According to the pundits of astrology, the celestial bodies, which glimmer against the sable void of night, reflect back to us a certain kind of preordained, though partially engaged, fate. But more than being just a sort of stargazing fatalism, astrology, according to critical theorist Theodor Adorno, strives to situate our mundane lives within a transcendental system that puts everything in its proper, precise place—insofar as we comply with its nuanced demands, that is.
In other words, today’s astrology is a regressive gesture that refers to a pagan order of all things and happenings, an all-encompassing circle of cosmological (read, ideological) closure. Mercury’s retrograde movement offers the pagan subject a coruscant vector that traces one’s emotional memories to their roots. The moon is one’s mother. Mars is one’s passion. And whichever constellation maps out the subject’s subjectivity—whether it is Gemini, Cancer, or what have you—it proffers an understanding of one’s own life-world. And so on.
Well, let us quickly dispel with this quasi-Jungian drivel. Suffice it to recall Lacan’s assertion apropos “understanding”: it is brought to mind only as an ideal relation. That is to say, paradoxically, we “understand” precisely because we do not. To say that astrology offers to us, for us, an alternative way to understand the complexity of our subjecthood, and our place within the complexity of this world, is, strictly speaking, an imaginative defense-formation against not just the pre-symbolic Real, but against the contingent twists and turns of today’s chaotic universe of capital, too; mapping meaning to where, originally, there is none to be found. To put it a certain way, it is to situate the entire array of stars and planets in the place of the big Other as such, the place of God Himself—“the Other supposed to know”, another space where all knowledge and meaning wanders about. Hence astrology’s pagan nature: its “infinite wisdom” resides in its pre-Christian pagan cosmological insight, a “divine hierarchical order of cosmic principles,” as Slavoj Žižek puts it, which demands of its subjects “a global balance of these principles,” and where meaning is provided insofar as we obey the precepts of this order. (This is why, should this paradigmatic order of things ever supervene, fully, upon the social field, an order of controlled balance as such, an order that would issue us our “meaningful” lives…well—oh-oh—would we not be knocking on despotism’s door? I should be glad to tell you more about this, but I better leave it to one side for now; once one has begun on that topic it is hard to pull back; so we must return to what we were talking about.)
At any rate, the efficiency behind the illusive nature of astrology derives from an ideal relation to an imaginary network of meaning: thus it acquires the capacity for what Kant and other German Idealists called “intellectual intuition (intellektuelle Anschauung)”: a form of intuition that generates the very object it perceives.
Can we not see, then, how the relationship between astrology and its addressees makes for a great simile for ideology and its subjects? As Adorno put it in his book The Culture Industry, by “providing strategies and compensations that appear as more than imaginary, astrology [i.e., ideology] permits belief and obedience without demanding its readers [i.e., ideology’s subjects] to overtly sacrifice the claims of rational evidence and reflection.”
That said, there is nothing “authentic,” “alternative,” or “extreme” (or rational) about astrology. It is a rather conservative specular image of society and its status quo. The astrologist, Adorno tells us, unwittingly promotes the image of social conformity, precisely by way of the “implicit and ubiquitous rule that one must adjust oneself to the commands of the stars at given times.” With astrology, then, one is presented with rationality in the form of advice, while what remains completely irrational, Adorno explains, “is present in the source and structuring of this advice.” Exactly like ideology, astrology exhibits an immutable pretension to correspond to reality.
Facebook’s use of astrology this week
Well, this is precisely what makes astrology so compatible with capitalism these days. Capitalist society has become so dynamic, so fragile, so uncertain, that if you are completely absorbed in the world of capital then its orbit begins to take on such an unbalanced form. The world begins to appear as chaotic, as “too complex to understand”; and one effectively fails to grasp an enduring, irreducible, sense of self-identity within this hyper-fluxed world. Therefore, astrology becomes the perfect ideological supplement to tolerate such an unstable orbit, offering the subject a (false) sense of balance, a (false) sense of place, an illusory place that transcends the real world of capital by locating the subject somewhere “out there” in the stars, as it were, while simultaneously keeping the subject rooted in the real of capital, which, of course, is obfuscated by the illusive identity that astrology so welcomingly bestows upon the subject. In other words, astrology obscures the surface of social reality, thereby obscuring the subject’s actual place in the social field (that one is a subject of capitalism), while at the same time, habituating the subject to the rules of capitalist society.
It is in this strict sense that we are warranted in our claim that astrology, rather than being a source of authentic self-knowledge, is simply a perverse way to circumvent that which we do not know we already know about ourselves: the fact that, if one is constantly reading the astrology charts, one is effectively disregarding their direct relation to capital while concurrently following its stupid rules, playing its stupid game.
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