar: This is making me think about grief. I read so many texts about grief yesterday. Which is Saturn. There’s a lot of grieving that we all have to do. Aisha Mirza wrote, “Grief gives no fucks about linear time or capitalist notions of productivity, corporate wellness or respectability and for that, we admire her.” Maybe grief is a way that we all start to be responsible to each other again. Take our bodies back from the fast treadmill. There aren’t spaces to fall apart in public anymore. Grief is slow. I think about that William Basinski album. I left the Digital Ether workshop and thought about how that music opened up a space for grief.

Emmalea: I think that’s why I could only listen to Basinski’s The Disintegration Loops when quarantine first started. You can hear the decay. By the end, the music goes away and it’s just the sound of tape groaning. The loop is a haunting. And it’s also a way to mourn. It keeps coming back around. I love what you said about public spaces because we don’t have them anymore. In K-Punk, Mark Fisher talks about “the privatization of stress.”

Oscar: Oh my god. Oof.

Emmalea: Yeah! Fisher sees depression as a collective and political thing that we need to be dealing with together instead of atomized.

Oscar: Totally. And what you said about the tape melting. I listen to Kurt Cobain’s voice sometimes because it takes me to somewhere dangerous. That rasp, that sonic scrape makes me feel activated. I think about this COVID moment. Saturn in Aquarius. There has to be something about community grieving that comes out of this.

Emmalea: Yes. Friendship.

Oscar: And friendship isn’t passive. It has to hold everything. Capitalism encourages transactional relationships. But I think there’s a real opportunity to make room for each other and the messiness. Maybe that will make the machines fucking break. The radical work of community. Who will carry things with you, alongside you?

Emmalea: I love that. Derrida said true friendship is a political model. And it’s so important to constantly come back to the collectivity, and remember that the problem is systemic. So maybe that’s another positive Saturn in Aquarius thing: finding points of solidarity.

Oscar: Back to the soundbite: This is a Saturn era. The soundbite isn’t enough.

Emmalea: I like how we keep coming back to the soundbite. Thinking about language. And language of capital.

Oscar: Like when people say “I downloaded this….”

(laughter)

Oscar: Certain language can serve as a smokescreen. What does “intuitive” mean? Like, what are the techniques, the lineage, etc. You and I are both writers so we know words matter. And I just have questions about those terms. In astrology, there’s a chart. A lineage. It’s divination.

Emmalea: (laughter) Right, and the trend of putting the words “intuitive” or “creative” in front of everything. “Intuitive dentistry” (laughter) I just read an entry in K-Punk where Mark Fisher talks about how insidious the term “creative capitalism” is. I see a lot of that lately.

Oscar: (laughter) Ooof! That’s so scary. And yes, what’s great about ancient astrology is that for it to even arrive at us it went through all of these translations. It’s such a rich timeline.

Emmalea: It’s concrete. Ancient astrology’s been around for a minute. You and I have a reverence for the history of astrology but also the planets themselves, that they have their own interests apart from being our personal mirrors. Also, we’re not therapists. Sure, it can be therapeutic but it’s first and foremost a divination practice.

Oscar: My teacher Bernadette Brady at one point said that stars are so far away, they don’t care about good and evil. That’s a human thing. She said that everything else will fall away but the stars stay. Djet Time is what the Egyptians called eternal time, which is outside of human time. It makes me feel small in a very important way. To understand the vastness, that I’m not the center. Which is freeing.

Emmalea: I fucking love that.

Oscar: And the birth chart. It’s an elegant way of organizing the sky but it’s not just me in there. It’s everything.

Emmalea: That’s a hopeful element of this “Age of Aquarius” thing. I’ll play another song. I love BURIAL so much. This one feels angelic/haunting:

Emmalea: Burial didn’t want to reveal himself. He wanted it to be just about the music. But of course, a few years ago people like — made him reveal his identity. Which is so sad.

Oscar: There’s like one photo of him online. I want to get to that point.

(laughter)

Emmalea: That’s chic. What did you think of that song?

Oscar: It made me yearn for public space, for huge speakers to surround a square. It made me emotional.

Emmalea: We’re both crying.

Oscar: Judith Butler said that public mourning has the power to transform the public space.

Emmalea: I do feel like our friendship is fated.

Oscar: Yes, because I was going to come to your workshop at the Poetry Project in person in New York and then COVID happened. Should we have a song to take us out?

Emmalea: Yes, here’s one last song. Thank you, Oscar.

Oscar: Thank you, Emmalea.